HotHardware's 2010 Back To School Shopping Guide

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Desktop / Nettop Shopping Guide

If you're in a dorm room or a studio apartment, space is tight. The last thing you need is a monster gaming rig taking up half of your sleeping area and blowing out more hot air than you can stand. So it's likely that a SFF PC or an all-in-one PC will suit you well. Sony's VAIO J is one of the most stylish AIO PC units on the market today, and the 21.5" screen is just about perfect for space constrained students.

Other specifications include a Full HD (1920x1080) panel, optional Blu-ray drive, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, integrated webcam, integrated touch support, Windows 7 Home Premium, NVIDIA GeForce graphics, 2GB (or more) of RAM, Intel Core 2010 CPU options, and a reasonable starting price of around $900.

If you the funds, Apple's iMac is about as good as it gets for an all-in-one PC. It's the only all-in-one on the market that can dual-boot OS X and Windows 7 (or any Windows beyond XP, actually), and the new 21.5" model has Intel's newest Core i3 CPUs as well as many other next-gen features (including an SDXC card slot). And of course, you'll get Apple's heralded design.

Other specifications include a glossy IPS panel with a 1080p resolution, an ATI Radeon HD GPU, 4GB of 1333MHz memory, 178-degree viewing angles, a 3.06GHz Intel Core i3 processor, slot-loading 8x SuperDrive, 500GB hard drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi, iSight webcam, four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port and Gigabit Ethernet. It's available for $1199, but your newfound student discount can knock 5%-10% off of that MSRP.

If you're the multi-media type, having either of the above mentioned all-in-one PCs just won't cut it. For you, there's the HP TouchSmart 600 series. These can be ordered with an optional TV tuner, which will enable you to record the next episode of CSI while you attend that late-night BIO 101 lab. It's a win-win situation; you keep your attendance up, and you get pace with your favorite drama.

This 23" all-in-one PC boasts a full touch-screen, plenty of custom touch software, a variety of Core 2010 CPU options, Windows 7, up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM, up to 2TB of internal drive space, a slot-load DVD burner, 6-in-1 card reader, optional TV tuner, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The starting price is just $999, but you'll need more than that to get your DVR on.

Remember that Athlon Neo CPU we mentioned back in the netbook section? It's back! An unusual candidate has managed to catch our eye this year, with eMachines making the cut. The company's new Mini-e ER1402 is definitely one of the more stylish nettop machines on the market, and if size is a concern, you'll be hard-pressed to find something more compact than this. It can be sat flat or stood upright, and it offers HD playback and ships with a keyboard and mouse; you just provide the monitor, and you're good to go.
Internally, the machine has an AMD Athlon NEO II processor, 2GB of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9200 graphics, four USB 2.0 ports, a muti-card reader, 160GB hard drive and an optional mounting kit. It's perfect for basic homework and the occasional Hulu night, and the $299 starting price is certainly likely to be under budget.

If you're like the multi-media freak mentioned above, but you already have your own perfect LCD, Dell's Inspiron Zino HD is a good option. It's a compact SFF PC, but it features an HDMI output as well as an optional Blu-ray player, both of which are features perfect for your compact, dorm room-sized HTPC setup. It's also AMD powered, which usually means that costs are kept down.

Within the 8"x8" around box, there's a variety of AMD CPU options, Windows 7, up to 8GB of DDR2 RAM, up to 1TB of hard drive space, ATI's Mobility Radeon HD 3200 GPU, integrated 5.1 audio, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, four USB 2.0 ports, and eSATA connectors as well. The starting price is just $249, but adding those multi-media extras will easily bring it closer to $800.

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