HotHardware's 2011 Back To School Shopping Guide


Dell Studio XPS 7100

With its Studio XPS 7100, Dell is out to prove that you don't have to spend an arm and a leg to have a capable gaming system that is good for more than just gaming. Dell's Studio XPS 7100 is built around AMD's Phenom II processors. There are plenty of configuration options to choose from, with the least expensive option starting as low as $549.99.

We recently took a look at the Studio XPS 7100 with an AMD Phenom II X6 1055T and ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics and felt the system provided respectable performance for the price. Although our test system was priced considerably higher than the starting price (ours came in at $1,428.99 due to various upgrades), you'll get a very capable processor, high-end graphics, plenty of storage (1.5TB) , and even a Blu-ray drive for the extra cash in comparison to the base model. Newer Studio XPS 8300 models built around Intel's Sandy Bridge processors are also available and worthy of consideration--a full review of an XPS 8300 will be available on HotHardware shortly.


CyberPower Black Pearl

CyberPower has made a name for itself in the gaming community by building custom machines with plenty of options. Whether you're looking for a powerful machine to do some serious homework or if you want to enjoy some downtime by playing some of today's hottest games, CyberPower's Black Pearl is one to consider.

Like other CyberPower systems, the Black Pearl is customizable to your liking. Right now, CyberPower is offering a free upgrade to the Intel Core i7-960 CPU with this system. Other key features include 12GB of DDR3-PC1600 RAM, an AMD HD6870 video card with 1GB of RAM, and the MSI X58-GD45 motherboard with USB 3.0 and SATA-III support. For storage, you'll get a 1TB SATA-III 7,200rpm hard drive. All of this is housed in the Azza Hurrican 2000 full tower gaming case.

Pricing for the Black Pearl starts at $1,255 before any applicable discounts or rebates. At the time of this writing, CyberPower was offering a handful of discounts and sales just in time for back to school.


Maingear Shift

Make no mistake about it: You won't find the Maingear Shift in any bargain bins, but that's because this high-end system has a lot of power and function that will be worth the extra cash to users who are looking for a system that offers serious performance. Starting at $2,025, the Shift targets serious gamers and users who are looking for a high-performance system. Of course, the system is customizable and offers many options that are sure to increase the price.


The Shift offers Intel's Core i7 and Xeon processors, various high-end NVIDIA and ATI graphics cards with SLI or CrossFire options, support for integrated dual- and triple-channel memory controllers, Patriot memory, solid state drives, and more. Users will also appreciate that Maingear has a Zero Bloat Ware policy, so you won't have to worry about scrubbing unwanted programs from the system right after you open the box.

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