HotHardware's 2013 Back To School Shopping Guide

Small Form Factor Desktops

Alienware X51 R2

Intel's Haswell architecture has landed, and Dell was quick to abduct the new platform to drive its higher end Alienware X51 R2 configurations, such as the one we reviewed here. Haswell's a great fit for the X51 R2, providing a big performance boost over last year's edition without negatively affecting the system's power footprint, noise, or physical size. On that last point, the X51 R2 continues to be a marvel in case design. Dell's Alienware team hit a home run with this small form factor (SFF) chassis, which is small enough to take residence in a living room setting, yet capable of housing components that can push pixels around like a traditional gaming desktop; not to mention the ability to upgrade a few components down the road possibly, if you so choose.

Another thing we like about the X51 R2 is its aggressive looks, though beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For those who don't find the system attractive, the saving grace for Dell is that it's a compact system that can easily be tucked out of sight. Alternately, you can draw attention to the system by playing around with the customizable LED lighting. Have a look at our full review here and there are a range of options price-wise, starting well under $1K.

iBuypower Revolt SFF

When we first got a look at the Revolt at CES, it was clear that the iBuypower folks were excited about it. They had a certain buzz around them that was undeniable, and now we see why; this thing is an absolute beast of a performer. Further, with its black front panel and slim profile, you could slot the Revolt into your home theater setup just as easily as you might tote it to a LAN party, and there are plenty of ports for adding peripherals as well as a handy SD card slot right on the front of the machine.

Although we’re not particularly enthused about the plastic chassis nor the inconveniently-layered interior that’s wholly unpleasant to work on, there’s really nothing more you can say against the iBuypower Revolt. It’s a beautiful-looking machine that appears to have more common DNA with an Xbox than your typical gaming PC. And for as inconvenient as it may be to tinker with the system, iBuypower’s lab folks should be lauded for fitting in as many excellent components as they did--including the liquid cooling system and its 140mm radiator.  Our full review is here.  Get it at Amazon for as little as $599.

Maingear Potenza SS

Just because you have a couple grand to spare on a gaming PC doesn't mean you want a machine with a size that's as large as your budget. Maingear's Potenza is pricey as configured, no doubt, but it's also stout and muscular, able to play games on high resolution displays while sitting tucked underneath your desk, in the corner of your home theater, or anywhere else you choose to stick a system that's barely larger than a bookshelf speaker.

Maingear's system is also unique in how it handles airflow. Like the company's F131 system, the Potenza turns the typical desktop form factor on its head and utilizes vertical space to great success. The power supply situated near the top of the case, expels hot air up and directly out of the case before it has a chance to toast the motherboard or CPU, and the same is true of the GeForce GTX 670 graphics card, which is mounted vertically. It's precisely this design that allows Maingear to pack so much performance into a small system, and then overclock it. You can read our full review here and find various configs at MainGear's site or we found one here for $1399 though it's not a SuperStock version like we tested.

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