HotHardware's 2014 Back To School Shopping Guide

Systems / Desktops

Maingear Rush (Configurations starting at $3200) : You don’t need a rig this large in your dorm, but who cares? The paint job is incredible, the lighting is perfect, and somehow Maingear even managed to match all the components, from the motherboard, to the GPUs, to the DIMMs and the fans. It also proved capable of the performance promised by its drool-worthy components--the Intel Core i7-4960X, the RAID 0 SSDs, the quad-channel RAM, and last but not least the dual AMD Radeon R9 295X2 graphics cards resulting in a Quad-CrossFire configuration--as well as the factory overclock.

Maingear also somehow managed to build a relatively quiet machine. You tend to expect a lot of noise from all those high-end components, but the Rush starts quiet and never escalates much beyond that, no matter the load. Which is super important when your roommate is trying to get a solid nap in.

Zbox ID89 Plus (Currently starting at $345): Zotac's Xbox line has been a long-running staple in the SFF PC world. Year in and year out, these compact machines provide plenty of punch for a price that doesn't completely shatter the bank. If you're heading to a shared living space where real estate is at a premium, something petite such as this may be your best bet.

In our review, we found that the Core i5 3470T in the ID89 Plus was a primary reason why the system scored well in the majority of our benchmarks, including PCMark Vantage and PCMark 7. It even helped pick up the slack by the single stick of RAM running in single channel mode. Graphics performance wasn't nearly as impressive, though if you're willing to drop to a lower resolution, you'll see playable framerates in some game titles. Zotac is also deserving of kudos for building a tiny system around the chip with an intelligent layout that's easy to service and upgrade. We're also impressed with how quiet the ID89 runs, even under load. However, if you have room in your budget, springing for an SSD upgrade is worth it.

This is a flexible machine, both in where and how you can mount it, and with regards to what you can use it for. In our opinion, it works best as a media PC, though it's certainly powerful enough to handle higher-level activities. It's attractive to boot, which could be a tipping point when shopping for SFF systems if all other things are equal. 

Lenovo B750 All-in-One (Configurations starting at $1199): Some folks just can’t be bothered to take their notebook to the local coffee shop to get work done, but if you’re trying to avoid having a tower to accommodate in your living space, how about something that’s all wrapped up in a single frame? Lenovo's IdeaCentre B750 All-in-One is a well-rounded machine that's capable of keeping pace with just about any task you throw at it. The system posted solid scores in our synthetic benchmarks, and even showed it can play games -- the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760M cranked out playable frame rates in both Lost Planet 2 and Aliens Versus Predator at full HD resolutions.

There's a lot of appeal here -- solid performance, above average sound, excellent display, and so forth. It's too bad Lenovo doesn't let you customize the B750 to your specific budget and requirements, but as it stands, the system is worth checking out if you're interested in an AIO PC.

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