Back to School: Desktop PCs

Before you go humping down to Best Buy to pick up a PC, let’s ask ourselves a few questions. The rise of desktop replacement laptops – laptops with full-sized processors, hard drives, and lots of memory – have essentially supplanted the desktop PC in dorm rooms every where. Why pay $500 for a big, noisy box when you can potentially drag your $700 laptop down the hall to watch a DVD in another room or even take it to class?

Then, we have to think about Mac vs. PC. We’re a bunch of Mactards here at CrunchGear, so we’re going to recommend seriously looking into Macs to folks on campus or in school. There’s something I like to call the “Day of Shame” when it comes to Windows machines. The “Day of Shame” starts out fairly normally – you install a new peripheral or try to format a disk drive and you end up trying various installations, reboots, and incantations in order to get the PC working again. This can happen to anyone – it used to happen to me pretty regularly – and it basically wastes a full day of troubleshooting before the PC miraculously fixes itself. I’ve never had that problem with OS X.

That said, here are our desktop picks for 2008. All pricing and specs are based on base configurations without add-ons. What are you looking for? Power and price. Most PCs are over 2-gigahertz right now and 2 gigabytes of memory is about right for the average user. The real draw is a bigger hard drive for movies and music.

20-inch iMac – $1,199 –

Just to get things out of the way we’ve decided to bring the 20-inch iMac front and center. This thing is beautiful and you might be able to get a student discount so don’t count it out just yet. In this configuration Apple includes only 1 gigabyte of memory and a 250 gigabyte hard drive – not much, but enough – but the screen is great and you get excellent reliability. If you’re buying one PC for the next four years – be it high school or college – you can’t really go wrong.

Acer Aspire X1200 – $450 w/o monitor –

I’ve been recommending Acer recently simply because they’re offering cheaper desktop PCs with quite a bit of power. At $450 for a model with a monitor – the monitor is about $200 more – you get a 2.5GHz processor and 4 gigabytes of memory.

Dell Studio Hybrid – $699 –

Dell had students in mind when it designed the Studio Hybrid. This ultra-small PC comes in bright colors and contains a 1.86GHz processor and 250GB of memory. What you lose in power you make up for in style and Dell even offers a matching 19-inch monitor with the $699 package, ensuring your PC will match your accessories.

HP TouchSmart IQ504t – $1,299 –

I stuck this 2-GHz PC in here for those who might be considering forgoing a TV entirely. The TouchSmart has a 22-inch touch display with a few sexy features like gesture based controls and a special video mode. It’s great for watching movies and it’s compact enough to fit on a desk without requiring a fat CPU buzzing away at your feet. This is a niche product, but it might work well for some students.

eMachines S3649 – $499.99 –

If you’re paying your own way or use the PCs on campus more than your PC at home then feel free to pick up this $500 gem. It comes with a 19-inch monitor and 160GB of hard drive space… and not much else. eMachines makes great, cheap machines without many add-ons. This is a solid machine that will last maybe two years without an upgrade.

I’ve tried to run the gamut from low to high with this round up. What kind of PCs have you guys enjoyed working with at school? Do you even still use desktops?