Another year and another slew of bargains courtesy of Black Friday. For me the deals on computer hardware are the most interesting, seen as i upgrade near enough every year, even if it’s just new RAM or a fancier cooler. Instead of looking at parts though, I’ll be taking a look at the prefab desktop market. it’s been a number of years since I looked into the prices here, and when I last did I was entirely unimpressed with the premium some companies charge for putting a computer together for you. I mean, it’s less “Building a computer” nowadays and more clicking the Lego together. But I appreciate that sometimes you just want something that works, so I have trawled online through all the deals that are set for Black Friday in hopes of finding something that is worth the money.
Turns out the market has seen some positive changes, as even the pre discounted prices are far from exorbitant. You’re unlikely to find the cream of the current hardware crop at a price that will suit you, but in the low range, mid range and upper mid range you are more than covered. There are a number of things to take into account when deciding on a desktop build that you need to pay attention to. The most important of which is the primary use of the computer. If you are in it for gaming you are looking more at the GPU than the CPU, while the opposite is true of workstation performance, with video editing and the like. A number of new products hit the market earlier this year too, so what you know is very likely to have changed.
What to Look for in a Desktop Computer
The introduction of the new Zen architecture from AMD has caused a massive shift in the computer hardware market, not just in solo components, but also in with prefabs. No longer should “i5” be enough to turn your head, with the new Ryzen 5 series matching and, in quite a few cases, surpassing the i5s. Off the bat if you want a solid work station build you should be looking at the Ryzen chips over pretty much anything from Intel, with one or two exceptions. The same is very nearly true for gaming, but with older titles that utilize less threads then Intel is still the go to, especially in DX11.
On the graphics side of things Nvidia is still king, and you will be paying down the nose for it. The GTX 1070 might be a mid range card internally, but real world performance makes it feel like a lower High end card. AMD are just not able to compete on the cutting edge here, so bear that mind.
Lastly, one thing that I am guilty of overlooking is RAM speeds. Recent benchmarking has shown very interesting results with faster RAM, sometimes increasing performance by well over 10% in certain titles. I would still call it a tertiary when compared to CPU and GPU, but overlooking it would be a mistake.
So, with that said let’s take a look at a few of the best bargains this Black Friday 2017.
HP Desktop Computer Deals:
I found it quite hard to find much from HP that is worth the money. I have three here, each touching on a different market segment, but none of them are particularly high end. Decent would be the best word.
- HP Z420 Workstation from NewEgg. A refurbished build, and one that was amazing in its day. It’s a bit long in the tooth these days, but is more than up to the task of running as a cheap server. The CPU is the old Intel Xeon E5-1650 v2, a six core build, that compares very favorably with the brand spanking new i5-8600k, on stock speeds when multitasking at least. The GPU is garbage, and Quadro NVS 290, so don’t be getting this for gaming unless you also plan to switch that out. 8GB of ram rounds it off nicely. Priced at $399.99 it might be exactly what you are looking for.
- Next up from HP is a Pavilon Desktop. An APU based build using an AMD A-12 series all in one chipset. It’s not going to blow anyone away, but in the $350 price bracket it’s not bad. 8GB of DDR4 memory, clocked at 2400Mhz is far from terrible, and the A-12 series uses a cut down R7 GPU, so mid range games work pretty okay, assuming you run them with a slightly lower resolution. This one is over at BestBuy.
- Finally we come to something a touch more impressive, A HP Omen desktop for $819.99, again from BestBuy. CPU is an i5 7400, not the newest chipset, but more than acceptable. Clock speeds are fine, but there is no way to overclock a non-K series chip. Performance right now is great, but expect it to be less competitive over the next two years. Thankfully you can upgrade it to a more advanced chip within the 7000 series, and they are going to get very cheap come next year. The GPU is a GTX 1060, but it’s the mini rather than the full card. 3GB of VRAM is not bad, but don’t expect high resolution gaming, stick to 1080p. 8GB of RAM, clocked at 2133Mhz rounds it out nicely. The only issue I have with this build is the marketing. You get $100 Oculus vouchers with the purchase, which is nice, and the bill it as a VR desktop but the 1060 is not a VR card. It’ll run, but not amazingly. Expect low to mid settings to get an acceptable framerate. If you are just entering the gaming PC market though this is a nice entry level build.
Dell Desktop Computer Deals:
Much as I might wish it were otherwise, Dell are kinda the kings of the prefab build. They have the most options, from low end to the highest of the high, and they have been providing them for a long time. I have been able to find a few very impressive deals this season.
- First we are back at BestBuy, really living up to their name here, with a mid range Inspiron priced at $850. This is our first Ryzen chip, and we are starting with a good one, the Ryzen 7 1700. I have looked at all kinds of benchmarks for the new Ryzen chips, and the 1700 might be my favorite. Bridging the gap between the mid and the high end, the 1700, with it’s 8 Cores/16 threads, is one that I expect to be viable for a long time coming. It must be pointed out that for older games, pre 2016, the Ryzen chips perform ever so slightly behind the Intel chips, but really not by much. For modern titles it is a different ball game, with the 1700 proving to be the better option in the likes of Deus Ex and Battlefield. This performance is likely to get better, as of right now the FX-8000 chips are running better than the once dominant i5 2700k at stock. The GPU is a bit more in the mid range though, the RX 580. Not a bad card, essentially a reskin of the 480 with a 5% boost to the performance, and both are excellent cards in their bracket. The RAM is a bit slow for me, sitting at 2133Mhz, but there is a lot of it. 16GB. The Ryzen chips scale extremely well to faster RAM, with slightly more than the average 10% FPS improvements in top titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider, and more than 20% improvement in The Witcher 3, making that your go to first upgrade, with the motherboard able to run 3000Mhz RAM. Overall in this price range it is hard to do better.
- If that is a little outside your price range there is a lower end model available, from Dell directly, another Inspiron. This time we are looking at a Ryzen 5, the 1400, with an RX 560. Not the best specs in the word, but for $514.99 it is an absolute bargain. The same upgrade path as the higher end Inspiron applies here, first the RAM, then the GPU then consider the CPU, but not for another year or so.
- Finally I found an XPS 8930 that is a bit pricier, but still well worth it, if you have the cash. Taking a detour from my AMD fanboyism for a second, this one comes with a high end Intel CPU and a beast of an Nvidia GPU. Here we have the incredible i7 8700K, probably the best chip Intel has produced since the i5 2700k way back when. The best single threaded performance on the market, and with its six core/12 thread architecture, you will not need an upgrade for a long time. The GTX 1080 is one of the best cards out right now, with performance far and away ahead of the best AMD has to offer, especially in this price point. $1485, with a $10 voucher, might seem very expensive, but you really are getting some of the best hardware with this deal. The power supply is a bit of a let down though, a 460W bronze rated, so getting a new one might be a good idea, especially if you intend on overclocking the parts.
Acer Desktop Computer Deals:
Have not been able to find many deals for Acer products, and the builds I have found did not impress me too much. The price is pretty good fro a mid range option though, and so long as you know you are getting a lower mid range desktop for the price you are spending you should be fine. Were it not for the Black Friday deals it would be hard to recommend these ones.
- Acer Aspire GX-785 is far from a bad build, and at $649.99 this season it is well priced. The CPU is a little short term, the i5 7400, while the GPU is the old R7 480 workhorse from AMD. The i5 seen here will do well in all current games, and still be playable well into next year, but beyond that you are really going to want an upgrade, but the i7-7000 series should be pretty cheap come the next Black Friday. The R7 480 is still one of my favorite cards. A little overclock and it’s better than the stock 580 as well. The 480 is about as good as the GTX 1060 in terms of VR, but for for 1080p gaming it comes out slightly ahead. The RAM here is 2400Mhz, which is great, and there is 8GB of it, so for a mid range 1080p gaming desktop you are set. You’ll find this deal on NewEgg.
- Acer AT3 Desktop. This one is a little weird to me. The price is high, and while the parts are good, I don’t think it is much of a bargain. Found it on The Acer Store for $800, and that’s the Black Friday price. The CPU is the i7 6700, which is a great chip, sadly forgotten about with the 7000 and the 8000 series out now, but with only 4 cores it will be obsolete around the same time as the 7400 mentioned above. Single core performance is still fantastic though, so for older games it will work wonderfully. The GPU is the R7 480 again, and the same applies here as above. A good mid range option. I just don’t see much point in getting this machine over the Aspire, the 7000 series has a better upgrade path, even if you start in the same place.
Alienware Desktop Computer Deals:
Alienware are really Dell with a new mask on, and while in general they are the worst perpetrators of the price gouging that occurs in the prefab market, there is no denying that their products are technically very impressive. A combination of form and function. In fact there is really only one firm that offers cases that look half as good as the custom Alienware builds, NZXT. When you can find one of their models at Black Friday prices then it becomes very easy to recommend them.
- Just the one model here, and the deal will not be active until the day of. The Aurora. This is a ting of beauty. The same high quality casing used in all their builds, and while the base price is $2000, this season you can nab one for $1000. Best deal on here in my opinion. Alienware models can be customized as you buy them, made to order and all that, so you can’t get the creamest of the crop Aurora, but even the “lower end” one is a step above the rest of the models on this list. An i7 8700 CPU, pound for pound the best on the market, even if you sacrifice the ability to overclock it, a GTX 1070 GPU, not the best on the market anymore, but it out performs everything but the liquid cooled Vega 64 from AMD, beaten only by that and it’s more robust brothers. 8GB of 2666Mhz RAM and a bulky 1TB HDD. In addition, you can add all sorts of things to the build. Want the overclockable CPU, just check a box, same is true all the way down. I would avoid most of the accessories, you can get them cheaper elsewhere, and any software offered is likely to be pointless, you can get top notch anti0virus protection for free online anyway. Overall, and excellent option, and if I had the cash I’d buy it myself.
Phew, this has been a fun one. There are going to be a whole host of other deals online over the next week or so, and I will be paying close attention to all of them. I’ll be doing another one of these on individual components, so if you are in the market for an upgrade then check back later in the week and we’ll have something for you. Remember to check the sites yourself, the likes of BestBuy, NewEgg, Amazon and even Wallmart are going to have way more deals this Black Friday than I can mention here, but be sure to use this as a bit of a reference guide. Happy shopping folks.