Best small form factor slim PC for less than $500? (late 2012)

With all the lovely ultrabooks and super-powerful phones out there today, is is surprisingly hard to find diminutive-yet-powerful PCs at a reasonable price. We’re talking at least Core i3 and preferably i5, with the capability to have 8GB+ of memory, mSATA + 2.5″ SATA storage options, dual video out (at least Intel HD4000 or faster) and a small footprint. Ideally: under $500 and easily upgradeable with industry standard parts.

UPDATE: We ended up purchasing a Dell 660s from Amazon. We also put a spare 480GB SSD in it. The 660s has just the right amount of expand-ability and is very quiet, plus the speed w/the SSD is phenomenal!

Here are the current candidates:

  • Dell Alienware X51 ($600-$1200 with $600 being Dell outlet low end model, and $1200 being fairly high end)
    • Upgradeable video card
    • Up to i7 CPU
  • Dell Inspiron 660s (the s stands for slim… the regular ‘660’ is just a smallish tower computer)
    • Only has Sandy Bridge (HD3000) at this point, not Ivy Bridge (HD4000)
    • Thankfully, you CAN add a discrete video card! (full low profile pci-express slot)
    • $330-$700
    • -Only up to i3 CPU 🙁
      • the 660 tower goes up to i5, but again that case is not small enough for my purposes
    • -Sales tax in most (if not all) states if you order from Dell 🙁
    • NO SALES TAX in many states if you order it from Amazon! 🙂
  • ASRock VISION HT ($500-$750 but with very poor availability)
    • Very compact
    • HD 4000
    • Nice ports etc.
    • Non-upgradeable video
  • HP Pavilion Slimline s5
    • Both AMD and Intel CPU offerings
    • $350-$550
  • HP Compaq 8200 and 8200 Elite, Ultraslim
  • Zino HD (no longer available)

Not applicable:

  • Atom based systems – much too slow
  • Brazos/Trinity/Llano etc. – too slow if they are in the dual core 1.6GHz range, which is where most systems seem to be i.e. E-350 or E-450 systems… hopefully some more powerful dual core or quad core2 GHz+ systems will start to show up soon!
  • Mac mini (not expandable enough [without resorting to pricey thunderbolt peripherals])

[to be updated as my research proceeds and feel free to comment if you have any suggestions]

Dells Inspiron 660s styling next to the produce basket

After adding the Vertex 3 SSD, the Dell 660s boots into Windows amazingly fast!

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