8 Best Buys for Essential Gear

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Desktop PCs can be had on the cheap today, of course, but in our estimation the power desktop holds the most appeal: You'll get better graphics handling (such as for gaming), as well as greater customization options and more-nimble performance for tasks such as editing 21-megapixel images or cutting your video masterpiece.

The leading pick on our current power desktop PCs chart is the Dell XPS 630, a system that came in at under $2000. Our test system came configured with a 3.16-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor, 4GB of memory, a 512MB nVidia GeForce 9800 GT graphics card, and 640GB of hard-disk storage, plus a Dell SP2208WFP LCD monitor.

Our test machine notched a WorldBench 6 score of 114 (just nine points shy of the mark that a $3229 gaming-centric XPS 630 equipped with an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 quad-core CPU posted). The GeForce 9800 GT card helped the system attain an average frame rate of 138 frames per second in running Doom 3 at 1280 by 1024 resolution with antialiasing turned on.

As for the Dell's case, for one of its size it provides a respectable amount of expansion room, with one open 5.25-inch drive bay at the front (a DVD±RW drive occupies the other). Four internal slots--two regular PCI, one PCI Express x8, and one PCI Express x1--are open.

Bottom Line: The customizable Dell XPS 630 desktop system provides strong, affordable performance within a stylish package.

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