Desktops: Fast, Furious, and Affordable

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Video editing, video conferencing, and home entertainment are now common activities on home-based computers, along with such standbys as e-mailing, printing digital photos, creating MP3 files, connecting to the office, and finishing work at home (a necessary evil these days). PC boxes are also getting more interesting: Styles and shapes vary from the elegant black and silver to candy-apple red, and from small cubes the size of a shoebox to full-size towers that could house a small dog.

For this month's guide to the best hardware products, we've divided desktop PCs into three categories: entertainment, mainstream, and no-frills. Our picks represent the most interesting models that have passed through the PC World Test Center. For the entertainment category, we considered top-of-the-line gaming machines as well as systems that provide a range of multimedia extras, such as a TV tuner and a remote control.

Mainstream PCs are the jacks-of-all-trades. With their balance of performance, features, and price, these models can do double or triple duty, deftly handling everything from intensive database work to gaming to working (or playing) with digital photography and video.

A no-frills PC is usually thought of as underpowered, underequipped, and often just plain ugly. But our picks in this category--both of which cost under $1000--show that you can get a lot more computer than you may have thought.

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