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Thank heaven for competition. As Intel and AMD smack it out in the silicon arena, we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor–powerful PCs for those on tight budgets. But buyer beware: Low-cost PCs are often stitched together like a patchwork quilt.
Although $1,000 won’t buy a remarkable system, it will come close. You may pay less, but for a grand, you’re guaranteed some very stalwart mainstream components. First, you can get some real power under the hood: either a Pentium III, an Athlon, or at the very least, a fast Celeron. You can score a GeForce 256 graphics board that’s capable of handling today’s most demanding 3D games, a generous 128MB of RAM, and enough hard drive space to store yourself silly. Amenities such as a DVD or CD-RW drive, decent speakers with a separate subwoofer, and a sharp 17-inch monitor might also be part of the mix.
Tests show that a fast CPU doesn’t necessarily mean a speedy system. For example, a machine’s 3D gaming prowess is largely determined by the quality of the system’s graphics chip; if a low-cost, integrated solution is employed, Quake III will run like syrup. On the other hand, if your PC has a potent graphics board, you can play with the best of ’em.