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Cheap Gaming Computers Buying Guide

Cheap gaming computers start at about $900 and high-end machines can easily top $5,000. Prices vary widely even for the same model, depending on the components.

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More often than not, they don't include a display or any peripherals such as a mouse and keyboard.

The best cheap gaming computers typically don't come from familiar names such as HP or Gateway. Smaller, specialized PC makers such as Maingear, Falcon Northwest, Velocity Micro, and Digital Storm rule this niche market and manufacture our two top picks. The Maingear Vybe (starting at $1,049; $1,849 as reviewed) is more expensive than most cheap gaming computers but packs a lot of power for the money, and the Velocity Micro Edge Z40 (starting at $999; $1,219 as reviewed) performs like a much more expensive system, thanks to an overclocked CPU (more on that later). Companies such as Lenovo, Acer, and Dell (under the name Alienware) do offer budget gaming PCs, including two that made our list as good cheap gaming computers. For people who want a smaller, more portable gaming rig, there's the Alienware X51 (starting at $699; $999 as reviewed). It's about the size of an Xbox 360 but still has all the power of a full-size gaming PC. Alienware Aurora PCs (starting at $1,499) are about design as much as hardware, according to reviews, but they prove capable gaming systems. Lenovo has tepidly stepped into the gaming arena with its K330 system (starting at $950). Although the Lenovo K330 can certainly outperform most home PCs, it struggles to keep up with systems designed specifically for gaming.

If you're not constrained by a budget and want the best gaming PC money can buy, you'll no doubt want to check out a Mach V system from Falcon Northwest (starting at $2,772). The company offers a seemingly endless stream of configurations, with myriad options for CPUs, graphics cards, hard drives, memory, etc. Mach V systems routinely cost more than $4,000, and it's hardly unusual for these high-end PCs to cross the $5,000 mark. Digital Storm, another high-end PC manufacturer, does offer cheap gaming computers, but reviewers consistently gravitate toward the company's excellent $2,000-plus gaming PCs.

Review continues below

When you're shopping for a cheap gaming computer, one of the first things to pay attention to is the available central processing units, or CPUs. If possible, you want a system with an overclocked CPU, provided you don't have to pay significantly more for it (in many cases, you won't have to). As PC World explains, overclocking allows a CPU to run faster than its official baseline speed, giving you the performance of a more powerful machine without the price tag. It's also critical to check out the video card options. Your goal is to strike the right balance between video processing power and cost. While expensive machines employ two or even three video cards, a single, higher-end video card is your best option for a cheap gaming computer. Choose a PC with at least 8 gigabytes of RAM, but don't worry too much about buying RAM that runs at 1,333 megahertz vs. 1,600 MHz. Sure, there's a performance difference, but it's not significant enough for budget shoppers to spend considerably more for faster RAM. That's also true of solid-state drives. SSDs are super-fast, but they're also super-expensive. Better to stick with a traditional 7,200 rpm hard drive for now. Besides, you can always add an SSD to a cheap gaming computer later. A Blu-ray drive may be a tempting option, but that upgrade costs $60 to $150 extra.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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