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Gaming Computer Reviews

We compiled our list of the top budget gaming PCs by poring over lists of components and consulting gaming computer reviews by experts. Naturally, technology editors tend to focus on pricey systems with powerful components.

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However, high-end hardware is expensive, so frugal gamers must pick their spots. Gaming computer reviews suggest it's worth it to spend a bit more on the CPU and video card and cut corners elsewhere.

Video Card.

The video card creates the delicious, eye-popping graphics hardcore gamers crave. The many available brands include MSI, Asus, EVGA, Gigabyte, and PNY. Almost all video cards use a graphics processing unit, or GPU, made by one of two companies: Nvidia and AMD. Gaming PC makers seem to favor video cards with Nvidia GPUs, and all the gaming PCs on our list have video cards built around Nvidia graphics chips.

Some expensive gaming rigs use two or (in the case of the priciest Falcon Northwest Mach V machines) three video cards. Adding an extra video card or two ups a gaming PC's video processing power but also significantly increases its price. That being the case, the only model on our list that includes dual video cards is the most expensive one, the Maingear Vybe (starting at $1,049; $1,849 as reviewed). The extra Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 video card noticeably improves the PC's video scores in expert gaming computer reviews. CNET measured the number of frames per second at 78 using the high settings in the video game "Crysis" -- a very good score. In a gaming computer review for PC World, an expert used the game "Unreal Tournament 3" to test a Maingear Vybe with a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 card and clocked it at 130 fps. He says that's the kind of performance you'd expect from a more expensive system.

The Alienware Aurora (starting at $1,499) also offers several dual video card options. The configuration most expert reviewers evaluated includes two ATI Radeon video cards, an option that helps push the price of that system beyond our budget range. However, a reviewer at Hardware Heaven tested a version with a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 video card. According to that gaming computer review, the system overall is a little pricey for its performance. But the reviewer compliments the Aurora's video game prowess after finding that it pumped out an average of 64 fps while running "Skyrim" with the game's settings on "ultra." With "Battlefield 3," the Aurora managed to maintain an average of 50 fps on maximum settings -- also an impressive score.

A gaming computer review at PC Mag declares the Velocity Micro Edge Z40 (starting at $999; $1,219 as reviewed), with its single Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti video card, an Editors' Choice in part because its performance blows similarly priced computers out of the water. The reviewer used "Lost Planet 2" on the medium settings to test the Edge Z40 and measured it at 130 fps.

A tiny Alienware X51 (starting at $699; $999 as reviewed) performs better than expected, according to a gaming computer review at Hot Hardware. The reviewer tested a machine that had been upgraded to a Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 video card from the default GT 545 and found that the system displayed a surprising amount of video muscle in testing.

Review continues below

Reviews of the Lenovo K330 system (starting at $950) are pretty critical of its video performance. A CNET reviewer measured a K330 with a Nvidia GeForce GT 440 video card at only 16 fps while running "Crysis" on the game's high settings, which is simply too slow to make the game playable. According to a gaming computer review at TechSpot, an expert found that a K330 with a GTX 460 card could manage 58.9 fps running "Far Cry 2" at high settings. He declares the K330 a respectable gaming PC but says it needs a more powerful graphics card. (One widely available version comes with an AMD Radeon HD 6450, which expert comparisons suggest is even slower than the Nvidia GeForce cards.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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