Dell's retail-only version of its XPS 8100 line balances a fast Core i7 860 CPU with a decent midrange ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card. It might trail the pack on overall game performance, but it will still handle most titles, and it's also the most affordable system in this bunch.
We can't say we love the Gateway FX6831-01's case design, but its combination of a Core i7 860 CPU with a Radeon HD 58500 graphics card makes it, perhaps, the most well-balanced PC in this round-up in terms of performance in games and regular applications. And even if the case lacks universal cosmetic appeal, we find it hard to complain about the unique front panel hard drive system that makes it easy to add storage space.
HP weighed down our Pavilion Elite 190T with home entertainment-oriented extras that help drive the price up above $2,000. You get the same core performance in its base $1,899 configuration, however, which includes Intel's six-core Core i7 980X Extreme chip--currently the fastest desktop CPU around. We have yet to see another PC with that chip for such a low price.
Maingear's Vybe features a surprising amount of upgrade room--up to two graphics cards--for such a compact chassis. The base $1,299 configuration also comes with AMD's new six-core Phenom II X6 CPU, which helps push the Radeon HD 5830 graphics card past its competition on games that make use of multiple CPU cores. You'll want a beefier power supply to get the most out of this PC's upgradability, but as is, this is a fast, well-built gaming system.
We reviewed the Velocity Micro Edge Z30 back in September 2009 when we awarded it an Editor's Choice. It held the midrange performance crown for a while, but it has since been surpassed by more recent PCs. You can still order a competitive Z30 configuration if you visit Velocity Micro's Web site.