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Gaming PCs: How much is too much?

PC games are still alive and well, but after reviewing a $5,000 gaming desktop and a $2,000 gaming laptop, we have to ask if anyone is actually buying these pricey rigs.

Low-cost ultraportable laptops and family-friendly all-in-one desktops are a common sight in the CNET Labs; massive gaming rigs less so.

It's gotten to the point now that when one of these high-end systems appears, someone in the office always asks, "Does anyone even buy these things any more?"

PC gaming, while not dead, is not the arms race it was more than five years ago, as only a handful of 2011 games (Battlefield 3, The Witcher 2) are designed to really push PC hardware.

Game publishers know they need to create games that can play on a wide variety of systems, and much of the growth in PC gaming comes from social and casual games that run on nearly any hardware, and predating that, MMOs such as World of Warcraft that also had forgiving system requirements.

Consumers are now choosing laptops over desktops by a wider-than-ever margin (Forrester research shows the desktop slice of the overall PC pie dropping from 38 percent in 2009 to a projected 27 percent for 2011), meaning the ability to swap out video cards and CPUs is gone for most PC users.

Building a custom desktop PC yourself remains a niche market, although interestingly, shipments of GPUs are up overall, according to Jon Peddie Research.

On top of that, PC gaming options now include easy-to-run vintage games from and other; OnLive, a streaming-game service that works on nearly any PC; and, of course, Facebook is now the largest gaming platform in history.

That's not to say we don't marvel over some of the cool hardware that comes our way. We recently reviewed the Falcon Northwest Mach Vdesktop, with an overclocked 4.4GHz Intel Core i7-3930K CPU and three Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 video cards. However, at $4,995, it's not exactly an impulse purchase.

On the laptop side, our latest gaming laptop review is the Asus G74SX. For $2,000, you get a 2GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M--both good, but not top-of-the-line parts, but also a whopping 16GB of RAM (easy enough to find in desktops, but rare for laptops). Another 2011 gaming laptop, the Origin Eon17s, has an overclocked CPU and GPU, again extra-rare for laptops, but costs $3,600.

Our question to you is: how much is too much to pay for a gaming laptop or desktop? Especially when nearly all the most popular games are also available on $200-$300 living room consoles, or else are at least playable on sub-$1,000 PC hardware.

Vote in our poll, or leave further comments below.