Whether it´s relegated to a den, a dorm room or an office with enough privacy to sneak the occasional TV show or movie, a desktop Media Center PC can be tailored to your primary computing interests-be they gaming, graphic design or novel-writing-with media capability added on for dessert. For example, if you´re a hardcore gamer, you´ll still want to max out your machine with high-end graphics and audio; running the Media Center Edition of Windows XP (instead of plain XP) won´t affect your ogre-slaying activities. If your desktop is used mostly for less-demanding tasks, such as e-mailing, word processing, and surfing the Web, there´s no need to soup up the system just for the Media Center software. Save your pennies for an enhanced speaker system or a bigger display, all the better to watch
The West Wing in one window while balancing your checkbook in another.
1. The Quiet Value: Gateway 820GM
Although Niveus achieves absolute silence with its fanless design, Gateway comes amazingly close, using two large-bladed, slow-turning fans to achieve a system so quiet, you´ll have to check the power light to see if it´s on. Better yet, it does so at less than half the Niveus´s price, with superior system components.
2. The Total Package: Dell Dimension XPS Gen 4
The XPS Gen 4 targets gamers and video junkies with its superfast processors and RAM and the latest PCI Express graphics card. But everyone will appreciate the Klipsch 5.1-channel speaker package and stunning 20-inch widescreen display, which will transform your office into a private theater in one fell swoop.
3. The Flashy Gamer: VooDoo PC Vibe
VooDoo is best known for custom high-end gaming rigs, so it´s no surprise that the company has given the same unique style (see-through case, internal neon lights) and top-of-the-line parts (silent fan) to its Media Center PC. The optional matching Xbox is also a Media Center Extender, so it can stream all the files on your PC to any TV in the house.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.