by Charles Masters

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.