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Everyday workhorses that get the job done

Users who want something more powerful than a value-priced desktop computer -- but who don't need or want to pay for serious gaming hardware -- will find a mainstream desktop model the best fit. These typically use a traditional tower-style case and monitor, and take up more room on a desk than an all-in-one, but cost less and are more expandable.

Formerly known as the Velocity Micro Vector Campus Edition, the Velocity Micro Vector Z25 (*Est. $750 and up) kills the competition to emerge as the best desktop computer according to reviews. This boutique brand sells high-quality, made-in-the-U.S., super-configurable desktop computer systems at very reasonable prices.

The Vector Z25 blows past its rivals in speed tests. "The Vector Z25 is ready for just about anything a mainstream [user] or enthusiast will throw at it," says after testing a $1,000 setup with base quad-core Intel Core i5 and 8 GB of memory, upgraded with a 32 GB solid-state booster drive and Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 graphics. It plays 3D computer games at medium settings.

Step up to the $1,300 configuration with heftier graphics and a special CPU cooler that tests, and the Vector Z25 breezes through "Diablo 3," "Skyrim" and "Battlefield 3" on max settings. "Gamers need no additional grunt for gaming at 1,080p," Matt Smith says. Of course, productivity tasks pose no problems whatsoever with either version.

In addition, you get zero bloatware and a roomy, simple case for easy do-it-yourself upgrades. As with most mainstream desktop computers, a monitor and speakers aren't included in the price; you can supply your own or purchase some as an option from the company. Velocity Micro is known for good service, and the one-year warranty includes lifetime phone support from in-house, U.S. techs.

The Dell Vostro 470 (Core i7) (*Est. $950 and up) is the only mainstream desktop computer that comes anywhere near the Velocity Micro Vector Z25 in reviews, and it's not even a close race. Even so, the Dell's plenty powerful enough for business use with a quad-core 3.4 GHz Intel Core i7-3770 processor, 8 GB RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. The Z25 smokes the Vostro in productivity tests at, not to mention computer gaming: The Dell's 1 GB AMD Radeon HD 7570 graphics can handle older titles, but only on medium settings and less than full HD. Its one-year warranty and subpar customer service don't win any awards, either.

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