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Today’s machines are not your ’90s tower drive: That dull beige box full of add-in cards has gone the way of the dodo. Machines these days come in all sizes and shapes, and most components are integrated into the motherboard, making them less likely to fail – and making the machines a whole lot sleeker. (Lenovo, Dell)
Today’s machines are not your ’90s tower drive: That dull beige box full of add-in cards has gone the way of the dodo. Machines these days come in all sizes and shapes, and most components are integrated into the motherboard, making them less likely to fail – and making the machines a whole lot sleeker. (Lenovo, Dell)

Gadget Gift Guide

PC gift guide: Towers of power Add to ...

The desktop computer wants you to know that the reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. Admittedly, numbers are down, but at least one PC vendor, Lenovo, announced an increase in its shipments last quarter. And Apple is confident enough to launch a new Mac Pro.

But we’re not talking about your ’90s tower drive any more. That dull beige box full of add-in cards has gone the way of the dodo. Even today's monster machines come in all sizes and shapes, and most components are integrated into the motherboard, making them less likely to fail – and making the machines a whole lot sleeker.

Which to buy? It depends on your needs and your budget (good news, there are lots of “Cyber Month” deals all during December). We've already given you our picks for the best in the more casual all-in-one and mini market, but today's guide is about the best tower PCs if you need brute power and screaming speed.

Mac Pro

When you’re thinking high-powered behemoths, you can’t get much more substantial than the upcoming Mac Pro, which will be on sale as of December 19. It boasts up to 12 core Intel Xeon processors (that’s server class power), dual graphic processing units (GPUs) with up to 6 GB graphics memory each, up to 64 GB RAM, and up to 1 TB solid state storage, all tucked into a 9.9 inch high black cylinder that’s a mere 6.6 inches in diameter and weighs 11 lb. The Mac Pro is for people who really need power for things like graphics rendering and photo or video editing. It runs OS X Mavericks. This beast has an equally substantial price tag; it starts at $3,099, without monitor.

Dell

If you prefer a PC, you can still get a very respectable computer, and for a lot less money. Consider, for example, Dell’s XPS 8700 desktops start at $999.99, and come with fourth generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 32 GB RAM, up to 2 TB hard drive (with space for a second), CD/DVD burner and/or Blu-ray drive.

HP

HP’s Envy Phoenix is the company’s performance desktop line. Starting around $900, it features Core i7 processors, supports up to 32 GB RAM and 2 TB hard drives (there’s room for three of them). It’s unabashedly a gaming machine, with a ton of video RAM for top graphical performance. That makes it a great system for any kind of video manipulation. It’s no slouch on the audio front either, with a separate subwoofer output. For connectivity, you get both wired Ethernet and 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless, plus Bluetooth.

Lenovo

Lenovo’s ThinkStation S30 workstation is, like the Mac Pro, server-grade, with a server grade price once you add all of the bells and whistles. With an upgraded 1 GB video card, 1 TB hard drive and 16 GB RAM, list price is $2,459 – and the system still has plenty of room for more enhancements. It’s definitely loaded for bear.

Editor’s note: The machines in this guide need external monitors – which we are not reviewing. There are many nice, big and even reasonably priced flat panel monitors on the market for every type of user, but there isn’t enough differentiation for us to dig into them here.

Check out the rest of our Gadget Gift Guide here.

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