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Meandering the streets of Akihabara, you will find more than a dozen stores that sell nothing but video games.

You will not find any that specialize in computer games, although a few of the bigger Sofmap and Yamagiwa stores have floors for computer software, including games. Computer games have never caught on well in Japan, but PCs make excellent gaming platforms. But just try to get that news out . . .

Individual PC makers cannot possibly hope to compete with the likes of Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony when it comes to advertising money, nor can computer games compete with the popularity of their video game rivals when it comes to public mindshare.

There are also good reasons why video games have long outsold computer games — video game consoles are easy to use and dependable.

Drop a game disc into a PlayStation2 and the only thing you need to do to play is turn on the machine. There are no IRQs and configuration problems in video games; those are computer issues.

Thanks to clever engineering in hardware and software, PCs are almost as convenient as consoles.

A handful of computer makers have begun tailoring PCs to fit the game market. These are great computers. They are fast, powerful, preconfigured for gaming, and really, really expensive.

The PlayStation2 sells for $299. The Mach V, a gaming computer from Oregon-based Falcon Northwest, sells for $3,995. Yes, the Mach V does a lot more than play games and movies, and it comes with speakers and a 19-inch monitor; but it also sells for nearly 12 times the price.

For the record, the Mach V also sells for more than four times the cost of a standard desktop Pentium III PC.

The best compromise I have seen for computer gamers is Hewlett Packard’s Pavilion 9800. Weighing in with a 1.7 gigahertz Pentium 4 processor, the 9800 is comparable to the finest gaming PCs at a little over two-thirds the price.

You can special order Voodoo’s Tsunami EGAD gaming PC for $4,100; but the 9800 retails for only $2,360.

Falcon Northwest, Hypersonic PC Systems, Voodoo, and Alienware all make more powerful PCs that cost $1,200 to $1,800 more.

Part of the difference in pricing is the cost of purchasing a monitor. While its competitors come with high-quality 19-inch monitors, the Pavilion CPU comes only with speakers and a keyboard.

Of course, you can buy a high quality 19-inch monitor for far less than the $1,200 price disparity that separates the Pavilion from Alienware’s Area 51 gaming computer.

In the meantime, the Pavilion 9800 is one heck of a PC. Featuring a powerful Nvidia GeForce3 graphics board, it is game-ready out of the box.

One thing is certain — the 9800 is more than fast enough to handle the most demanding games on the market today.

In the past, off-the-rack PCs have needed new graphics and possibly sound cards to play games. They have typically needed more memory, too.

The Pavilion 9800 comes with 256 megabytes of RAM, more than enough to play Windows-based PC games.

The real test for any gaming computer is how it handles games. id Software’s “Quake;” “The Typing of the Dead,” from SegaPC; and “Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds” all played on this computer without a hitch.

Retailing at $2,300, the Pavilion 9800 is still an expensive way to play games and an expensive entry into PC computing. However, it offers the best bang-for-your-buck in PC gaming.

And for people who want their machine to do more than play games, that is not a bad thing.