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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

PC Gaming

Have a PC? Then you already have a game machine. After all, when you get right down to it, that's what dedicated game consoles really are: computers. So, let's ask the question: is your PC the only gaming machine your family needs?

There's a pretty large collection of games available for Windows PCs (far fewer for Macs). But when it comes to new games, more are being published for consoles than for PCs, as you can see by a quick visit to the games department of your local retailer. (Roughly 14% of the games sold at retail are PC games, though that doesn't include sales made by download.)

Some games, like the highly popular Call of Duty, are available for both PCs and consoles. But it's possible that the games your kids want only come in a console version. (Of course, even if you have a console, the game they want might only be available for a different console. Halo is only available for Xbox; the 'Mario' games are only available for Nintendo machines. Sometimes you just can't win!) What's more, some games - such as massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) - are actually more widely available on PCs.

If you do want to play games on your PC, a variety of add-ons are available: for instance, steering wheels that bring powerful realism to racing games. But another hardware issue is even more important: your video card. Some of today's PC games - especially fast-moving shooter games - push your computer's video to the absolute limits. The built-in video that comes with many consumer PCs isn't up to the job. The solution? Install a new video card. (Prices range widely, based on features, from $50 to $300 and up. Make sure you buy a video card that matches the interface inside your computer. Most newer PCs and newer video cards come with 'PCI Express x16' interfaces, but your computer might have an older interface, such as AGP.)

The discussion of video cards raises a broader point. When you're buying a PC video game, check its system requirements carefully. Ideally, if you can, it's best to exceed those requirements with a little to spare - a better video card, more memory, a faster computer processor than what the game publisher requires. All this makes buying video games a little more complicated than buying console games: don't hesitate to ask a salesperson or explore online to make sure a game will actually run well on the computer you own. For some folks, the complexity is half the fun, maybe more: tweaking and upgrading a computer to deliver the absolute maximum performance on today's most demanding game can be more rewarding than playing the darned thing!

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