With a 3.33GHz dual-core CPU and an excellent HD 4890 graphics card topping the CD8690 XL's specification list, it's no surprise that Arbico once again finds itself near the top of our performance table. This machine's score of 130 on WorldBench 6 is a couple of points behind the Best Buy Chillblast, but the third-placed Eclipse is pedestrian by comparison. Systems based on slower E8500 chips, meanwhile, are left in the dust.

Gaming scores showed less variation. Our three chart-topping machines all use the powerful Radeon HD 4890 graphics card, and turned in similarly impressive framerates on a variety of titles.

Arbico has for a long time been a fan of Cooler Master cases, and the Elite 333 model used here is a step up from the 330 seen on previous Arbico machines. It's smart, tidy and robust, and looks neither outrageous nor boring. It also offers plenty of expansion room. USB ports and switches are easy to access at the side of the Arbico CD8690 XL's case.

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An ASRock motherboard forms the core of the system. This is a pared-down Micro ATX board with two memory slots. Note that you'll be unable to upgrade the Arbico CD8690 XL's RAM past 8GB and will have to replace rather than add to the existing modules to upgrade at all. Neither will you find support for dual graphics card setups or Raid configurations.

The 22in GNR monitor is a basic model, but it comes with dual inputs. The pleasingly thin silver bezel matches the trim of the Arbico CD8690 XL's system case.

Chart rankings: Budget desktop PCs (October 09 issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Predator
  2. Arbico CD8690 XL
  3. Eclipse Spirit i86R489
  4. CyberPower Gamer Infinity Draco
  5. CyberPower Gamer Ultra HD II

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (October 09 issue)

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo range offers almost unbeatable performance for the price. The 3.33GHz E8600 now supersedes the E8500 as the CPU of choice, appearing in the majority ?of desktop PCs in this price category.

Alternatively, go for one of Intel's latest quad-core chips, such as the Q9300 or Q9400. These processors perform well with newer applications and games.

AMD's Phenom II X4 920 and 940 also offer excellent value for money and quad-core performance, the latter being designed for easy overclocking.

Memory: If fast processors speed up your PC, a large bank of memory stops it from slowing down. Get the most out of your CPU by including at least 4GB of RAM. You can get by with 2GB, but your PC will run more smoothly with 4GB.

Storage: Digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive; buy the biggest you can afford. A 500GB drive is a good investment. Consider using a pair of smaller drives rather than one large drive - a terabyte (1TB) is a huge amount of information to lose in one go.

Your DVD drive should write to the -R/+R formats at 18-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good; if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVD-/+R dual-layer drives. Drives that can read Blu-ray are becoming affordable, but they're still quite rare at this price.

Display: Many PC manufacturers make sacrifices here to keep costs down. But a poor monitor can ruin your computing experience - try it out before buying.

Be aware that 19in screens offer a lower resolution than 20in and 22in monitors; 22in models display larger icons. Newer 22in flat-panels in the 16:9 format are capable of displaying full-HD content at a screen resolution of 1,080p.

A DVI or HDMI connector will provide a considerably better image than a VGA port, so look for a display with a digital input; if you want to connect additional devices you'll need at least two. Finally, look for a good response rate: 8ms or below should be fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: Truly hardcore gamers are unlikely to be happy with a sub-£750 PC, but you should be able to find a decent graphics card at this price.

We test PCs on the three-year-old game Fear, and Crysis, a far more demanding title. Although 50fps is enough to make a game playable, you can set your sights higher in this category - look for 80-100fps for decent gameplay.

Current pricing will limit you in this area, but ATI's Radeon HD 4890 graphics cards deliver great performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch. If you're not into gaming, cutting back on graphics won't harm general performance.

Power supply: A large PSU is less vital at this price point, but look for a model with a full set of SATA and PCI Express connectors to make later upgrades easier.

Sound card and speakers: You may find a budget sound card at this price, but most motherboards depend on a decent built-in audio chip that can handle six-channel sound. To get surround sound you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). A 2.1-channel stereo system will be good enough for most users. A monitor's built-in speakers seldom offer a satisfying audio experience.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Arbico CD8690 XL: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 460W Cooler Master PSU
  • 22in GNR TB2200W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4890 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 63/27fps
  • Fear = 253fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 24x/24x/12x/12x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 130
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 460W Cooler Master PSU
  • 22in GNR TB2200W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4890 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 63/27fps
  • Fear = 253fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 24x/24x/12x/12x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 130

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico CD8690 XL is a great PC that loses out by not including a set of speakers.

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