Eclipse once stunned us by putting together an E6700 system for £750 (the Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA). And now it's gone even further, squeezing out the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s - a PC with the Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 at this price.

Admittedly, it's questionable whether such a chip can really perform to the best of its abilities when stranded inside a £750 system. And it's certainly true that the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s is a good six points off the total racked up by the similarly equipped Arbico in our power PC category. Perhaps the speed of the RAM has something to do with this. Either way, the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s is still faster than the other machines found here.

The graphics capabilities of the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s are also impressive. At a time when a number of PCs are making do with the cheaper DirectX 10.0 cards (the 8600 GTS, for example), it's nice to see the 640MB version of the GeForce 8800 GTS make an appearance. This, after all, is a very fast chip - only the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT and 8800 GTX and Ultra cards are quicker. Indeed, the slower 320MB version of the 8800 GTS is itself a decent choice at this price (see Buying advice, below).

The 19in HannsG HW191DP is a capable flat-panel, offering a steady picture and a pleasing palette of colours. It's not the best in the chart (the Arbico 807 Pro's 20.1in Videoseven, is a better deal), but it's a fairly worthy addition to the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s. Update - Eclipse has now changed this to the 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel.

If there's one down side to the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s, it's the sound system. We've noticed a pleasing improvement in the quality of sound systems provided with budget PCs recently, with several models bolstering quite decent onboard sound with a chunky set of speakers. The Eclipse Evolution i685n88s doesn't follow suit, so if good audio is a high priority for you, you'll want to look elsewhere.

The Eclipse Evolution i685n88s's Optiarc DVD writer is a very commendable model. It lacks the top-line 20-speed DVD-R/+R capabilities of the PC Specialist Apollo 675GTS's Liteon drive but, despite this, remains a blistering drive.

Verdict

The Eclipse Evolution i685n88s's warranty and software bundle are somewhat miserly. But ultimately, the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s is about the powerful processor and the graphics card. And viewed on those terms, it's an absolute winner.

Chart ranking: budget PCs October 07 issue


  1. Eclipse Evolution i685n88s
  2. Arbico 807 Pro
  3. PC Specialist Apollo 675GTS
  4. Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA
  5. Zoostorm 2-5406 Advanced PC

Buying advice: budget PCs as of August 07

Processor: Dual-core is the way to go for prospective PC buyers. Intel's Core 2 Duo chips currently lead the way.

The E6850's appearance in this month's chart is a bit of a surprise - as a general rule of thumb, the E6750 and E6700 are better options. But all of these processors are incredibly fast and would make a good addition to any £750 PC.

If you've got one eye on the future, you might want to consider a Core 2 Quad chip. You'll sacrifice a little speed for the money now, but you might make it up in spades when multithreaded software applications start hitting the stores.

Memory: It's a sign of how important memory has become that, even in the £750 category, 2GB is rapidly establishing itself as the standard. Only a few months ago, 1GB seemed sufficient, but you'd be well advised now to play it safe and plump for the extra gigabyte. It's only going to become more important in the next twelve months.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media files such as music and video will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can - 320GB to 400GB drives are a good investment.

It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure the PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at rates of at least 18-speed. Rewrite speeds of eight-speed are good, and if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or DVD+R DL. Write speeds on these have got significantly faster in recent months - you need to be looking for an absolute minimum of eight-speed.

Display: To keep the price of a PC down, compromises have to be made - and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you're going to be spending most of your time looking at.

All PCs now come with flat-panels. As for size, 19in models are the most common. Be very careful when offered anything larger than this, as the quality at this price point could be low.

Look for a screen with a good response rate - 8ms or below should be more than fast enough.

Graphics cards: Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, feverish gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£750 PC. Nonetheless, the best machines in this category generally manage to include a decent graphics card.

Although 50fps (frames per second) is enough to make a game playable, you might want to set your sights a little higher at this price. Choose a card that can produce 80 to 100fps on a number of games. The 320MB GeForce 8800 GTS is excellent. The 640MB version is also fantastic, as is the new ATI HD 2900 XT, but neither is easy to get at this price.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it's an area in which vendors are likely to cut costs.

Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you'll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, you often won't get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category - indeed, you won't necessarily get a subwoofer at all.

Eclipse Evolution i685n88s: Specs

  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6850
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • nVidia 650i Ultra motherboard
  • 6 x USB ports
  • 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 640MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS
  • onboard Realtek HD sound
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds: 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/+RW/-RW/-RAM)
  • WorldBench 6 score: 108 points
  • 1-year RTB and 30-day premier warranty
  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6850
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • nVidia 650i Ultra motherboard
  • 6 x USB ports
  • 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 640MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS
  • onboard Realtek HD sound
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds: 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/+RW/-RW/-RAM)
  • WorldBench 6 score: 108 points
  • 1-year RTB and 30-day premier warranty

OUR VERDICT

The Eclipse Evolution i685n88s's warranty and software bundle are somewhat miserly. But ultimately, the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s is about the powerful processor and the graphics card. And viewed on those terms, it's an absolute winner.

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