Eclipse's Matrix Crossfire i786R577 is the only Core i7-based PC we've tested this month. As such, it delivers a measurable performance increase.

Rather than following suit with Intel's 2.66GHz Core i5 750, Eclipse has plumped for the 2.8GHz Core i7 860 processor, which adds support for hyperthreading. Although this CPU costs around £70 more, it delivered a measurable performance increase: 137 points in WorldBench 6 compared to around 134 for a system based on the Core i5. As such, the Eclipse Matrix Crossfire i786R577 is the fastest non-overclocked machine in this round-up.

In common with every PC on test, Eclipse supplies a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of memory with the Matrix Crossfire i786R577. Two spare memory slots and plenty of drive bays are available for upgrades.

The ASRock motherboard used here is a larger, more expensive version of that used by the Chillblast. It comes with an extra PCI slot and added overclocking capabilities. There's CrossFireX support for dual graphics cards although, as with the Arbico, one of the Eclipse Matrix Crossfire i786R577's PCI Express slots runs at x4, compromising performance slightly.

The Eclipse Matrix Crossfire i786R577's choice of graphics card is an interesting one. The ATI Radeon HD 5770 offers DirectX 11.0 support, twin DVI ports and HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. This card will excel with future games but, with today's titles, it's the Radeon HD 4890 found higher up the chart that takes the lead.

The Eclipse Matrix Crossfire i786R577's system case is rather plain and unimpressive, while the supplied 22in Hanns-G monitor offers a standard 1680x1050 resolution, falling short of the full-HD displays of the Chillblast and Mesh.


Budget PCs chart ranking: February 10 issue

  1. Chillblast Fusion Blade
  2. Arbico HD7590 Pro
  3. CyberPower Gamer Infinity i5 Achilles
  4. Eclipse Matrix Crossfire i786R577
  5. Mesh Matrix II 965 DX11

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice


Eclipse's Matrix Crossfire i786R577 is the only Core i7-based PC here. As such, it delivers a measurable performance increase.


Budget desktop PCs buying advice


Processor: The arrival of Intel's Core i5 750 has changed everything in this price range, bringing with it superb quad-core performance and support for DDR3 memory. Core i5 processors use new motherboards with a different CPU socket; buying one now puts you in a good position for future upgrades. If you're lucky, you may find a faster Core i7 8XX-series CPU at this price point.

Intel's Core 2 Duo E8600 was once king of this category and is still available, but there's no reason to choose it unless you find a fantastic deal. AMD's Phenom II X4 920, 940 and 965 also offer good value for money and quad-core performance, although they can't match the Core i5 in our tests.

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.

Core i5-based PCs use DDR3 memory rather than DDR2, but there's no need to buy the chips in threes as you do with Core i7 systems.

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; always try the monitor before you buy.

Note that 19in screens offer a lower resolution than 20in/22in monitors; 22in models display larger icons. Newer 22in (16:10) flat-panels are capable of displaying full-HD content, although onscreen elements will be even smaller.

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 is fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: There's simply not room in the budget for a top-end graphics card at this price point, but you should still be able to find a decent model.

We test PCs using the four-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 and nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 both deliver great performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch. AMD's HD 5770 is a slower card with today's games, but adds DirectX 11.0.

nVidia cards offer unique features, such as support for realistic object interactions in games supporting PhysX and the ability to display content in 3D when used with special glasses.

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.


>> NEXT PAGE: Specification and our expert verdict

Eclipse Matrix Crossfire i786R577: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock P55 Pro
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 600W EZCool PSU
  • 22in Hanns-G HI221DP (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1680x1050)
  • 1GB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5770 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 67/24fps
  • Fear = 197fps)
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 137
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock P55 Pro
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 600W EZCool PSU
  • 22in Hanns-G HI221DP (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1680x1050)
  • 1GB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5770 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 67/24fps
  • Fear = 197fps)
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 137

OUR VERDICT

Although it’s the fastest general-performance PC in our chart, the Eclipse Matrix Crossfire i786R577 isn’t such a trailblazer when it comes to gaming. While graphics performance is likely to improve with DirectX 11.0 titles, those looking for the best gaming experience right now should look for a HD 4890 system.

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