How quickly things change in the PC market. Only last month we were raving about Eclipse's ability to kit out a £750 machine with an E6700 processor. But the firm has gone one better, equipping the Best Buy Eclipse Evolution i685n88s with an E6850 and placing the Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA in the shade.

The Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA's performance is still pretty zippy, thanks to the processor and 2GB of DDR RAM. But it's obviously outshone by the trio of E6750 and E6850 machines.

The Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA's 320MB 8800 GTS card has been trumped (again by the Eclipse Evolution i685n88s), but this remains a competitive graphics card at this price - the Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA's gaming speed is close to the best in this category.

The Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA's HannsG isn't a flat-panel we're going to go crazy about, but it's more than good enough for the money. The screen is colourful and reasonably sharp and the widescreen resolution is welcome. Update - Eclipse has now changed this to the 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel. The Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA's DVD writer and hard drive are commendable, but the deficiencies of the Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA's audio are shown up by the good speakers provided with the PC Specialist Apollo 675GTS and Arbico 807 Pro PCs.

Verdict

The Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA remains an impressive machine, but it needs a price cut to restore it to the heights of the chart.

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 Matrix I67N88-VSTA: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 320GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5ND2 SE motherboard
  • 6 x USB ports
  • 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 320MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS
  • onboard ADI1986A 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: 100 points
  • 1-year RTB warranty
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 320GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5ND2 SE motherboard
  • 6 x USB ports
  • 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 320MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS
  • onboard ADI1986A 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: 100 points
  • 1-year RTB warranty

OUR VERDICT

The Eclipse Matrix I67N88-VSTA remains an impressive machine, but it needs a price cut to restore it to the heights of the chart.

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