With its dual-core E6700 processor, the Arbico CD-8870GS outpaced the quad-core PCs to record an excellent score of 110 points in our WorldBench 6 test suite of applications, but future software should give the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA a significant edge.

A question of performance today or performance tomorrow, then? Not quite. Because, even with its faster chip, the Arbico CD-8870GS struggles to mark itself out as the clear top PC for today's applications - that two-point advantage is noticeable but not significant. Add to the mix the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA's massive 4GB of DDR RAM - twice that of the Arbico CD-8870GS - and the future potential offered by its quad-core chip and we suspect you won't disagree that the Arbico CD-8870GS is the lesser choice.

But there's plenty about the Arbico CD-8870GS that will set the heart racing. The V7 screen is a pleasing 20in model that combines full widescreen capabilities with a decent colour palette. The 320MB version of the 8800 GTS is a solid graphics card - although if it's top gaming performance that you're after, the Chillblast Fusion Centaur is a better option. The DVD writer is competitive and the Arbico CD-8870GS comes with a strong software bundle - almost matching the ones provided by the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA and Evesham Solar PCs. At this price, we might expect more than a return-to-base warranty, though - the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA offers an onsite arrangement.

Verdict

If you want the best overall performance in today's world, the Arbico CD-8870GS is just about the best shot. But the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA is incredibly close even now, and once we see multithreaded applications, or programs that require more memory, the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA will cruise ahead.

Chart ranking: power PCs September 07 issue

1st place: Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA
2nd place: Chillblast Fusion Centaur
3rd place: Arbico CD-8870GS
4th place: Evesham Solar
5th place: CyberPower Infinity 860 (last month 4th place)

Buying advice: power PCs as of July 07

Processor: We may finally be reaching the tipping point in the balance of power between dual- and quad-core - or, more specifically, between Intel's Core 2 Duo chips and its Core 2 Quad stunners. If you want a PC that'll fly through next year's software library, the Quad Q6600 is an excellent chip to opt for. You may have to sacrifice a small amount of speed on today's applications and games but, in the long run, the gains should far outweigh the pains. Having said that, don't dismiss the E6700 just yet. This remains the fastest processor in today's environment and buying such a chip guarantees you plenty of power for the foreseeable future.

Memory: The age of the 2GB PC is upon us. If you skimp on memory now, you might find yourself having to administer a critical upgrade later on. Given the power and juggling space required by 2007's software titles, 1GB PCs won't cut it at the top level in the Vista era. Indeed, some PC makers are starting to offer 4GB. No one needs that much at the moment, but in the future, who knows?

Storage: Anything less than 250GB is now considered a small amount of storage space - as much as 400GB is available at this price. Make sure you get serial ATA cabling for rapid transfer rates. Cover backup with a multi-format DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities are a must, allowing you to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc. Make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL with a minimum of eight-speed. DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also, look for good eight-speed or 10-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats include DVD-RAM.

Display: Flat-panels vary wildly in quality - look for a 19in screen with a DVI (digital visual interface) that supports a resolution of 1,280x1,024 or more. You may even find a good 20in screen, but be careful if you're offered a 22in model at this price - the quality of image is likely to be patchy. You'll probably have to stare at the screen for long periods, so ensure that the picture quality is up to scratch. Try to get a display with a response time of 8ms or less so that the screen doesn't blur on fast-moving images.

Graphics cards: At this price point, you should be able to get something rather startling. The nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS is making great waves in its 640MB incarnation, packing in some excellent graphics features, wonderful visual quality and DirectX 10.0 support. It remains to be seen whether this card is actually powerful enough to handle the demands of DirectX 10, but this remains an excellent card for the price. The 320MB version of the 8800 GTS is also pretty decent, although you'll have to sacrifice a bit of detail.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard or integrated sound has come on in leaps and bounds, with support for 7.1 channel sound - but it's no match for a decent sound card. Hunt around and you should be able to get a card from Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want 2.1-channel speakers, make sure they're high-quality models. Most manufacturers are bundling 5.1-channel speakers. If you want audio excellence, you may be able to get a set of 7.1-channel speakers at this price.

Arbico CD-8870GS: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 400GB Sata
  • Asus P5B motherboard
  • six USB ports
  • 20in V7 S20PD flat-panel (0.292mm, 1,440x1,050)
  • 320MB nVidia GeForce 8800GTS PCI Express graphics
  • onboard Realtek
  • 5 x Cyber Acoustics CA5150 speakers
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • Ahead Nero
  • CyberLink PowerDVD
  • WorldBench 6: 110 points
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 400GB Sata
  • Asus P5B motherboard
  • six USB ports
  • 20in V7 S20PD flat-panel (0.292mm, 1,440x1,050)
  • 320MB nVidia GeForce 8800GTS PCI Express graphics
  • onboard Realtek
  • 5 x Cyber Acoustics CA5150 speakers
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • Ahead Nero
  • CyberLink PowerDVD
  • WorldBench 6: 110 points

OUR VERDICT

If you want the best overall performance in today's world, the Arbico CD-8870GS is just about the best shot. But the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA is incredibly close even now, and once we see multithreaded applications, or programs that require more memory, the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA will cruise ahead.

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