Quad-core systems are gaining ground, but a fast dual-core machine is still a safe bet. With higher clock speeds, dual-core systems such as the Arbico Elite 8260 XL can still outpace their quad-core rivals on single-threaded applications and the majority of games.

The current king of the dual-core CPUs, Intel's 3.33GHz Core 2 Duo E8600, powers Arbico's Elite 8260 XL to an impressive 126 points in WorldBench 6. The money saved on the processor also allows for such extras as Logitech 2.1-channel speakers (two speakers and a subwoofer) and a Blu-ray drive, so you can watch HD movies on your desktop.

Arbico supplies a high-quality 22in LG monitor with the Elite 8260 XL, which is a considerable step up from some of the cheaper models in the chart from the likes of Digimate and Hanton.

Graphics are powered by an nVidia GeForce GTX 260 - an excellent graphics card that's capable of playing current games at good-quality settings. In our gaming tests, the Arbico Elite 8260 XL was consistently top of the pile.

Arbico has achieved a high-level of build quality and accessibility with the Cooler Master Elite 330 system case. No sound card is fitted, leaving ample room for upgrades. Disappointingly, the Arbico Elite 8260 XL's 4GB allocation of RAM is provided in 1GB modules - an upgrade would mean discarding the original chips.


Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs (March 09 issue)

  1. Eclipse Storm i7920n98GTX
  2. Arbico Elite 8260 XL
  3. Palicomp Phoenix E86-22
  4. Mesh Elite GTX260 Power
  5. RL Supplies Modula i8470

>> NEXT PAGE: Power desktop PCs buying advice

Power desktop PCs buying advice (March 09 issue)

Processor: While dual-core processors are the most popular at this price point, quad-core chips are making a big impression. If you want to go down the dual-core route, look for Intel's E8600.

Quad-core processors such as the Q9400 are also available at this price. These chips use the same memory and motherboard as dual-core PCs and can offer huge speed advantages if you run multithreaded applications.

At the top of this price bracket comes Intel's new Core i7 chip. This is a match for the best dual-core systems and will outpace any previous-gen quad-core machine. However, Core i7 chips require more expensive DDR3 memory and a new motherboard design, so expect to make sacrifices elsewhere.

Memory: At this price point, 4GB should be considered a minimum, especially if you're running Vista. If you're buying a Core i7-based system, expect only 3GB. These systems install memory chips in threes, so the next step up would be 6GB.


A 64bit OS will take full advantage of your RAM - but check that your software and drivers will be supported. If you opt for an 8GB PC, a 64bit OS is essential.

Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space - the manufacturers of the systems in this month's chart have all opted for at least 500GB. Many users will get by comfortably with a 320GB drive but, with hard-drive prices continuing to fall, it shouldn't be hard to find a terabyte of storage at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to dual-layer format if you want to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc. Look for a minimum of eight-speed DVD+R DL; DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also try to get eight-speed DVD+RW. At this price you should be able to find a drive that reads Blu-ray discs - note that it won't burn to Blu-ray and DVD burning speeds will be slower.

Display: In this category, 22in flat-panels are the standard. Many vendors supply budget screens, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video - you'll probably have to stare at the monitor for long periods. Give the display a try to ensure you can put up with the quality.

A screen with a response time of 8ms or less will minimise blur on fast-moving images. For image editing, contrast ratio and colour fidelity are more important.

A digital input can preserve picture quality, so think twice about displays that provide analogue inputs only.

Graphics card: At this price point, it's a pitched battle between nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 and the ATI Radeon HD 4870. If you can find a GTX 280, that's even better. When buying a GTX 260, make sure it's the newer 216-core type.

The GTX 260 and HD 4870 both offer strong performance and can be used in dual-card solutions later on. In order to take advantage of such a setup, however, your motherboard and PSU will need to be compatible with this mode of operation.

It's also possible to go for a ready-made dual-card solution, such as a pair of Radeon HD 4850s. But this can work out more expensive in the long run.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound processing has come on in leaps and bounds, but it's no match for a decent sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want a 2.1-channel setup, make sure they're high-quality models.


>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Arbico Elite 8260 XL: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose Vista 64bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 750GB SATA
  • Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS3L
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 22in LG W2252TQ (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 896MB PCI Express Palit nVidia GeForce GTX 260 (games scores: Crysis = 73fps
  • Fear = 222fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 6x BD-ROM
  • 3x HD DVD
  • 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • PowerDVD
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 126
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose Vista 64bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 750GB SATA
  • Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS3L
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 22in LG W2252TQ (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 896MB PCI Express Palit nVidia GeForce GTX 260 (games scores: Crysis = 73fps
  • Fear = 222fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 6x BD-ROM
  • 3x HD DVD
  • 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • PowerDVD
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 126

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico Elite 8260 XL doesn’t offer the multiprocessing capabilities of the Core i7-based Eclipse, nor is it as upgradable. However, general-purpose performance and gaming speeds are excellent, and Arbico bundles better quality peripherals and multimedia capability.

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