Rather than start from scratch, Arbico has made some small improvements to our previous chart-topper, the Elite i7-2657 MX (tinyurl.com/3evyx23). The revamped Arbico Elite I7-2657 MX mkII now offers excellent system-wide performance and a very well-balanced selection of components.

The Arbico runs a multiplier-unlocked Intel Core i7-2600K processor, and its base frequency of 3.4GHz can be easily overclocked. In its standard configuration, however, the Elite I7-2657 MX mkII recorded a staggering 180 points in WorldBench 6.

This excellent result was helped by the Arbico Elite I7-2657 MX mkII’s 120GB OCZ Vertex 3 solid-state drive (SSD). It offers twice the capacity of any other SSD in the chart, and very good performance thanks to a brand-new controller and 6 gigabits per second (Gbps) SATA interface. The hard drive has also been upped from 1.5 terabytes (TB) to 2TB.

Gamers will appreciate the Arbico Elite I7-2657 MX mkII's nVidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics card with 1.28GB of video memory, although the more fanatical will prefer the GTX 580 seen elsewhere in the chart.

An Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard offers features such as Bluetooth, four USB 3.0 ports (two internal, two external), scalable link interface (SLI) and easy overclocking.

The 24in LED-backlit Asus monitor is a high-quality display. It has three video inputs, including HDMI. A 10-speed Blu-ray drive is a perfect partner for HD film playback, and a set of five surround speakers complete the Arbico Elite I7-2657 MX mkII's multimedia package.

The Arbico Elite I7-2657 MX mkII is housed in a Raidmax Altas system case with a mesh side panel and slot covers, plus blue LED-fitted 120mm fans. Tool-free drive bays are found inside, but there’s minimal cable management.

Power PCs chart ranking

  1. 1. Arbico Elite i7-2657 MX mkII
    2. CyberPower Infinity Achilles Extreme
    3. Dino PC Maxosaur 2600K V2
    4. Eclipse Supernova i726n580 Sli
    5. Palicomp Phoenix i7 Attitude

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Power PCs buying advice

Processor: Intel’s 3.4GHz quad-core Core i7-2600K offers fantastic performance, hyperthreading, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz and easy overclocking.

You can make a small saving by opting for the non-’K’ version, which does without the overclocking feature. Alternatively, the Core i5-2500 offers a reduced cache, no hyperthreading and a 3.3GHz clock speed, but will still outpace many previous-gen Core i7 chips. It’s also available in a ‘K’ version.

If you intend to overclock the CPU, upgrade the standard Intel cooler first.

Memory: A £1,001-plus Sandy Bridge Core i7 PC should come with at least 8GB of RAM. Some come with 16GB, although most of us won’t need this much. A 64bit OS is essential to take full advantage of this memory, particularly if you’re running a dual-graphics setup.

Storage: Expect 1TB. Look for a pair or trio of drives to reduce the risk of total data loss, although noise levels will increase. Raid 0 setups boost speed at the expense of reliability. 2TB drives are also available, but remember to back up regularly. Consider mirroring for added security.

SSDs provide a significant and very noticeable speed boost, from reduced startup times to improved system responsiveness. They’re now priced at a level where you should expect to see one in any PC costing more than £1,000. Go for an SSD with a capacity of at least 60GB if you’re running Windows 7.

Z68-chipset motherboards support Intel’s Smart Response Technology, allowing even a low-capacity SSD to speed up hard-drive performance. This technology is still in its infancy, however, and performance gains aren’t always as great you might expect.

Dual-layer DVD+/-R capabilities are useful, preferably at eight-speed or above. Also look for eight-speed DVD+RW. If you want Blu-ray playback, be prepared to compromise on DVD speeds.

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Display: PCs at this price are nearly always offered with a 24 or 25in display. This used to be the magic size at which 1080p (full-HD) playback became available, making these ideal partners for Blu-ray drives. However, some of the newest 22in (16:9) monitors can also display full-HD – for less money.

Models with LED backlighting aren’t necessarily better, but can offer improved contrast, lower power consumption and a thinner, more desirable design.

Make sure you get a digital input for the best image quality, while HDMI is great for hooking up additional devices.

Graphics card: For a top-level gaming experience, go for nVidia’s GeForce GTX 580. If you don’t need ultimate performance, the cheaper GTX 570 and AMD Radeon HD 6970 are a great match for a 24in monitor.

Both brands support stereoscopic 3D when used with the correct display hardware and glasses. Recent ATI graphics cards can also be connected to multiple displays.

Look out for pre-overclocked graphics cards, as well as those that come with custom cooling solutions.

A single-card setup leaves more space for sound cards or TV tuners.

Motherboard: If you’re considering a RAM upgrade, check there are free slots. If you want to overclock, look for automatic overclocking functions on the motherboard. Z68-chipset boards offer more features than their P67 counterparts and cost only a little more.

SLI or CrossFireX support lets you add extra graphics cards. Sandy Bridge motherboards support this mode of operation, but current boards aren’t able to deliver the full bandwidth required for peak performance. For a multi-card gaming system, you may better off with an older Core i7 9xx CPU and an X58-chipset motherboard.

Power supply: The level of power you require will depend on the graphics card you use. Look for a known brand, and consider from 750W upwards if you plan to add a second card. Any form of overclocking will demand a powerful PSU.

Arbico Elite I7-2657 MX mkII: Specs

  • 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600K
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2TB SATA
  • 120GB SSD
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard
  • 580W Xilence PSU
  • 23.6in Asus VE247H (0.28mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • 1.28GB KFA2 nVidia GeForce GTX 570 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 110/49fps, Stalker: Call Of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 213/118fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 5 x Trust speakers and subwoofer
  • 10x BD-ROM/8x -R/8x -R DL/8x -RE/8x -ROM DL
  • 16x DVD-R/16x +R/10x -R DL/10x +R DL/10x -RW/10x +RW/10x -RAM
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 180
  • 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600K
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2TB SATA
  • 120GB SSD
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard
  • 580W Xilence PSU
  • 23.6in Asus VE247H (0.28mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • 1.28GB KFA2 nVidia GeForce GTX 570 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 110/49fps, Stalker: Call Of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 213/118fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 5 x Trust speakers and subwoofer
  • 10x BD-ROM/8x -R/8x -R DL/8x -RE/8x -ROM DL
  • 16x DVD-R/16x +R/10x -R DL/10x +R DL/10x -RW/10x +RW/10x -RAM
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 180

OUR VERDICT

You can get faster graphics and a bigger monitor for the money, but the Arbico Elite I7-2657 MX mkII balances performance with features, and includes some cutting-edge components.

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