Arbico has once again delivered a top performer powered by Intel's 2.66GHz Core i7 920 processor. This CPU is set to dominate PC performance charts in this price category for some time to come, combining the flexibility of quad-core multiprocessing with excellent raw speed.

The Arbico Elite i748 XL pulled clear of the competition by a considerable margin in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test, scoring an excellent 133 points. And this strong general performance is backed up by very good gaming credentials: an HD 4870 graphics card helped this PC achieve the fastest framerates in our most challenging tests.

Arbico has housed the Elite i748 XL in a Cooler Master Elite 330 system case, which is smart and roomy. However, it lacks the style and build quality of Eclipse's Galaxy.

There's plenty of potential for upgrades. The Gigabyte motherboard supports CrossFireX technology, which means you can add a second graphics card later. Useful options are also available for enthusiasts who want to overclock the machine, but note that the Arbico Elite i748 XL comes with only four memory slots - three of which are filled with the supplied 3GB of memory. Upgrading to 6GB (the next step for Core i7 processors) would therefore require you to replace all three memory sticks at additional expense.

Arbico's inclusion of a 460W power supply seems a little weak given the power of the Elite i748 XL's processor and graphics card. You may find you need to upgrade the PSU in the future, particularly if you opt to overclock the system or upgrade the graphics card. We certainly wouldn't recommend adding a second graphics card without first upgrading the PSU.

The Arbico Elite i748 XL comes without speakers, so you'll need to factor in their cost unless you're prepared to put up with the monitor's less than stunning audio capabilities.

Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs

  1. Arbico Elite i748 XL
  2. Eclipse Galaxy X58n260
  3. Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22
  4. CyberPower Gamer Ultra HD II
  5. Chillblast Fusion Excalibur

>> NEXT PAGE: Power desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Power desktop PCs (May 09 issue)

Processor: Taking this price bracket by storm is 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.

Dual-core CPUs are still very popular at this price point, offering good performance and considerably lower overall system costs. Intel's competitively priced E8600 offers the best performance.

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.

Memory: Generally speaking, you should consider 4GB as a minimum, particularly if you're running Vista. But if you're buying a Core i7-based PC, expect 3GB. These install memory chips in threes.

A 64bit operating system (OS) will take full advantage of your RAM - but check that your software and drivers will be supported. If you opt for more than 4GB, a 64bit OS is essential.

Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. Many users will get by with 320GB but, with prices continuing to fall, it isn't impossible to find a terabyte of storage at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to a 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: 22in flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply budget screens, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video. Try before you buy 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 can be used in dual-card setups later on. But to take advantage of this, your motherboard and PSU will need to be compatible with this mode of operation.

It's possible to go for a ready-made dual-card setup, but this can work out more expensive in the long run.

Power supply: The level of power you require will depend largely on the type of graphics card you expect to use. Look for at least a 500W PSU at this price point, but consider 750W upwards if you have any thoughts of moving up to a dual-card solution later. Overclocking will also demand a powerful, high-quality PSU.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound is 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.

Arbico Elite i748 XL: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or 64bit Vista at no extra cost)
  • 3GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD3R
  • 460W Cooler Master PSU
  • 22in GNR TB2200W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 4870 (game scores: Crysis = 65fps (High), 25fps (Very High)
  • Fear = 220)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R D/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • PowerDVD
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 133
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or 64bit Vista at no extra cost)
  • 3GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD3R
  • 460W Cooler Master PSU
  • 22in GNR TB2200W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 4870 (game scores: Crysis = 65fps (High), 25fps (Very High)
  • Fear = 220)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R D/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • PowerDVD
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 133

OUR VERDICT

Arbico's Elite i748 XL combines the flexibility of quad-core multiprocessing with raw speed.

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