Arbico’s eXcel i5-2888 Mx has a similar specification to the Palicomp PC in fourth place, with the same Intel Core i5-2500K processor, 23.6in AOC monitor, ATI Radeon HD 6870 graphics card and Logitech S220 sound system. This PC won the better score in WorldBench 6, with a chart-leading 173 points, but the Palicomp has twice the storage capacity and a Blu-ray/DVD combo drive.

While the Asus P8P67 motherboard is a great performer, the Arbico eXcel i5-2888 Mx is limited by its P67 chipset. This lacks many features offered by the newer Z68 chipset, which is used by every other PC here. For example, there’s no option to boost system performance by adding an SSD and taking advantage of Intel’s SRT. This board does offer Bluetooth and support for Asus’s Digi+ VRM, however, with the latter enabling more sophisticated and automatic overclocking.

With both the Arbico eXcel i5-2888 Mx and Palicomp Phoenix using the same graphics card, our games tests found no more than a few frames between them. At lower resolutions, the Arbico’s superior application performance gained it the lead – we measured 92fps and 169fps at the lower settings of Crysis and Stalker: Call Of Pripyat, in comparison to the Palicomp’s 87fps and 166fps. These scores levelled out as we turned up the settings.

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Both this Arbico eXcel i5-2888 Mx and the Palicomp PC outpaced the Dino PC’s nVidia GeForce 550 Ti, but neither can match the speed of the factory-overclocked GTX 560 Ti supplied by Chillblast.

The Arbico eXcel i5-2888 Mx is housed in a CIT Storm system case. This distinctive-looking model features a glossy black finish and a fan-speed control that lets you find the right balance between cooling and noise. Inside, we found a matt back finish, tool-free 5.25in drive bays and perpendicular snap-in caddies for 3.5in drives.

Arbico’s eXcel i5-2888 MX comes with a two-year warranty on labour.

Chart ranking

  1. 1. Chillblast Fusion Striker
    2. Dino PC Elmisaur 2600
    3. Arbico eXcel i5-2888 Mx
    4. Palicomp Phoenix i5 Lightning Extreme
    5. Eclipse Anarchy i525n560

Buying advice

Processor: Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs are revolutionising all our PC categories. The 3.3GHz Core i5-2500 seen here delivers formidable performance, but the Core i5-2400 is also very fast and costs less. The processors demand a new type of motherboard, so buying into this technology now will future-proof your PC.

If you want to eke out the best possible performance from your system, go for a Core i5-2500K CPU. The ‘K’ denotes that it’s designed for overclocking. You’ll also need a P67- or Z68-chipset motherboard, which won’t support the CPU’s integrated graphics.

Previous-generation chips such as the Core i5-760 are outclassed, but can still offer good value at the right price.

Every chip in Intel’s Sandy Bridge Core i5 desktop family is quad-core, excluding some rare low-voltage versions.

Non-gamers should note that their integrated graphics chips will allow them to play full-HD video without a discrete graphics card.

Some AMD quad-core processors are also available in this price range, including the Phenom II X4 980 BE. None can currently keep up with Intel’s latest offerings, however.

Memory: A large bank of memory stops your PC from slowing down. Don’t buy a PC with less than 4GB of RAM, and get a 64bit operating system to make the most of it. Consider 8GB if you’ll be multitasking or using intensive programs.

Core i5- and i7-800-series CPUs use DDR3 memory rather than DDR2, but there’s no need to buy the chips in threes (as you did with i7-900-series CPUs).

Storage: Digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive; choose a PC with the most capacious drive you can. Expect 1TB, but prices are low enough to find double this amount.

Consider using a pair of smaller hard drives rather than one large drive – 1TB is a huge amount of data to lose in one go.

With prices falling all the time, you may find a solid-state drive (SSD) affordable. An SSD’s faster file transfers can transform your computing experience, but make sure you get one at least 60GB in capacity and install your programs on a second drive.

If you can’t afford a large-capacity SSD, Z68 motherboards can use Smart Response Technology with a smaller SSD to boost hard-drive performance.

Your DVD drive should write to the +/-R formats at 18-speed or above. If you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVDKR dual-layer drives. Blu-ray readers are still rare at this price.

Display: Note that 19in screens offer a lower resolution than 20in/22in monitors; 22in models display larger icons. Newer 21.6in (16:9) flat-panels are capable of displaying full-HD content, but onscreen elements will be even smaller. You’ll find many budget 23.6in displays at this price.

DVI or HDMI will provide a better image than a VGA port. If you want to attach additional devices, you’ll need two.

Finally, look for a good response time: 8ms or below is fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: We test graphics framerates with Crysis and Stalker: Call of Pripyat. The latter can benchmark DirectX 11.0-capable graphics cards. 25fps is enough to make a game playable, but set your sights at 50fps.

ATI’s Radeon HD 6850 offers excellent performance for the money. Cut back on other components and step up to a Radeon HD 6870 or the newer 6950 if gaming is very important to you.

nVidia’s GeForce GTX 560 Ti also offers good performance. nVidia cards offer support for realistic object interactions in games supporting PhysX and are able to display 3D content.

If you don’t play games at all, you’ll be fine with the integrated graphics of Intel’s Core i5 processors. The ‘K’ versions offer improved graphics performance over the standard versions.

Power supply: A 450W-plus power supply unit (PSU) is less vital at this price point, but look for a model with a full set of SATA and PCI Express connectors to make later upgrades easier.

Sound card and speakers: To get surround sound, look for a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer).

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Arbico eXcel i5-2888 Mx: Specs

  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K
  • standard Intel CPU cooler
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 8x USB 2.0
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 motherboard
  • 420W Xilence PSU
  • 23.6in AOC E2436VWA (0.27mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • 1GB Asus ATI Radeon HD 6870 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 92/44fps, Stalker: Call Of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 169/86fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2x Logitech S220 with subwoofer
  • 24x DVD-R/24x +R/12x -R DL/12x +R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -ROM
  • two-year return-to-base warranty (labour only)
  • WorldBench 6 score: 173
  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K
  • standard Intel CPU cooler
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 8x USB 2.0
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 motherboard
  • 420W Xilence PSU
  • 23.6in AOC E2436VWA (0.27mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • 1GB Asus ATI Radeon HD 6870 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 92/44fps, Stalker: Call Of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 169/86fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2x Logitech S220 with subwoofer
  • 24x DVD-R/24x +R/12x -R DL/12x +R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -ROM
  • two-year return-to-base warranty (labour only)
  • WorldBench 6 score: 173

OUR VERDICT

Ultimately, Arbico's eXcel i5-2888 Mx desktop PC is let down by an older P67 chipset. But it offers excellent application performance, strong graphics and a very good system case.

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