Based on Intel’s brand-new 2.8GHz Core i7 860, the Arbico HD8658 XL is a Windows 7 desktop PC that comes with a 24in full-HD monitor and a Blu-ray drive.

The Arbico HD8658 XL performed well, scoring 137 points in our WorldBench 6 speed test and delivering gaming performance that matches that of systems higher up the chart.

Arbico has selected the Cooler Master Elite 333 system case, which is simple and functional. Inside, its Gigabyte motherboard is based on the new P55 chipset for which the Core i7 860 was designed. This allows dual-channel memory to be installed, leaving two slots free for expansion and some cash in the pot to splash elsewhere. This Arbico HD8658 XL's motherboard also offers CrossFireX support, with room for a second graphics card, and two free PCI slots for other add-in cards.

Two 500GB drives arranged in a Raid 0 configuration offer a total storage capacity of 1TB. While the Arbico HD8658 XL's chosen method can potentially offer a speed boost, we've seen such setups fail on more than one occasion. Without a third drive for backing up your data, Raid 0 storage is a risky option.

Although the Arbico HD8658 XL offers a larger screen than Chillblast's Fusion Warrior, it comes without an external speaker set.
We also think the Arbico HD8658 XL's RTB warranty is a less comforting inclusion than the Chillblast's hassle-free collect-and-return policy. In all other ways, however, these two systems are evenly matched.

Chart ranking (issue 174)

  1. Mesh Ice 7 DX11
  2. Eclipse Fusion Crossfire i792R585
  3. Chillblast Fusion Warrior
  4. Arbico HD8658 XL
  5. Chillblast Fusion Apex

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

Buying advice

Processor: Intel's Core i7 chip is taking this price bracket by storm. It's a match for the best dual-core systems and will outpace any previous-generation quad-core machine. However, Core i7 chips require more expensive DDR3 memory and a new motherboard design, so expect to make sacrifices elsewhere.

The latest Core i7 800-series processors use lower-cost motherboards and can compete with the lower end of the Core i7 900-series on performance.

Dual-core CPUs are still available, but the time has come to switch to the quad-core architectures.

Memory: Consider 4GB as a minimum. If you're buying a Core i7-based system, however, expect 3GB or 6GB of RAM (such machines install memory chips in threes). The Core i7 800-series and Core i5 chips install memory sticks in twos, however, making them excellent value for money.

A 64bit 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 500GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. Many users will get by with 320GB but, with prices falling, it isn't impossible to find a terabyte at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to a dual-layer format if you want to store 8.5GB on a single disc. Look for a minimum of eight-speed DVD+R DL. Try to get eight-speed DVD+RW.

At this price you may also 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 or 24in flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply budget screens in order to leave more room in the budget for other components, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work primarily with digital photos or video.

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.

If you're a movie fan, look for one of the new 16:9 format 22in-plus displays that offer full-HD playback. You may even be able to find a 24in model.

Graphics card: At this price point, the ATI Radeon HD 5850 is an almost unbeatable choice for gamers. It offers multiscreen support and supports DirectX 11.0.

You'll also find good deals on nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 (or even GTX 280). Look for souped-up versions with faster clock speeds or additional memory. nVidia cards offer some unique features, including support for 3D gaming with compatible monitors and glasses.

The GTX 260 and HD 5850 can be used in dual-card setups later but, to take advantage of this, your motherboard and power supply must be compatible.
Ready-made dual-card solutions are available but can be more expensive.

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 unit 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 high-quality power supply.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound is no match for a sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 or X-Fi range.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specification and our expert verdict

Arbico HD8658 XL: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0 configuration)
  • Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2 motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 800W WinPower PSU
  • 24in AOC 416V (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 72/35fps
  • Fear = 307fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 4x BD-ROM
  • max DVD speeds: 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x/12x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 137
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0 configuration)
  • Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2 motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 800W WinPower PSU
  • 24in AOC 416V (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 72/35fps
  • Fear = 307fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 4x BD-ROM
  • max DVD speeds: 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x/12x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 137

OUR VERDICT

Arbico's HD8658 XL has some neat features, including the ability to play Blu-ray films in full-HD. But we think you'll be more satisfied with one of the all-round performers placed higher up the chart.

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