Running single-threaded applications, the 3.33GHz Intel Core i5 660-powered Arbico i5 HD6650 XL power desktop PC will easily outperform systems based on more expensive quad-core chips.

Running single-threaded applications, the 3.33GHz Intel Core i5 660-powered Arbico i5 HD6650 XL power desktop PC will easily outperform systems based on more expensive quad-core chips.

Ordinarily, those who like to run multiple programs simultaneously would be better served by one of the Arbico i5 HD6650 XL power desktop PC's quad-core competitors. The PC's DirectX 11.0-compatible ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card partially atones, with its DirectCompute feature offloading media-processing tasks on to the graphics card and freeing up the CPU for other activities. But all four of its rivals also include DirectCompute, making them capable of even greater parallelism. The right CPU choice for you will come down to the apps you use and how you use them.

The Arbico i5 HD6650 XL power desktop PC's Asus P7P55 LX motherboard supports CrossFireX for doubling up on ATI graphics cards. It also offers easy overclocking, with one option seeing the power switch transform into a turbo button for a one-touch speed boost. This motherboard shouldn't be confused with the more advanced Asus P7P55D-E LX supplied by Chillblast, however.

Arbico supplies 1TB of storage in a single drive, plus 4GB of DDR3 RAM - both are standard inclusions at this price point. More impressively, the Arbico i5 HD6650 XL power desktop PC is the only system here to offer a Blu-ray drive, which it pairs with an attractive 22in full-HD LG screen that comes with touch-sensitive controls and a set of stereo speakers. As such, the Arbico delivers the best all-round multimedia credentials of the group.

Chart ranking (July 2010 issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Reactor
  2. Eclipse Evolution i786R587
  3. Arbico i5 HD6650 XL
  4. Arbico i7 HD8650 Pro
  5. Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

Running single-threaded applications, the 3.33GHz Intel Core i5 660-powered Arbico i5 HD6650 XL power desktop PC will easily outperform systems based on more expensive quad-core chips.

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, some 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 but can still compete with the lower end of the Core i7 900-series on performance.

Intel's dual-core Core i5 CPUs are also worth considering, offering higher clock speeds for your money.

Memory: Consider 4GB as a minimum. If you're buying a Core i7-based system, 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 considered small. With prices falling, it's more typical to find 1TB 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. Keep an eye out for new motherboards with USB 3.0 and 6GBps SATA support too.

Display: 22in or 24in flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply cheap 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 setups 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 or 750W upwards if you plan to add another card. A known brand is also likely to give better stability. Overclocking also demands 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 i5 HD6650 XL: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core i5 660
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • Asus P7P55 LX motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 22in LG W2253TQ (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 70/36fps
  • Fear = 98fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 2 x Logitech S120
  • 4x/4x/4x (BD-ROM/-R/-RE DL)
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 136
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core i5 660
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • Asus P7P55 LX motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 22in LG W2253TQ (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 70/36fps
  • Fear = 98fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 2 x Logitech S120
  • 4x/4x/4x (BD-ROM/-R/-RE DL)
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 136

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico i5 HD6650 XL power desktop PC delivers the best multimedia credentials of the group but, depending on the applications you use, you may be better served by a quad-core machine.

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