One for the enthusiasts, Arbico's i7 HD8650 Pro might be beaten in our tests but it offers plenty of scope for tinkering.

Arbico has plumped for an Intel Core i7 860 processor for its i7 HD8650 Pro. This high-performance chip helps keep overall system costs down by using less expensive components than the 9xx series, such as dual-channel memory. It also offers a ?slightly higher clock speed.

Unfortunately, and rather unusually for Arbico, the i7 HD8650 Pro's performance in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test was a little disappointing. While 134 points is fast enough for most users, it's some way behind the 148-point tally of the CyberPower.

The Arbico i7 HD8650 Pro's gaming performance, on the other hand, is very strong. An HD 5850 graphics card delivers speedy framerates in the latest games and support for DirectX 11.0.

PC enthusiasts will enjoy the curiously angular NZXT Gamma system case. Leaving aside its interesting looks, the Gamma offers room for six fans, holes for watercooling pipes and a back plate for easy access to the CPU. The Arbico i7 HD8650 Pro also comes with a beefy 850W AvengePower PSU.

A 23in full-HD monitor and a set of 5.1-channel surround-sound speakers (five speakers and a subwoofer) are provided with the Arbico i7 HD8650 Pro.

Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs (issue 178)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Goliath
  2. CyberPower Infinity Hercules XT
  3. Eclipse Evolution i792R585
  4. Arbico i7 HD8650 Pro
  5. Mesh Ice7 860 DX Fire

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One for the enthusiasts, Arbico's i7 HD8650 Pro might be beaten in our tests but it offers plenty of scope for tinkering.

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 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, 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 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 SATA 6GBps 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.

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Arbico i7 HD8650 Pro: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 Home Premium 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DRR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2 motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 850W AvengePower PSU
  • 23in Digimate L2362WD (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB PCI Express XFX ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 73/35fps
  • Fear = 300fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 5 x Trust Soundforce speakers and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/12x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 134
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 Home Premium 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DRR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD2 motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 850W AvengePower PSU
  • 23in Digimate L2362WD (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB PCI Express XFX ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 73/35fps
  • Fear = 300fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 5 x Trust Soundforce speakers and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/12x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 134

OUR VERDICT

Although its performance is bettered elsewhere, the Arbico i7 HD8650 Pro is a great all-round system that allows enthusiasts plenty of room for upgrades. The HD8650 Pro is also the only machine here that’s capable of providing a full-HD experience with surround-sound out of the box. The two-year warranty is another welcome inclusion.

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