Noticeably faster than Arbico's fourth-placed HD8650 Pro and edging just ahead of our Best Buy Chillblast, the Ice7 860 DX Fire from Mesh is the fastest of three systems based around the Intel Core i7 860.

We've seen systems based on this processor do very well against pricier Core i7 960-powered machines in the past, and this is no exception. The Mesh Ice7 860 DX Fire achieved a staggering 142 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test, with its powerful processor no doubt aided by its Raid 0 hard-drive configuration.

Such setups can offer a boost in performance for disk tasks, but a greater risk of data loss. For this reason, many systems stripe two drives and offer a third for data backups. The DX Fire offers just two 500GB drives. There are other methods of backup, of course.

Whereas every other vendor has plumped for HD 5850 graphics, Mesh supplies a pair of HD 5770 cards with the Ice7 860 DX Fire. Our tests saw this combination turn in results largely on a par with a single HD 5850, although performance will vary depending on the game you are playing. In particular, some titles show a marked advantage when using a CrossFireX setup.

Dual-graphics setups consume more power and take up an extra slot on the motherboard, however. Using a single HD 5850 would perhaps have been a better idea, costing around the same amount and delivering similar performance, but adding more features and letting you add a second card cost at your leisure.

A good-quality 22in Iiyama full-HD monitor is supplied, although it looks a little small when compared to the competition. No speakers are included, so you'll need to make do with those built into the Mesh Ice7 860 DX Fire's display.

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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Noticeably faster than Arbico's fourth-placed HD8650 Pro and edging just ahead of our Best Buy Chillblast, the Ice7 860 DX Fire from Mesh is the fastest of three systems based around the Intel Core i7 860.

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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Mesh Ice7 860 DX Fire: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0 configuration)
  • Asus P7P55D LE motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 700W X-Power PSU
  • 22in Iiyama E2208HDS (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 2 x 1GB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 5770 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 67/36fps
  • Fear = 306fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • CyberLink suite
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 142
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0 configuration)
  • Asus P7P55D LE motherboard
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 700W X-Power PSU
  • 22in Iiyama E2208HDS (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 2 x 1GB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 5770 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 67/36fps
  • Fear = 306fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • CyberLink suite
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 142

OUR VERDICT

Offering good value for money, the Mesh Ice7 860 DX Fire offers plenty of performance, a full-HD monitor and a dual-graphics card setup.

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