Also based on the Intel Core i7 860 and P55 chipset, Palicomp's Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC is another strong contender. Here, the 2.8GHz quad-core processor and twin hard drives enable a creditable WorldBench 6 real-world speed score of 135 points.

Also based on the Intel Core i7 860 and P55 chipset, Palicomp's Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC is another strong contender. Here, the 2.8GHz quad-core processor and twin hard drives enable a creditable WorldBench 6 real-world speed score of 135 points.

An ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card is another component we've seen higher up the chart. It offers excellent performance and scored good results in all our gaming tests, regardless of the Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC's screen resolution or quality settings.

The ASRock P55 Pro motherboard doesn't offer USB 3.0 or SATA 6Gbps like the Recommended Eclipse, but it does come with a pair of powered eSATA ports that double up as USB 2.0 connectors. Two PCI Express x16 connectors are available, one of which operates in x4 mode, and there are also two PCI Express x1 and two standard PCI slots. Eight SATA 3Gbps ports come with full Raid support. The Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC thus offers plenty of room for upgrades, including the addition of a second graphics card.

Data is striped across the Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC's pair of 500GB hard drives, which are combined in a Raid 0 array. This setup can boost performance, but if one drive fails you'll lose everything.

The Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC's 24in AOC full-HD monitor delivers good image quality and includes a handy USB port. You also get a set of stereo speakers and a subwoofer.

The Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC's robust system case offers four USB ports at the top, along with eSATA and audio connectors. It's a superior case with plenty of access features, fan mounting points and a sturdy handle.

Power PCs chart ranking

  1. Chillblast Fusion Centaur
  2. Eclipse Solar Crossfire i786r585
  3. Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24
  4. CyberPower Ultra Scylla GT
  5. Arbico Elite 6885 HD

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

Also based on the Intel Core i7 860 and P55 chipset, Palicomp's Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC is another strong contender. Here, the 2.8GHz quad-core processor and twin hard drives enable a creditable WorldBench 6 real-world speed score of 135 points.

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 900-series chips require more expensive DDR3 memory and a new motherboard design, so expect to make sacrifices.

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 seen in four of the five PCs here is an almost unbeatable choice for gamers. It offers multiscreen support and supports DirectX 11.0.

nVidia's GeForce GTX 470 also supports DirectX 11.0 and delivers excellent performance, as well as support for the company's 3D Vision glasses.

Look for souped-up versions with faster clock speeds or additional memory.

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

Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0)
  • ASRock P55 Pro motherboard
  • 750W Thermaltake PSU
  • 14 x USB 2.0
  • 24in AOC 2436VWA (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB MSI ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 70/40fps
  • Fear = 301fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 135
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0)
  • ASRock P55 Pro motherboard
  • 750W Thermaltake PSU
  • 14 x USB 2.0
  • 24in AOC 2436VWA (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB MSI ATI Radeon HD 5850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 70/40fps
  • Fear = 301fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 135

OUR VERDICT

The Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 860-24 desktop PC is a great all-round system, but it lacks USB 3.0. Of course, you could add this with a plug-in PCI card.

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