Housed in a love-it-or-hate-it Trendsonic Wizard case and fronted by a pair of mandible-like ‘saloon doors', Palicomp's Phoenix E86C-22 is sure to look more at home at a gaming session than on your office desktop.

Avid gamers should also love the Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22's huge, slow-moving fan that's fitted in the case's side-panel. This helps to keep the system cool while keeping noise to a minimum.

Under the Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22's bonnet we find an old friend: the Core 2 Duo E8600 processor, which for a brief time was unbeatable in our high-end PC charts. It's now been outclassed by Intel's Core i7-series, but there's a good reason to stick with the ageing dual-core CPU over the i7: cost. The processor is less expensive, as are dual-core-compatible motherboards and memory. Not to mention that the E8600 is still pretty quick in its old age.

With the money saved, Palicomp has splashed out on a set of external speakers and a Blu-ray-compatible DVD drive to assist HD video playback on the Phoenix E86C-22.

A decent PSU is always an important consideration; rather like a PC's heart, it gives life to every part of the system. The Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22 comes with an 850W AlphaPower model, which is considerably more powerful than any other in this month's chart. It also has the largest hard drive: a full terabyte.

Unfortunately for Palicomp, we've seen far better WorldBench 6 scores from similarly configured systems; 118 points is looking just a little slow. However, the Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22's inclusion of an nVidia GeForce GTX 260 keeps gaming framerates nice and high.

Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs

  1. Arbico Elite i748 XL
  2. Eclipse Galaxy X58n260
  3. Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22
  4. CyberPower Gamer Ultra HD II
  5. Chillblast Fusion Excalibur

>> NEXT PAGE: Power desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Power desktop PCs (May 09 issue)

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

Dual-core CPUs are still very popular at this price point, offering good performance and considerably lower overall system costs. Intel's competitively priced E8600 offers the best performance.

Quad-core processors, such as the Q9400, are also available at this price. These chips use the same memory and motherboard as dual-core PCs and can offer huge speed advantages if you run multithreaded applications.

Memory: Generally speaking, you should consider 4GB as a minimum, particularly if you're running Vista. But if you're buying a Core i7-based PC, expect 3GB. These install memory chips in threes.

A 64bit operating system (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 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. Many users will get by with 320GB but, with prices continuing to fall, it isn't impossible to find a terabyte of storage at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to a dual-layer format if you want to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc. Look for a minimum of eight-speed DVD+R DL; DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also try to get eight-speed DVD+RW. At this price you should be able to 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 flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply budget screens, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video. Try before you buy to ensure you can put up with the quality.

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.

Graphics card: At this price point, it's a pitched battle between nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 and the ATI Radeon HD 4870. If you can find a GTX 280, that's even better. When buying a GTX 260, make sure it's the newer 216-core type.

The GTX 260 and HD 4870 can be used in dual-card setups later on. But to take advantage of this, your motherboard and PSU will need to be compatible with this mode of operation.

It's possible to go for a ready-made dual-card setup, but this can work out more expensive in the long run.

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 PSU 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 powerful, high-quality PSU.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound is no match for a decent sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want a 2.1-channel setup, make sure they're high-quality models.

Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit (XP or Vista 32bit available at discount)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • Asus Striker Extreme
  • 850W AlphaPower PSU
  • 22in Digimate L-2248WD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 896MB PCI Express Palit nVidia GeForce GTX 260 (game scores: Crysis = 67fps (High), 24fps (Very High)
  • Fear = 224fps)
  • onboard AD1988B
  • 2 x Logitech S220 and subwoofer
  • 6x BD-rom
  • 3x HD DVD-ROM
  • 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • AVG Free
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 118
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit (XP or Vista 32bit available at discount)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • Asus Striker Extreme
  • 850W AlphaPower PSU
  • 22in Digimate L-2248WD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 896MB PCI Express Palit nVidia GeForce GTX 260 (game scores: Crysis = 67fps (High), 24fps (Very High)
  • Fear = 224fps)
  • onboard AD1988B
  • 2 x Logitech S220 and subwoofer
  • 6x BD-rom
  • 3x HD DVD-ROM
  • 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • AVG Free
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 118

OUR VERDICT

Overall, the Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22 is a well-rounded PC. Palicomp has used tried-and-trusted technology to deliver a fully featured machine, rather than create a raw speed demon that’ll need more expenditure to bring other aspects up to scratch.

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