Palicomp’s Phoenix i5 Solar Flare desktop PC outclasses the competition, with a far superior specification and significantly better performance.

We've had some complaints from users that Palicomp has supplied the Phoenix i5 Solar Flare desktop PC with different components to those specified and tested by PC Advisor. Palicomp assured us that if this had occurred it was an honest mistake but - as with any PC purchase - we urge readers to check that the specifications they are purchasing are the same as those in this review.

Like most PCs at this price, it comes with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a one-terabyte (1TB) hard drive. In every other key area, however, the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Solar Flare desktop PC goes one step beyond.

Intel Sandy Bridge CPUs are now the most popular choice at this price. The Palicomp Phoenix i5 Solar Flare is the only desktop PC here to specify the 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K. This is the fastest Core i5 chip you can buy, and it’s multiplier-unlocked for easy overclocking. The Palicomp scored a staggering 166 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test.

Whereas most of the PCs here use motherboards based on the entry-level H67 chipset, Palicomp has selected a board based on the more expensive P67 chipset for its Phoenix i5 Solar Flare. It doesn’t provide integrated graphics, but it offers enthusiast features, Bluetooth, overclocking and three PCI Express x16 slots.

The P67 chipset is always going to be a much faster option for any K-series CPU, but the motherboard found inside the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Solar Flare is a more expensive version than those found in some £1,000-plus PCs.

AMD’s excellent ATI Radeon 6850 graphics card is found in every other PC on test, but Palicomp has managed to include the quicker 6870. The Phoenix i5 Solar Flare is unsurprisingly the fastest PC here for gaming, with a lead of up to 14fps over its rivals in Stalker (‘Ultra’ settings).

It may lack a Blu-ray drive, but the 24in full-HD monitor and set of external speakers make the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Solar Flare a decent multimedia PC, too.

Budget desktop PCs: chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Phoenix i5 Solar Flare
  2. Arbico i5-2568 Pro HD
  3. Chillblast Fusion Event
  4. Dino PC Elmisaur 2400
  5. Mesh Evolution GTX PCA

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NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Palicomp’s Phoenix i5 Solar Flare desktop PC outclasses the competition, with a far superior specification and significantly better performance.

Budget desktop PCs: buying advice

Processor: Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs are revolutionising all our PC categories. The 3.3GHz Core i5-2500 seen here delivers formidable performance, but the Core i5-2400 is also very fast and costs less. The processors demand a new type of motherboard, so buying into this technology now will future-proof your PC.

If you want to eke out the best possible performance from your system, go for a Core i5-2500K CPU. The ‘K’ denotes that it’s designed for overclocking. You’ll also need a P67-chipset-based motherboard, which won’t support the CPU’s integrated graphics.

Previous-generation chips such as the Core i5-760 can still offer good value at the right price.

Every chip in Intel’s Sandy Bridge Core i5 family is quad-core, excluding some rare low-voltage versions. Non-gamers should note that their integrated graphics chips will allow them to play full-HD video without a discrete graphics card.

Some AMD quad-core processors are also available in this price range, including the Phenom II X 975 BE. None can currently keep up with Intel’s latest offerings, however.

Memory: If a fast CPU speeds up your PC, a large bank of memory stops it from slowing down. Don’t buy a PC with less than 4GB of RAM, and get a 64bit operating system to make the most of it. Core i5- and i7-800-series CPUs use DDR3 memory rather than DDR2, but there’s no need to buy the chips in threes (as you do with i7-900-series CPUs).

Storage: Photos, video and other digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive; choose a PC with the most capacious drive you can. Expect 1TB at this price.

Consider using a pair of smaller hard drives rather than one large drive - 1TB is a huge amount of data to lose in one go.

With prices falling all the time, you may find a solid-state disk (SSD) affordable. An SSD’s faster file transfers can transform your computing experience, but make sure you get one at least 60GB in capacity and install your programs on a second drive if you want to avoid running into drive-space problems.

Your DVD drive should write to the +/-R formats at 18-speed or above. Eight-speed rewriting is good; if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVD+/-R dual-layer drives. Blu-ray readers are becoming more affordable, but they’re still quite rare at this price.

Display: Note that 19in screens offer a lower resolution than 20in/22in monitors; 22in models display larger icons. You’ll find many budget 23.6in displays at this price.

A DVI or HDMI connector will provide a better image than a VGA port; if you want to connect additional devices, you’ll need at least two.

Finally, look for a good response rate: 8ms or below is fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: We test graphics framerates with Crysis and Stalker: Call of Pripyat. The latter can benchmark DirectX 11.0-capable graphics cards. 25fps is enough to make a game playable, but set your sights at 50fps.

ATI’s Radeon HD 6850 offers excellent performance for the money. Cut back on other components and step up to a Radeon HD 6870 if gaming is very important to you.

nVidia’s GeForce GTX 460 also offers good performance. nVidia cards offer support for realistic object interactions in games supporting PhysX and are able to display 3D content.

If you don’t play games at all, you’ll be fine with the integrated graphics of Intel’s Core i5 processors.

Power supply: A 450W-plus power supply unit (PSU) is less vital at this price point, but look for a model with a full set of SATA and PCI Express connectors to make later upgrades easier.

Sound card and speakers: To get surround sound, look for a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer).


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NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Palicomp Phoenix i5 Solar Flare: Specs

  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard
  • 750W Thermaltake PSU
  • 24in AOC 2436VWA (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 6870 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] =92/42fps
  • Stalker: Call of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 168/84fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • 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: 166
  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard
  • 750W Thermaltake PSU
  • 24in AOC 2436VWA (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 6870 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] =92/42fps
  • Stalker: Call of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 168/84fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • 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: 166

OUR VERDICT

We can’t fault this incredibly fast PC. Had the relatively inexpensive Cooler Master Elite 330 case not given the game away, we would have expected the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Solar Flare to cost closer to £1,000.

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