Palicomp's powerful Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU desktop PC runs a 3.4GHz Sandy Bridge chip and offers the best graphics system here.

Every system in this group test runs one of Intel’s brand-new Sandy Bridge processors. Palicomp’s Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU is among three PCs that offer the 3.4GHz Core i7-2600.

This chip is capable of superb performance, and is a big leap forward from the Core i7-950s we’re used to seeing at this price. The Palicomp Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU recorded a staggering 163 points in WorldBench 6 and, interestingly, it wasn’t even the fastest desktop PC on test.

That is, of course, in terms of Windows speed. The Palicomp Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU's Radeon HD 6950 is not only the fastest graphics card specified here, but it comes with double the video memory of any other. It triumphs in gaming.

The Palicomp Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU desktop PC also takes advantage of a superior motherboard. Its Asus P8P67 Pro is similar to the standard and ‘LE’ versions used by Arbico, Chillblast and Dino PC, but it offers enhanced support for dual graphics cards and a pair of eSATA ports. Bluetooth and overclocking facilities are built in.

Unfortunately, you’ll need the ‘K’ version of the i7-2600 chip to take full advantage of its Bios-replacing extensible firmware interface (EFI) – a graphical, mouse-driven interface for configuring settings.

The Palicomp Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU's 4GB of DDR3 RAM and one-terabyte (1TB) hard drive are standard inclusions. Two PCs here surpass this memory allocation with 8GB, and the Dino PC complements storage with a speedy solid-state disk (SSD).

With a 23.6in full-HD monitor, a Blu-ray Disc drive and a set of 5.1-channel speakers (five speakers and a subwoofer), the Palicomp Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU has decent multimedia credentials.

Power PCs chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU
  2. Arbico Elite i7268 HDX
  3. Chillblast Fusion Zeus
  4. CyberPower Infinity i5 Silent Edition
  5. Dino PC Ravenous 2600

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Next page: Buying advice

Palicomp's powerful Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU desktop PC runs a 3.4GHz Sandy Bridge chip and offers the best graphics system here.

Power PCs buying advice

Processor: Intel’s second-generation Sandy Bridge Core i5/i7 CPUs are currently the only serious contenders in this price category, having utterly outclassed the previous-generation of Core i7-800 and 900 processors. These chips are much faster and use less power.

The 3.4GHz i7-2600K is the fastest in the series, with the ‘K’ denoting an unlocked multiplier that offers safe and simple overclocking.

At 3.3GHz, the Core i5-2500K offers a slightly lower specification. It has no support for hyperthreading and 6MB rather than 8MB of level 3 cache.

Both chips are also available in cheaper non-K versions that don’t offer the same overclocking potential.

Motherboard: To take full advantage of Intel’s K-series CPUs, you’ll need a fully compatible motherboard. This will likely be more expensive. Avoid pairing with an H67 chipset-based motherboard.

A 64bit operating system is essential if you intend to use 4GB or more of RAM.

Storage: Expect 1TB, but you may find 2TB at this price. A complementary solid-state disk (SSD) will provide a noticeable boost to bootup times and system responsiveness, but these are pricey.

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.

It’s not unusual to find a drive that reads but doesn’t write to Blu-ray. Note that DVD-burning speeds will be slower on these combo drives.

Display: 24in flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply cheap screens to help budget for other components, but it’s worth spending a little more here if you’ll be working with digital media.

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 cheap displays that provide only VGA inputs.

Graphics card: At this price, the ATI Radeon HD 6870 is near-unbeatable. It offers support for multiple display and DirectX 11.0. You may be able to get an even faster Radeon HD 6950.

nVidia’s GeForce GTX 470 is also DirectX 11.0-compatible and delivers excellent performance, as well as support for the company’s 3D Vision technology. The GTX 460 offers good value, but it performs a little slower. It’s a superb choice for dual-graphics setups, however.

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

Many nVidia and ATI graphics cards can be upgraded to dual-card setups later. To take advantage of this, your motherboard and power supply must be compatible.

However, the current crop of motherboards which support the new processors have only limited support for multiple graphics cards, so buy the fastest single card you can afford.

Power supply: The level of power you require will depend on the graphics card you want to use. Look for at least a 500W unit or 750W-plus if you plan to add another card or overclock the CPU.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound decoding is so good these days that you’re unlikely to need a separate sound card – except for specialist applications such as studio music creation.

Next page: Specification and our expert verdict

Palicomp Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU: Specs

  • 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard
  • 750W Thermaltake PSU
  • 23.6in HKC 2249A (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 2GB MSI ATI Radeon HD 6950 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 86/47fps
  • Stalker: Call of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 179/99fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 5 x Creative A500 speakers and subwoofer
  • 4x BD-ROM
  • 24x/24x/12x/16x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 163
  • 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard
  • 750W Thermaltake PSU
  • 23.6in HKC 2249A (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 2GB MSI ATI Radeon HD 6950 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 86/47fps
  • Stalker: Call of Pripyat [Medium/Ultra] = 179/99fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 5 x Creative A500 speakers and subwoofer
  • 4x BD-ROM
  • 24x/24x/12x/16x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 163

OUR VERDICT

With very good Windows performance and the best graphics card on test, Palicomp's Phoenix i7 2600-24 BLU desktop PC is the clear Best Buy.

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