On paper, the PC Specialist Apollo HD 8600 looks tasty: it’s the second system here to house Intel’s new E8600 chip. There’s also 4GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive and a premium motherboard from Asus.

But the PC Specialist Apollo HD 8600 couldn’t meet our expectations, scoring a disappointing 119 points in our WorldBench 6 benchmark. In its defence, the E8600 is a new chip that has caused its fair share of compatibility headaches for manufacturers. By the time these processors start to ship in volume, we would expect any performance glitches such as these to be ironed out.

The PC Specialist Apollo HD 8600's Asus P5Q motherboard supports a number of high-end features, including an Intel P45 chipset, support for high-speed memory and advanced energy-saving functions. Its Express Gate mode allows you to boot the PC into a mini Linux OS in five seconds, from which you can surf the internet and quickly perform basic tasks without having to boot up Windows.

With graphics powered by an ATI Radeon HD 4870 card, the PC Specialist Apollo HD 8600 has the oomph necessary to run the most demanding 3D games – although the motherboard doesn’t support a Crossfire setup, so you won’t be able to add a second card later.

PC Specialist’s own Trigon case helps create a stylish and expensive-looking system with its solid build quality and four front-facing USB ports – these are accessible without opening the front door, which also conceals the PC’s Blu-ray drive.

Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs (Nov issue)

  1. Zoostorm 64-6502
  2. Mesh Elite GTX260 Pro
  3. CyberPower Gamer Infinity Silent Edition
  4. Chillblast Olympian
  5. PC Specialist Apollo HD8600

>> NEXT PAGE: Power desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Power desktop PCs (Nov issue)

Processor: All the systems here use dual-core processors. Intel's E8500 chip continues to dominate our charts, but its reign is coming to an end with the arrival of the E8600. However, there have been some teething problems with this new processor, so we'd recommend holding off a few weeks if you plan to purchase one.

Even in the age of quad-core computing, you should still get plenty of performance from the top dual-core chips. If you want a PC that'll fly through next year's software library, however, a quad-core system may be a wise choice. You'll have to sacrifice a small amount of speed on today's applications but, in the long run, the benefits are likely to be worth it. AMD's Phenom X4 9850 offers good value for money, as do the later revisions of Intel's Core 2 Quad Q6600.

Memory: At this price point, 4GB should be considered a minimum, especially if you're running Windows Vista. All the PCs here come with at least this amount.

A 64bit OS will take full advantage of your RAM - but check beforehand that your software and drivers will be supported. If you opt for the 8GB Mesh, a 64bit OS is essential.

Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space - the manufacturers of the systems in this month's chart have all opted for at least 500GB. Many users will be able to get by comfortably with a 320GB drive, but those intending to store lots of video, games, audio and media files should stock up.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to 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 to burn to Blu-ray and DVD burning speeds will be slower.

Display: In this category, 22in flat-panels are the standard. Many PC manufacturers supply budget screens, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video - you'll probably have to stare at the monitor for long periods. Give the display a try 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 such as games. 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 pitch battle between nVidia's latest GeForce GTX 260 graphics card and the ATI Radeon HD 4870 from ATI. Both offer very good performance and can be doubled up into dual-card solutions later. In order to take advantage of such a setup, however, your motherboard and power supply will need to be compatible with this mode of operation.

It's also possible to go for a ready-made dual-card solution, such as a pair of Radeon HD 4850s. This can work out to be more expensive in the long run.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound has come on in leaps and bounds, but it's still 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 (two speakers and a subwoofer), make sure they're high-quality models. Most firms are bundling 5.1 speakers

PC Specialist Apollo HD8600: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32/64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 750GB SATA
  • Asus P5Q
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Hanns-G HW223DP (0.282mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Gigabyte ATI Radeon HD 4870 (games scores: Crysis = 60fps
  • Fear = 230fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC1200
  • 5 x Creative Inspire T6100
  • subwoofer
  • 6x/3x (BD-ROM/HD-DVD)
  • 12x/12x/4x/4x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • Nero
  • CyberLink PowerDVD
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score
  • 119
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32/64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 750GB SATA
  • Asus P5Q
  • 10 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Hanns-G HW223DP (0.282mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Gigabyte ATI Radeon HD 4870 (games scores: Crysis = 60fps
  • Fear = 230fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC1200
  • 5 x Creative Inspire T6100
  • subwoofer
  • 6x/3x (BD-ROM/HD-DVD)
  • 12x/12x/4x/4x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • Nero
  • CyberLink PowerDVD
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score
  • 119

OUR VERDICT

With a little tweaking, the PC Specialist Apollo HD 8600 has the potential to be a truly great PC.

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