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