Buying advice: power PCs as of August 07
Processor: They might soon face some serious competition from AMD's quad-core processors but, for now, Intel's Core 2 chips reign supreme. The E6750 and E6850 have made quite a splash in our power PC chart. For the best performance on today's software, look to the E6850.
Alternatively, you could opt for a quad-core chip such as the Quad Q6600. This potentially offers around 50 to 100 percent extra performance, but only in applications and games that are programmed to take advantage of the extra cores included within each chip. Don't expect multicore applications to flood in, but we could see a dramatic shift in the software landscape over the next couple of years. The higher the number of cores, the more impressive future performance is likely to be.
Memory: No sooner had we welcomed the age of the 2GB PC than 4GB machines started appearing in our charts. Three of the models in the power PC chart now include this much memory.
If you want your PC to cope easily with programs in 2008 and beyond, 4GB is the key - but 2GB remains a decent option if you want to save money. For the best performance, buy from a high-quality memory maker such as Corsair.
Storage: Unbelievably, anything less than 500GB is now considered a small amount of storage - most power PCs come with 500GB to 600GB of hardware space. A few machines offer more than this but, unless you specialise in a particularly gigabyte-hungry pastime such as video, 500GB should be more than enough. Make sure you get serial ATA cabling for rapid transfer rates.
Cover backup with a multi-format DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities (allowing you to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc) are a must, and you should make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL at eight-speed or more. Eight-speed DVD-R DL is nice but not essential, and look for good eight-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats include DVD-RAM.
Display: You might think that any flat-panel bundled with a power PC would be of superior quality - but you'd be mistaken. These power PCs come with 22in displays, but you should be careful when choosing screens of this size. Some 22in flat-panels produce poor colours and fuzzy images, which might cause more than a few problems for those with sensitive eyes. If in doubt, 20in screens are safer bets, but you'll have to accept inferior resolution support.
Graphics cards: You should be able to get something rather startling in a power PC. The GeForce 8800 Ultra is undoubtedly the most prized acquisition. Its support for DirectX 10.0 means Vista adopters can look forward to some impressive games titles in the future.
The Ultra also has bags of performance and sizzling features. The 8800 GTX is nearly as good and, as stocks dwindle, could be available at a juicy price.
However, you shouldn't overlook their slightly less exciting sibling, the 8800 GTS, nor the brand-new ATI HD 2900 XT. The latter can't keep up with the Ultra and GTX, but it will eclipse even the 640MB version of the 8800 GTS.
Sound card and speakers: Onboard or integrated sound has come on in leaps and bounds, with support for 7.1 channel sound - but it's still no match for a decent sound card. Hunt around and you should be able to get a PC with a Creative Audigy card or, better still, one from the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want 2.1-channel speakers, make sure they're high-quality. Most manufacturers are bundling 5.1-channel speakers. Strangely, 7.1 speakers are becoming less common but, if you want audio excellence, you'd be best off holding out for a set of these.