Power PCs buying advice as of Feb 08 issue
Processor: They might soon face some serious competition from AMD’s quad-core processors but, for now, the Core 2s reign supreme. In fact, Intel has been busy adding to its line-up – the quad-core QX6850 is the latest fantastic addition.
Quad-core processors potentially offer 50 to 100 percent extra performance in applications that are programmed to take advantage of the extra cores included within each chip. Don’t expect multicore apps and games to flood in, but in a couple of years the software landscape could shift dramatically – and the higher the number of cores, the more impressive the performance boost is likely to be.
You can still get the dual-core E6750 and E6850 processors at good prices. And these chips are devastatingly fast, so don’t discount them.
Memory: No sooner had we welcomed the age of the 2GB PC than 4GB machines started appearing in our charts. Virtually all PCs over £1,000 should come with such a configuration. 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 – the PCs in our £1,001+ chart come with between 500GB and 750GB of hardware space. It’s possible to find a terabyte (1TB) if you shop around. 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 all PCs at this price point would come with superior-quality flat-panels – but you’d be mistaken. The PCs in our chart mostly come with 22in displays, but you should be careful when choosing screens larger than this. Some bigger models produce poor colours and fuzzy images, which might cause problems for sensitive eyes. A 22in screen is a safer bet, if you don’t mind inferior resolution support.
Graphics cards: At this price point, you should be able to get something rather startling. 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. However, stocks are low, and the 8800 GTX is proving a more popular choice. The best option, we reckon, is probably not one but two 8800 GTs. These shouldn’t cost much more than a single GTX or Ultra, but in scaleable link interface (SLI) mode they do offer more performance in the majority of games.
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.