Buying advice: £1,001+ desktop PCs
Processor: The once all-conquering E6850 processor seems to be on its way out, overmatched by the new Penryn E8500 chip. The E8500 will register the same performance scores as the E6850 with just half the RAM.
The E8500 remains a more expensive option, however. It’ll be worth watching out for bargains on E6850 machines as manufacturers look to offload supplies.
If you’ve got one eye on the future, you might also want to consider a Core 2 Quad chip. You’ll sacrifice a little speed for the money in the short term, but you could see a serious performance boost when multithreaded software applications start hitting the stores.
Memory: No sooner had the age of the 2GB PC been ushered in than PC makers started deluging us with 4GB machines. Virtually all models over £1,000 come with such a configuration. If you want a PC that’ll be able to cope easily with programs in 2008 and beyond, 4GB of RAM is the key. For the best performance, look for high-quality memory from a reputable maker such as Corsair.
Storage: It’s hard to believe, but anything less than 500GB is now considered a small amount of storage space – most manufacturers supply somewhere between 500GB and 1 terabyte (TB). Unless you pursue a particularly gigabyte-hungry pastime such as video editing, however, you’re unlikely to need more than 400GB or 500GB. Get serial ATA cabling for rapid transfer rates.
Cover backup with a multiformat DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities (allowing you to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc) are a must, and make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL at eight-speed or more. Eight-speed DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also, look for good eight-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats include DVD-RAM.
Display: You might think a £1,001-plus PC would be guaranteed to come with a superior flat-panel display – but you’d be mistaken. The PCs in our chart all come with high-quality 22in displays, but there are some 24in screens to be had – and these are of less consistent quality. Some of the 24in monitors out there suffer from poor colours and fuzzy images, which can be a serious problem for those with sensitive eyes. It’s a safer bet to go for a 22in screen, provided you don’t mind inferior resolution support.
Graphics card: At this price point, you should be able to get something rather startling. Of the single cards, the GeForce 8800 Ultra is the most prized acquisition. Its support for DirectX 10.x means Vista users can look forward to some impressive games titles in the future.
The Ultra also has bags of performance and a slew of sizzling features. Stocks of the Ultra are running low, however, and many manufacturers are supplying one or two 8800 GT or 8800 GTS 512 cards. These aren’t actually very far behind the Ultra (and the impressive 8800 GTX) on performance. A pair of 8800 GTs is an excellent choice for
high-level gaming speed.
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. You should be able to find 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 then make sure they’re high-quality models; most firms are bundling 5.1 speakers. If you want audio excellence you’d be best off holding out for a set of 7.1 speakers, which are becoming less common.