Save for a few small improvements, Arbico’s Elite i7 2676 XL is identical to its previous Elite i7-2657 MX mkII. This machine is another strong contender, and its slightly lower price makes it the cheapest machine in our £1,001+ PCs chart.
Doubling the amount of system memory to 16GB has gained the Arbico Elite i7 2676 XL an extra point in WorldBench 6, while the SSD has been downgraded to an 120GB OCZ Agility 3. This shaves a little off the price tag, without a measurable reduction in performance. A two-terabyte (2TB) hard drive is also provided.
The Arbico Elite i7 2676 XL uses the same Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard as Palicomp’s Phoenix. It doesn’t support hard-drive-boosting SSD caching or automatic-switching graphics, but it’s ideal for overclocking and includes USB 3.0, Bluetooth and 6 gigabits per second (Gbps) SATA.
The Arbico Elite i7 2676 XL's weakest component is its nVidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics card. It’ll be adequate for most users, but is bettered by every other PC in this group. Gaming scores for the Arbico system are therefore noticeably behind the rest of the competition. Many keen gamers are likely to be instead drawn towards Chillblast’s system, which costs only £25 more.
The included 23.6in Asus V247H monitor is a great-looking display, with LED backlighting and excellent image quality. Chillblast trumps it with a 27in version from the same maker, however.
The Arbico Elite i7 2676 XL is housed in a Raidmax Altas system case. This incorporates a mesh side panel and 120mm fans fitted with cool blue LEDs. Tool-free drive bays are found inside, although minimal cable-management facilities make for messy wiring.
- 1. Chillblast Fusion Pulsar
2. Arbico Elite i7 2676 XL
3. Palicomp Phoenix i7 Stealth Extreme
4. CyberPower Infinity Achilles Extreme
5. Dino PC Maxosaur 2600K V2
Processor: Intel’s 3.4GHz quad-core Core i7-2600K offers fantastic performance, hyperthreading, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz and easy overclocking.
You can make a small saving by opting for the non-’K’ version, which does without the overclocking feature. Alternatively, the Core i5-2500 offers a reduced cache, no hyperthreading and a 3.3GHz clock speed, but will still outpace many previous-gen Core i7 chips. It’s also available in a ‘K’ version.
If you intend to overclock the CPU, upgrade the standard Intel cooler first.
Memory: A £1,001-plus Sandy Bridge Core i7 PC should come with at least 8GB of RAM. Some come with 16GB, although most of us won’t need this much. A 64bit OS is essential to take full advantage of this memory, particularly if you’re running a dual-graphics setup.
Storage: Expect 1TB. Look for a pair or trio of drives to reduce the risk of total data loss, although noise levels will increase. Raid 0 setups boost speed at the expense of reliability. 2TB drives are also available, but remember to back up regularly. Consider mirroring ?for added security.
SSDs provide a significant and very noticeable speed boost, from reduced startup times to improved system responsiveness. They’re now priced at a level where you should expect to see one in any PC costing more than £1,000. Go for an SSD with a capacity of at least 60GB if you’re running Windows 7.
Z68-chipset motherboards support Intel’s Smart Response Technology, allowing even a low-capacity SSD to speed up hard-drive performance.
This technology is still in its infancy, however, and performance gains aren’t always as great you might expect.
Dual-layer DVD+/-R capabilities are useful, preferably at eight-speed or above. Also look for eight-speed DVD+RW. If you want Blu-ray playback, be prepared to compromise on DVD speeds.
Display: PCs at this price are nearly always offered with a 24 or 25in display. This used to be the magic size at which 1080p (full-HD) playback became available, making these ideal partners for Blu-ray drives. However, some of the newest 22in (16:9) monitors can also display full-HD – for less money.
Models with LED backlighting aren’t necessarily better, but can offer improved contrast, lower power consumption and a thinner, more desirable design.
Make sure you get a digital input for the best image quality, while HDMI is great for hooking up additional devices.
Graphics card: For a top-level gaming experience, go for nVidia’s GeForce GTX 580. If you don’t need ultimate performance, the cheaper GTX 570 and AMD Radeon HD 6970 are a great match for a 24in monitor.
Both brands support stereoscopic 3D when used with the correct display hardware and glasses. Recent ATI graphics cards can also be connected to multiple displays.
Look out for pre-overclocked graphics cards, as well as those that come with custom cooling solutions.
A single-card setup leaves more space for sound cards or TV tuners.
Motherboard: If you’re considering a RAM upgrade, check there are free slots. If you want to overclock, look for automatic overclocking functions on the motherboard. Z68-chipset boards offer more features than their P67 counterparts and cost only a little more.
SLI or CrossFireX support lets you add extra graphics cards. Sandy Bridge motherboards support this mode of operation, but current boards aren’t able to deliver the full bandwidth required for peak performance. For a multi-card gaming system, you may better off with an older Core i7 9xx CPU and an X58-chipset motherboard.
Power supply: The level of power you require will depend on the graphics card you use. Look for a known brand, and consider from 750W upwards if you plan to add a second card. Any form of overclocking will demand a powerful PSU.