Palicomp’s Phoenix i7 Stealth Extreme offers bags of performance. It costs £100 more than our Best Buy but includes a superior system case with a top-mounted SATA dock and enhanced cooling, which is ideal should you want to try your hand at overclocking.
At its standard clock speed of 3.4GHz, the Core i7-2600K processor enabled the Palicomp Phoenix i7 Stealth Extreme to record a staggering 181 points in WorldBench. Key to this performance is 16GB of DDR3 RAM and a 120GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD.
Palicomp supplies a faster nVidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card than the Chillblast’s GTX 570. However, factory-overclocking allows the Chillblast to provide similar performance at a lower price.
A P67-chipset motherboard won’t allow you to speed up the Palicomp Phoenix i7 Stealth Extreme's 2TB hard drive using an SSD, nor automatically switch between integrated and dedicated graphics. However, it’s packed with advanced overclocking capabilities and Bluetooth.
The 24in Samsung display supports DVI and VGA inputs, but there’s no LED backlighting or HDMI input. A set of Logitech speakers and a subwoofer is also provided with the Palicomp Phoenix i7 Stealth Extreme, along with a 12-speed Blu-ray drive.
- 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 ATI 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.