Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo chips have established themselves as the best in just about every category and the sizzling E6600 model is proving itself the chip of choice for £751-£1,000 PCs. The E6600 is amazingly fast and holds a significant advantage over its Athlon counterparts. That's not to say AMD processors can't still do a job - especially if your budget is closer to £751 than £1,000 - but for those with the full amount to spend, the E6600 remains peerless.
Memory: The age of the 2GB PC is upon us. Given the power and juggling space required by 2007's software titles, 1GB PCs won't cut it at the top level in the Vista era - skimp on memory now and you might find yourself having to administer a critical upgrade later on. For the best performance, look for a high-quality memory maker such as Corsair.
Storage: It's hard to believe, but 250GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. All five of the manufacturers in our Top Five have included at least 320GB and, as Mesh and Zoostorm show, as much as 500GB is a possibility at this price. 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 with a minimum of eight-speed or more. DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also, look for good eight- or 10-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats to consider include DVD-RAM.
Display: Flat-panel screens can vary wildly in quality - preferably look for a 19in model with a DVI (digital visual interface) that can support a resolution of 1,280x1,024 or more. You may be able to stretch to a good 20in screen, but be careful if you're offered a 22in flat-panel at this price - the quality of the image on cheap 22in models tends to be patchy. Bear in mind that you'll have to stare at this screen for long periods, so picture quality is an important consideration. Try to get a screen with a response time of 8ms or less so that the screen doesn't blur fast-moving images.
Graphics card: At this price, you should be able to get something rather startling. The nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS is making great waves in its 640MB incarnation, providing excellent graphics features and wonderful visual quality. It also packs DirectX 10.0 support, theoretically giving you access to some impressive games in the future - although it's too early to tell whether the card will be powerful enough to handle the demands of DirectX 10.0 in practice. Nonetheless, this is an excellent card for the money. The 320MB version of the 8800 GTS is also decent, although you will have to sacrifice a bit of detail.
Sound card and speakers: Onboard or integrated sound has come on in leaps and bounds, with support for 7.1-channel sound now available - but it's no match for a decent sound card. You should be able to get a card from Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you want only 2.1-channel speakers then make sure they're high-quality, but most manufacturers are bundling 5.1 speakers. If you want audio excellence, you should hold out for a set of 7.1-channel speakers.