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Group test: top 5 £999 PCs, January 2009

The best five PCs you can buy for £999 inc VAT

With PC Advisor you can spend around a grand and get a brilliant, brand-new desktop PC. Each month we source, test and review hundreds of technology products, bringing you independent reviews of the very best kit you can buy.

Below you'll find invaluable, straightforward buying advice, so you can ask the right questions when you make a purchase. And on the next page we've got in-depth reviews of the very best five desktop PCs you can buy right now for just shy of £1,000 inc VAT.

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£999 desktop PCs: buying advice

Processor: While dual-core processors are the most popular at this price point, quad-core chips are making a big impression. If you want to go down the dual-core route, look for Intel's E8600.

Quad-core processors such as the Q9400 are also available at this price. These chips use the same memory and motherboard as dual-core PCs and can offer huge speed advantages if you run multithreaded applications.

At the top of this price bracket comes Intel's new Core i7 chip. This is a match for the best dual-core systems and will outpace any previous-gen quad-core machine. However, Core i7 chips require more expensive DDR3 memory and a new motherboard design, so expect to make sacrifices elsewhere.

Click here for processor reviews

Memory: At this price point, 4GB should be considered a minimum, especially if you're running Vista. If you're buying a Core i7-based system, expect only 3GB. These systems install memory chips in threes, so the next step up would be 6GB.

A 64bit OS will take full advantage of your RAM - but check that your software and drivers will be supported. If you opt for an 8GB PC, a 64bit OS is essential.

Click here for RAM reviews

Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space - the manufacturers of the systems in this month's top 5 have all opted for at least 500GB. Many users will get by comfortably with a 320GB drive but, with hard-drive prices continuing to fall, it shouldn't be hard to find a terabyte of storage at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to dual-layer format if you want to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc. Look for a minimum of eight-speed DVD+R DL; DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also try to get eight-speed DVD+RW. At this price you should be able to find a drive that reads Blu-ray discs - note that it won't burn to Blu-ray and DVD burning speeds will be slower.

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Display: In this category, 22in flat-panels are the standard. Many vendors supply budget screens, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video - you'll probably have to stare at the monitor for long periods. Give the display a try to ensure you can put up with the quality.

A screen with a response time of 8ms or less will minimise blur on fast-moving images. For image editing, contrast ratio and colour fidelity are more important.

A digital input can preserve picture quality, so think twice about displays that provide analogue inputs only.

Click here for reviews of flatpanel displays

Graphics card: At this price point, it's a pitched battle between nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 and the ATI Radeon HD 4870. If you can find a GTX 280, that's even better. When buying a GTX 260, make sure it's the newer 216-core type.

The GTX 260 and HD 4870 both offer strong performance and can be used in dual-card solutions later on. In order to take advantage of such a setup, however, your motherboard and PSU will need to be compatible with this mode of operation.

It's also possible to go for a ready-made dual-card solution, such as a pair of Radeon HD 4850s. But this can work out more expensive in the long run.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound processing has come on in leaps and bounds, but it's no match for a decent sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want a 2.1-channel setup, make sure they're high-quality models.

Click here for video/graphics cards reviews

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound processing has come on in leaps and bounds, but it's no match for a decent sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want a 2.1-channel setup, make sure they're high-quality models.

Click here for speaker reviews

Click here for sound cards reviews

NEXT PAGE: top five £999 PC reviews

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