Buying advice: power PCs as of January 08 issue
Processor: We may finally be reaching the tipping point in the delicate balance of power between Intel's Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad chips. If you want a PC that'll fly through next year's software library, the Q6600 is an excellent chip to opt for. You may have to sacrifice a small amount of speed on today's applications and games but, in the long run, the gains should far outweigh the pains.
That said, the dual-core chips continue to rise in performance and, for today's programs, the E6850 and E6750 are the superior processors. Even in the age of the quad-core, you should get plenty of performance from these dual-core chips.
Memory: Make no mistake about it. The age of the 2GB PC as standard is here. If you skimp on memory now, you might find yourself having to administer a critical upgrade later on. Indeed, a growing number of PCs are starting to make a case for stuffing 4GB under the lid. It's too early to be specifying such an amount as standard, but the future of computing may well thrive on this extra complement of memory.
Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space; most manufacturers opt for 400GB or 500GB. Many users can get along very comfortably with considerably less than this, but those intending to store lots of media files should stock up.
Cover backup with a multiformat DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities are a must and you should make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL with a minimum of eight-speed. DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also, you should look out for good eight-speed or 10-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats include DVD-RAM.
Display: Flat-panels can vary wildly in quality. The safe bet here is a good 20in screen. However, there's an increasing chance you'll be offered a 22in flat-panel at this price. Bear in mind you'll probably stare at this screen for long periods so, if you're buying a relatively inexpensive 22in model, ensure you like the quality of the picture. Try to get a screen with a response time of 8ms or less so the screen doesn't blur on moving images.
Graphics card: At this price point, you should be able to get something rather startling. The ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT is excellent value for money, although you should be able to get better. Watch out for the GeForce 8800 GTX. This is the fastest graphics card bar the expensive and difficult to buy Ultras, and offers excellent graphics features and wonderful visuals, and enough firepower to make short work of DirectX 10.0. There aren't any real DirectX 10.0 titles around yet, but if anything will be able to handle the demands of DirectX 10.0, you can expect it to be an 8800 GTX or Ultra.
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 get a PC with a card from Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you want only 2.1-channel speakers then you should ensure they're high-quality models - but most manufacturers these days are bundling 5.1-channel speakers.
The Fusion Tomcat is another polished system from Chillblast. It's not the most perfect blend of components - we'd love to see a Best Buy PC in the £751-£1,000 PCs chart that comes with an impressive sound system - but, for the time being, this is pretty much as good as it gets for computers at this price point.