Buying advice: Power desktop PCs (July issue)

Processor: Intel's new Core i7 chip is taking this price bracket by storm. It's 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.

Dual-core CPUs are still popular at this price point, offering good performance and considerably lower overall system costs. Intel's E8600 chip offers the best performance.

Quad-core processors, such as the Q9400, are another option. These chips use the same memory and motherboard as dual-core PCs and can offer huge speed advantages if you run multithreaded applications.

Memory: Consider 4GB as a minimum, particularly if you're running Vista. If you're buying a Core i7-based PC, however, expect 3GB (such PCs install memory chips in threes). A 64bit operating system will take full advantage of your RAM - but check that your software and drivers will be supported.

If you opt for more than 4GB, a 64bit operating system is essential.

Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. Many users will get by with 320GB but, with prices continuing to fall, it isn't impossible to find a terabyte of storage at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to a 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. 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.

Display: 22in flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply budget screens, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video. Try before you buy 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.

If you're a movie fan, look for one of the new 16:9 format 22in+ displays that offer full-HD playback.

Graphics card: At this price, it's a pitched battle between nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 (or even 280) and the Radeon HD 4870 - most of our Top 5 go for the HD 4870.

The GTX 260 and HD 4870 can be used in dual-card setups later but, to take advantage of this, your motherboard and PSU will need to be compatible. Ready-made dual-card solutions are available but can work out more expensive.

The HD 4890 should soon be available at a competitive price, offering a decent speed boost over the HD 4870.

Power supply: The level of power you require will depend largely on the type of graphics card you expect to use. Look for at least a 500W PSU at this price point, but consider 750W upwards if you have any thoughts of moving up to a dual card solution later. Overclocking will also demand a powerful, high-quality PSU.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound is no match for a sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 or X-Fi range.

OUR VERDICT

On paper, the Eclipse Titan X58 Crossfire's specifications are good. But it comes with so many contradictions: there's excellent general-purpose performance and yet there's no DVD drive; a Blu-ray drive is present, but the monitor is analogue-only and comes with no standalone speakers to make the most out of it; and while there's 6GB of RAM under the hood, the choice of operating system can use only 3GB.