A whole lot of rigs and a whole lot of tests
When we're testing full PCs, it becomes trickier than when we're simply checking out individual components. With a full system we have to check performance in a whole raft of different situations.
These are gaming PCs first and foremost, so we've tested with a selection of games, plus the demanding Heaven 2.5 synthetic benchmark. As well as the graphics, we've also tested the CPU performance, storage speeds and general responsiveness with things like Bootracer and SiSoft Sandra.
It's only when you put all the results together that you can get a full picture of just how good a given PC setup is. Balanced performance is the ideal.
And the winner is… PC Specialist Vanquish Eclipse 670 MKII
This group test gave us a bit of a headache when it came to picking a winner. We had some rather heated debates in the office about the relative merits of different machines.
The biggest difficulty we had in this test was figuring out just where the Chillblast Fusion Thunderbird stands in the final reckoning. If it had shipped us the rig running at 4.7GHz (and we guess it might well do from now on), it would have been rock solid and won the lot. The overclocked GTX 670 runs like a dream and the CPU speed would still be excellent. Coupled with the huge 240GB Mushkin SSD it's almost the perfect £1k rig.
Sadly though, it's as much about the user experience as it is about the spec and performance, and we have to review these machines as if we'd just dropped a grand on them ourselves. Pulling this out of the box and finding programs hanging at full load would be frustrating, and unless you're in the habit of benching your rigs as soon as you fire them up, you may not have a problem until further down the line.
To be fair, we've never had a problem with Chillblast machines in the past, and its two-year collect and return warranty is one of the best, but we couldn't give it the win.
Sadly for Scan and Cyberpower, it was a lot easier to discount their machines due to their choice of GPU. The GTX 660 Ti is simply not the card for a £1k rig, as shown by the performance figures.
Where the big argument came about though was with the two Core i7/GTX 680 machines sans SSD. The straight-line performance of both rigs was excellent, and the benefits of having an eight-threaded monster CPU in the rig with an awesome graphics card were hard to ignore.
Luckily the GTX 670, especially in overclocked trim, is every bit as good as a stock GTX 680. The toss up between having the i7 or an SSD was a tougher sell though. An i5 at 4.6GHz is really going to be all the processing power the majority of us will need for a long, long while. With a relatively cheap upgrade path - a 120GB SSD is less than £100 these days - you could make either one into an unstoppable machine.
As they are though, the balance is just a little off. And that's where PC Specialist's Vanquish Eclipse 670 MK II comes in. It is a fantastically balanced PC, and while it doesn't win any of the benchmark battles, it comes out on top as the machine that we'd be the happiest spending a grand on ourselves.
Pulling this machine out of the box and plugging it in, you'd be more than happy with it for the next couple of years at least. The GTX 670 is an excellent GPU, the i5 is running at a healthy 4.6GHz clockspeed, and it comes with a 120GB SSD and a massive 16GB of RAM. There is nothing missing from the build, and none of it feels like a compromise.
When you're spending £1,000 on a PC, that's how you want to feel when you plug it in and play. To be fair, one of the things this test has shown us is that with the market being so competitive, there are very few dud SIs out there.
Each of the machines in this test was slightly different, and each was just one tweak or one component away from winning the whole thing. We wouldn't worry about buying a PC from any of them, but the PC Specialist rig lived up to its name and is a machine to be proud of.