Palicomp's Haswell i5 Gamer is a polarising budget gaming PC. On one hand it's not a particularly quick gaming rig in terms of actual graphics grunt, but also it has great potential.

That's because Palicomp has chosen the top PC platform of the day, Intel's 4th Gen Core. Plugging a full quad-core Haswell into this machine gives it serious processing grunt. If you're not focused on gaming, this would be a proper contender.

As a productivity machine, the Haswell i5 Gamer is impressive. The quick memory and Core i5 chip make for some strong memory bandwidth figures, only equalled by the Haswell i3 in the Chillblast. The quad-core CPU will also chew through any CPU-intensive task quicker than anything else in this price range.

OK, it's no K-series behemoth, so you're stuck with the 3.2GHz clockspeed and you don't get any fancy HyperThreading malarky, but having four physical cores running at that speed makes this a tasty little CPU-focused machine.

A shoot and a miss

Palicomp hasn't scrimped on the motherboard either, giving us a full Z87 chipset board from Asus as backup for the i5 chip. With that quality mobo as the base, this machine has some serious legs. Drop either of the K-series Core i7 or i5 chips into this board and you'll probably be able to top 4.5GHz without breaking a single bead of sweat.

It also means the Haswell i5 Gamer offers full support for native USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps connections as well. The gold detail might be a little ostentatious for some, but hey, this clearly isn't really a budget board.

The only real problem is the graphics card. The HD 7770 isn't a bad budget card, but its benchmark scores are very close to the bottom of the gaming ladder. When the rest of the rig is so powerful, it's a shame it's so hobbled when it comes to actual gaming performance.

Benchmarks

Multi-thread CPU performance
Cinebench 11.5: Index score: Higher is better

Aria Gladiator Hurricane: 3.7
Chillblast Fusion Cannon: 3.66
Computer Planet ND 200: 2.96
Cyberpower Ultra Fusion: 1.53
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 3.96
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 5.53
PC Specialist Trinity Trion A8: 3.25
Vibox Crypt: 3.45
Wire2Fire Velocity Ultima: 3.28

Gaming performance
Heaven 4.0: Frames per second: Higher is better

Aria Gladiator Hurricane: 9.1
Chillblast Fusion Cannon: 25.4
Computer Planet ND 200: 22.5
Cyberpower Ultra Fusion: 14.7
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 28.8
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 15.2
PC Specialist Trinity Trion A8: 18.7
Vibox Crypt: 11.5
Wire2Fire Velocity Ultima: 25.1

BioShock Infinite: Frames per second: Higher is better
Aria Gladiator Hurricane: 16
Chillblast Fusion Cannon: 46
Computer Planet ND 200: 39
Cyberpower Ultra Fusion: 26
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 51
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 25
PC Specialist Trinity Trion A8: 33
Vibox Crypt: 19
Wire2Fire Velocity Ultima: 44

City of Heroes 2: Frames per second: Higher is better
Aria Gladiator Hurricane: 6
Chillblast Fusion Cannon: 16
Computer Planet ND 200: 18
Cyberpower Ultra Fusion: 6
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 19
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 11
PC Specialist Trinity Trion A8: A8 6
Vibox Crypt: 6
Wire2Fire Velocity Ultima: 15

Grid 2: Frames per second: Higher is better
Aria Gladiator Hurricane: 27
Chillblast Fusion Cannon: 52
Computer Planet ND 200: 50
Cyberpower Ultra Fusion: 33
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 60
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 38
PC Specialist Trinity Trion A8: 45
Vibox Crypt: 26
Wire2Fire Velocity Ultima: 49

Video encode performance
X264 4.0: Frames per second: Higher is better

Aria Gladiator Hurricane: 24.64
Chillblast Fusion Cannon: 21.63
Computer Planet ND 200: 18.64
Cyberpower Ultra Fusion: 10.79
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 28.44
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 33.39
PC Specialist Trinity Trion A8: 21.86
Vibox Crypt: 22.34
Wire2Fire Velocity Ultima: 21.42

Memory bandwidth @ optimised defaults
SiSoft Sandra: Gigabytes per second: Higher is better

Aria Gladiator Hurricane: 15.53
Chillblast Fusion Cannon: 21
Computer Planet ND 200: 8.63
Cyberpower Ultra Fusion: 8.53
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 16.32
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 21
PC Specialist Trinity Trion A8: 7.5
Vibox Crypt: 12.14
Wire2Fire Velocity Ultima: 12.26

Verdict

The HD 7770 means that it can't get over 30fps in the BioShock Infinite test. It's quite a damning indictment of a gaming rig when it can't run an Unreal Engine 3 title comfortably at 1080p.

The weak graphics card is a disappointment, but the fact that the Haswell i5/Z87 is an incredible base for a gaming rig - and it really is. This base spec will allow you to get the most out of any GPU you attach to the machine, so you could slum it with the HD 7770 for a little while and then update the graphics card once you've saved a decent amount of cash.