Now that the initial excitement surrounding Core 2 Duo has died down, we can now start to see which chips are being put into which machines, and importantly, at what price points.
By way of a demonstration, Evesham has pieced together the Evesham Solar RD - a mainstream system that won't cost the proverbial arm and leg, but still manages to offer strong performance, and a surprisingly powerful graphics engine as well.
You can configure the machine at the time of purchase to use any of Intel's Core 2 Duo processors, but at this price point Evesham has selected the relatively low-end chip, the E6400. This processor runs at 2.13GHz, operates on an effective 1066MHz front side bus, and importantly only has 2MB of L2 cache.
The faster chips boast 4MB of L2 cache and do benefit from it, but this is still a capable enough processor, and you won't notice too much of a performance issue unless you're hitting the processor hard with hours of HD video encoding.
The only minor hiccup in the specification is the memory. While 1GB should be enough for normal operations, and only power users will really have grounds to mock such a capacity, it's the speed of these DIMMs that's in question. With 1066MHz RAM just around the corner, and DDR2 667MHz modules pretty much the norm, it's somewhat surprising to see DDR2 533MHz here.
This means that the E6400 at the heart of the machine is slightly bottlenecked by the memory subsystem, ultimately limiting what you can do with it. Evesham has only used two memory modules, leaving two bays free for further upgrades.
Essentially, though, the first upgrade you perform on this system should be to up the memory bandwidth by installing DDR2 800MHz or faster sticks.
The performance on offer is solid enough despite these shortfalls, although we did expect to garner a slightly higher SYSmark 2004 score than recorded. A result of 268 is certainly nothing to sniff at, and indicates that you are most likely to be the limiting factor to performance rather than any particular section of the machine.
Even so, with other Core 2 Duo systems managing results of over 100 points higher, if you're after a pure performance workhorse, then you're going to have to look elsewhere.
If you're spending this much money on a system, then you can expect to get an at least semi-decent graphics engine. Evesham has installed a 7900GT in the machine, which may not represent the cutting edge from a pure gaming perspective, but it's still impressive. A 3DMark 2006 index of 4,544 shows that this machine should see you through the next few years of PC gaming at least.
The graphics engine is capable of driving the system's screen at the native resolution of 1,280x1,024. Speaking of which, Evesham has employed the Viewsonic VX912 to show off the capabilities of the graphics engine, and a good choice it is.
The standard 4:3 aspect ratio may be losing favour with higher-end systems, but these screens are still capable of rendering a superb image, and offer great value for money.
Evesham has considerable experience with selecting components and building PCs, so it's little surprise then that the quality components have been assembled expertly and tidily. There's decent room for expansion from the i965-powered motherboard, and the cables have all been tidied out of the way.
Even the keyboard and mouse are that little better than the standard peripherals that usually ship at such price points. Otherwise, the obligatory combination of DVD-ROM and DVD±RW DL writer are present - and come from the Sony stable - while the 250GB SATA II hard drive from Western Digital should last you a while as well.
The Evesham Solar RD is an impressive machine that really sets the standard for the all-important sub-£1,000 price point. If anything though, it highlights the importance of configuring a system to your own specification.
The combination of processor, graphics and hard drive will provide enough power for most tasks, but will need some tweaking in order to be good enough for the more esoteric tasks with which you can challenge your machine. The memory should be upgraded, but other than that minor issue, this is a good demonstration of how well a Core 2 Duo can and should perform.