Palicomp Alpha Phase review
4GHz Intel Core i5-3570K, 8GB RAM, N/A display, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Intel's latest Core processors aren't just the preserve of high-end performance PCs, such as the excellent Chillblast Fusion Vantage. The Palicomp Alpha Phase proves that you can have an unlocked Core i5-3750K processor in even a modestly-priced system. In this configuration the chip is overclocked to 4GHz on a stock Intel cooler, giving it a score of 126 in our benchmark tests - far beyond what we'd expect from a budget PC.
While the PC isn't an eyesore, it's not much of a looker, either. The compact tower case doesn't weigh much, although its perforated rear and sides do little to block out sound. There's only one case fan - a surprisingly noisy 80mm outflow at the back. The system is well supplied with USB ports, even though there are only two at the front. The Gigabyte GA-Z777-D3H motherboard has four USB3 and four standard USB ports at the back, alongside the usual Gigabit Ethernet port, a PS/2 port, optical S/PDIF output and analogue 7.1 audio outputs. There are also headphone and mic ports at the front of the case.
The backplate is also home to the HDMI, DVI and VGA ports for the processor's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset. You can connect up to two displays for multi-screen desktop use. The latest generation of Intel's on-processor graphics is a huge improvement on Sandy Bridge, and can finally play modern games. It's not powerful enough for our usual desktop PC Dirt 3 test, which we run at 1,920x1,080 with 4x anti-aliasing and Ultra detail, but when we dropped the settings to 1,280x720 with High detail and no anti-aliasing we saw a smooth 37fps. The integrated graphics processor can of course cope with HD video from the PC's Blu-ray reader. You can upgrade the graphics with the free PCI Express x16 slot, but you'll need a better power supply for all but the least power-hungry cards.
The Alpha Phase has a 1TB hard disk, and plenty of room to add extra storage as and when you need it. There are two SATA3 ports, one of which is connected to the hard disk, and four SATA2 ports, of which one is hooked up to the optical drive, leaving four ports free for additional storage. There's also an mSATA slot, which you can use to fit a compact mSATA SSD to use as a cache for your main disk, but using this takes one of your SATA2 ports out of commission. There are six free 3 1/2in drive bays, one of which is external, and two free 5 1/4in bays. There should also be a third free 5 1/4in bay, but it's blocked by cabling from the front panel.
The motherboard has plenty of room for expansion, too - currently, there are no expansion cards installed at all. There are two PCI-E x16 slots, but one runs at x4 speed so is better suited to non-graphics PCI Express cards. It's worth noting, though, that two of the three PCI-E x1 slots on the motherboard will be disabled if you use this slot, as they share bandwidth. There are also two PCI slots, which means there's loads of scope to add expansions such as sound cards, TV tuners and Wi-Fi adaptors.
All four of the motherboard's memory slots are occupied by 2GB modules running at 1,333MHz. 8GB of RAM is plenty for most users, but you'll have to replace modules if you want more than that. The motherboard can handle a maximum of 32GB of RAM.
The Alpha Phase is an excellent PC for anyone who wants a powerful but basic system with an eye to upgrading in the future. It's perfectly functional as it is and - with the addition of a new power supply - has the potential to be transformed into anything from a home entertainment PC to a gaming powerhouse. At £500, this is the cheapest overclocked Core i5 PC we've seen and a worthy Budget Buy winner.