This month sees the second chart PC from Advance Technologies. It’s a significant improvement on the company’s first attempt (read our review of the AdvanceTec AT-FX E430-AP), although the classy Arbico CD6750 SX and Eclipse Fusion i670A385HD have a slight edge over the Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+.

The three-year warranty is impressive – although, since Advance Technologies is still something of a newcomer, the AT-FX Air+ doesn’t offer quite the same peace of mind you’d get from a long-established brand.

Otherwise, the Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+ seems to do almost everything right, without doing it quite as well as the top two. It matches the Eclipse Fusion i670A385HD on performance – no mean feat – but can’t keep up with the Arbico CD6750 SX. The Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+’s hard drive holds a generous 250GB, making it a tempting option for those who maintain extensive libraries of video and music files.

The Asus is quite a nice screen – it’s narrowly preferable to the Yuraku offered with the Eclipse Fusion i670A385HD but weaker than the Arbico CD6750 SX’s Hannspree. The only real down side is the Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+'s GeForce 8500 GT graphics card, the slowest in the chart. It should be said that most of the cards here aren’t going to be useful for much more than playing high-definition movies and showing off your photo collections. Even so, we’d look for a better card than the ultra-cheap 8500 GT.

The Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+'s Pioneer DVD writer is a decent model and its software bundle is ample.

Verdict

The Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+ was actually very close to breaking into the top two, but the Arbico CD6750 SX’s extra speed and screen and the Eclipse Fusion i670A385HD’s superior graphics capabilities were just enough to hold it back.

Budget PCs chart ranking (March 08 issue)


  1. Arbico CD6750 SX
  2. Eclipse Fusion i670A385HD
  3. Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+
  4. CyberPower Gamer Ultra 550 - last month 2
  5. Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT - last month 3


See also:
Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+: expert review
Budget PCs chart ranking
Budget PCs buying advice

Budget PCs buying advice (March 08 issue)

Processor You’re not going to get the fastest processors at this price, but many of today’s chips are powerful enough to make light work of standard applications – and there are some excellent, affordable processors around if you can find them.

This month’s Core 2 Duo E6750 is a stand-out component, and plenty of cheaper systems use the decent E6500 and E6550 chips. The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is also an option, and has fared pretty well in its outings to date. Don’t be fooled into buying an older Intel Pentium D, though. They have dual-core facilities, but their performance is a long way behind today’s Core 2 Duo range.

Memory In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB has almost become a requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn’t recommend it – with applications only moving in one direction, you shouldn’t compromise in this area. Check you’re getting the full benefit of the memory – some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will ultimately slow your system down.

Storage You can never have too much storage space. Digital media content such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 250GB drive is a good investment that you won’t regret.

It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure the PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the –R/+R formats at rates of at least 16-speed. If you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or +R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you should look for an absolute minimum of six-speed on one of the formats. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Flat-panel Compromises have to be made to keep the price of a PC down, and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you’re going to be spending most of your time looking at.

All the PCs in our charts now come with flat-panels. The most common size is currently 19in – you should be very careful when considering going above this size because the quality is unlikely to be good enough under these sorts of price constraints. We don’t see many CRTs now, but they’re still a pretty good deal if you can find them – provided you can put up with the bulky casing, the colour depth on these displays tends to be better than you get on flat-panels.

Graphics cards Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, fervent gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£500 PC. Nonetheless, the cream of the crop do tend to come with decent cards.

You should still be looking for PCs that can produce 50 frames per second (fps) if you’re going to be playing games – 70fps or 80fps is better still. Today’s chip of choice is the Radeon HD 3850. This card is faster than anything else that you’re likely to get at this price point.

The GeForce 8600s are a good alternative. They can support DirectX 10.0, although they’re unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow’s DirectX 10.0 games. They have plenty of pace to tackle today’s games.

Sound card and speakers You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price – it’s an area where vendors try to cut costs. Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you’ll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you won’t get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category – indeed, you won’t necessarily get a subwoofer or speakers at all.


See also:
Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+: expert review
Budget PCs chart ranking
Budget PCs buying advice

Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6750
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5LD2-X/1333
  • 6 x USB
  • Asus VW193S (0.285mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 max resolution @ 75Hz)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus nVidia GeForce 8500GT
  • onboard Realtek HD
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • subwoofer
  • 20x/20x/10x/10x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • Ahead Nero 7.0 Essentials
  • CyberLink PowerDVD
  • AVG AntiVirus
  • three-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 95
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6750
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5LD2-X/1333
  • 6 x USB
  • Asus VW193S (0.285mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 max resolution @ 75Hz)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus nVidia GeForce 8500GT
  • onboard Realtek HD
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • subwoofer
  • 20x/20x/10x/10x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • Ahead Nero 7.0 Essentials
  • CyberLink PowerDVD
  • AVG AntiVirus
  • three-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 95

OUR VERDICT

The Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+ was actually very close to breaking into the top two, but the Arbico CD6750 SX’s extra speed and screen and the Eclipse Fusion i670A385HD’s superior graphics capabilities were just enough to hold it back.

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