Once again, Arbico has topped our charts with a system whose sheer speed belies its £499 price tag. The firm has eked out every last bit of performance from this PC's Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 chip, with the CD 8467 XL scoring 120 points in WorldBench 6. The machine turns in some pretty tasty gaming results, too.

For everyday use, you're unlikely to notice the small differences in performance between most PCs in our chart. The same can't be said for gaming, however. The Arbico CD 8467 XL storms ahead of the competition with an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card - and at no extra cost. With overall system specification being so similar, there's no reason to put up with an HD 4650 or nVidia GeForce 9500GT.

In common with the Chillblast Comet in second place, the Arbico CD 8467 XL comes with a 19in Hannspree XM New York monitor. This screen has industrial-style looks and sturdy build quality. And, as is standard at this price point, the CD 8467 XL's audio is provided by the monitor's built-in speakers.

A 250GB hard drive comes preinstalled with OpenOffice and Nero, the latter complementing the Arbico CD 8467 XL's 22-speed DVD burner. Although 250GB may seem a relatively limited amount of storage space, it will be adequate for most users.

This is a superb system overall, but there is a slight down side to consider. The Arbico CD 8467 XL ships with the Windows Vista Home Basic operating system (OS), which lacks many features of the Premium version shipped with most of the competition. You may miss Windows Media Center and the flashy Aero user interface.

The CD 8467 XL's system case is also less impressive than the Cooler Master model that Arbico often plumps for with its more expensive computer systems.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (July issue)

  1. Arbico CD 8467 XL
  2. Chillblast Comet
  3. Eclipse Aspire i84a465
  4. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 600
  5. Packard Bell iMedia A3317

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (July issue)

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice at this price, although slower processors such as the E8400 will still be fast enough for most users. Lower-cost alternatives, such as the Intel E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed.

Memory: In this Vista-shackled age, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.

Make sure you're getting the full benefit of the memory - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will slow things down. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. Hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later.

If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, ensure that you've got spare drive bays inside your PC's case.

Look for a DVD drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at 16-speed or better. If you want to copy 8.5GB to one disc, get a drive that can write to DVD-R DL and +R DL at 12- and eight-speed respectively. Keep an eye out for 22-speed models.

Flat-panel: It's the component you'll be spending all your time looking at, but PC makers often compromise on the monitor.

All the PCs in our chart come with flat-panels. The most common size is 19in - the quality of larger monitors is unlikely to be good at this price. Look for a monitor with a DVI or HDMI digital connector to ensure the best picture quality. Make sure the PC has one, too.

If display size or quality is of critical importance to you, you may be able to get a 22in 1,080p flat-panel if you're willing to cut costs elsewhere.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. You'll want a PC that can produce at least 50fps for gaming.

The current economic situation has meant that we're seeing slower graphics cards provided with all our chart systems. The usual 9800 GT and 9600 GT have been replaced by the 9500 GT and the HD 4670 by the HD 4650.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. Without power-hungry components under the bonnet, there's simply no need for a more powerful supply. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then you'll need to ensure that your PSU is able to deliver enough juice to power your new components. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point. Most motherboards have built-in chips that can handle six-channel sound. To get the best out of them, you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). Separate stereo speakers are rare in systems costing less than £500, however. Prepare to make sacrifices elsewhere if getting standalone speakers is a requirement for you.

Arbico CD 8467 XL: Specs

  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DD2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W WinPower PSU
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York flat-panel monitor (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express PowerColor ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card (games scores: Crysis (Low/High) = 38/11fps
  • Fear = 84fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound card
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Nero
  • OpenOffice
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 120
  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DD2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W WinPower PSU
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York flat-panel monitor (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express PowerColor ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card (games scores: Crysis (Low/High) = 38/11fps
  • Fear = 84fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound card
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Nero
  • OpenOffice
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 120

OUR VERDICT

A superb system overall, but can you ignore the Arbico CD 8467 XL's inclusion of Vista Home Basic?

Find the best price