The CD 8570 XL is an improved version of Arbico's £499 CD 8467 XL. The 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor has been replaced with the faster 3.16GHz E8500. The hard drive has been upgraded from 250GB to 320GB and the HD 4670 graphics card has been boosted with double the video memory.

The 8467 XL topped our sub-£500 PCs chart for the past two months, so it's somewhat surprising that the improved Arbico CD 8570 XL achieves only third place.

The E8500 is a great processor, offering excellent performance at a good price. And the Arbico CD 8570 XL's score of 122 points in WorldBench 6 is very good for a budget PC. But it must be noted that the top two systems beat this tally by six points and the E8400-based Chillblast Horizon scored only three points fewer.

Having splashed out on a fast processor, Arbico is obliged to compromise on other components - the graphics card in particular. The HD 4670 is the same card offered by Palicomp, albeit with more memory, and suffers the same shortcomings in the latest 3D games titles. The CD 8570 XL will allow you to play less demanding games if you reduce the quality settings accordingly.

The Arbico CD 8570 XL's 19in display comes with a digital input and offers reasonably good image quality, although it can't match the resolution of the 20in model provided with the Chillblast Fusion Horizon.

Despite the upgrade, the 320GB hard drive still looks small; every other system here comes with 500GB. Furthermore, the Arbico CD 8570 XL is the only PC of the group to ship with Vista Home Basic rather than the Home Premium version, so you'll miss out on the flashy Aero interface and Windows Media Center.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (Nov 09 issue)

  1. Mesh Matrix II 550BE PCA
  2. Palicomp Excalibur Ballistix E85-4670-19
  3. Arbico CD 8570 XL
  4. Eclipse Pearl i84R483
  5. Chillblast Fusion Horizon

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs

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. Low-cost alternatives, such as Intel's E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed. AMD's latest offerings, such as the Phenom II X2 550BE, offer excellent performance and good value for money.

Memory: In the age of Windows Vista, 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: Expect 500GB at this price, but you can never have too much storage space. Digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive. Hard-drive space is easy to add later, however.

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.

ATI does well in this price bracket and, thanks to recent price reductions, we're seeing HD 4670 cards appearing once again. The HD 4770 and HD 4870 provide very good budget gaming performance.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version if possible. If you don't play games at all, consider purchasing a machine that relies on the integrated graphics of its motherboard - you'll save a packet.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. Without power-hungry components installed, there's simply no need for a more powerful supply. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then your PSU must be 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.


>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Arbico CD 8570 XL: Specs

  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W PSU
  • 19in Hanns-G HW191D (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 1GB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 4670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 37/10fps
  • Fear = 81fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound
  • 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)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 122
  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W PSU
  • 19in Hanns-G HW191D (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 1GB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 4670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 37/10fps
  • Fear = 81fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound
  • 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)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 122

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico CD 8570 XL would have been a winner only a couple of months ago, but has now been convincingly overtaken by faster, better-value competitors.

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