Arbico's machines are well known in PC Advisor's Test Centre for their superb performance. Once again the firm delivers, with its CD8465 EX notching up a top score of 120 points in WorldBench 6 - and this despite the system running on an older 3GHz E8400 processor.

The 1GB HD 4650 graphics card delivers excellent performance at a good price, making the Arbico CD8465 EX our top performer in both general-purpose and gaming tests.

Had it not been for Arbico's inclusion of Vista Home Basic, the CD8465 EX would have gained more respect. This version of Vista may be budget-friendly, but it lacks the Aero interface and the smoother video playback that comes with it. It also misses out on several key OS functions, including Windows Media Center, and renders a memory upgrade impossible.

The Arbico CD8465 EX's basic and rather unattractive system case is a compact model with few options for expansion. An awkward sliding door conceals a pair of USB ports and audio connectors.

The Arbico CD8465 EX's ever-popular 19in Hannspree XM New York monitor provides relatively good image quality, robust build quality and dual analogue and digital connections.

The ASRock is a compact motherboard, fitted with only two memory slots. Two PCI slots are available for upgrades, such as a sound card. Note, however, that external speakers are not provided with the Arbico CD8465 EX.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (March 09 issue)

  1. Cyberpower Gamer Infinity 600
  2. Arbico CD8465 EX
  3. Eclipse Matrix i85a465
  4. Palicomp Excalibur E85-19
  5. Chillblast Fusion Spark

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Budget desktop PCs buying advice (March 09 issue)

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

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB of RAM is a minimum requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn't recommend it. The bulk 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 such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 320GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later. If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, make sure you've got enough free drive bays in your system 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 at once, 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: PC manufacturers have to make compromises to keep prices down and often start with the monitor. But you don't want to spend all your computing time looking at a poor-quality display.

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 high 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.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for £300 or £400, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. Nonetheless, some sub-£500 PCs come with decent cards.

You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps if you're going to be playing games - 70fps or 80fps is better still. Current dollar prices have made it harder to build decent systems for under £500 and this month we're seeing slower graphics cards provided in all the chart systems. The usual 9800 GT and 9600 GT have been replaced by the 9500 GT.

Those in the ATI camp have seen the HD 4670 replaced by the HD 4650, which offers correspondingly lower performance. For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB model rather than the 512MB version.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price. 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), but you're unlikely to get surround speakers at this price point. Even stereo speakers are rare in systems costing less than £500. Prepare to make sacrifices elsewhere if getting standalone speakers is a requirement for you.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Arbico CD8465 EX: Specs

  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ASRock 4Core 1600-D800
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 1GB PCI Express Gigabyte ATI Radeon HD 4650 (games scores: Crysis = 22fps
  • Fear = 42fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 120
  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ASRock 4Core 1600-D800
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 1GB PCI Express Gigabyte ATI Radeon HD 4650 (games scores: Crysis = 22fps
  • Fear = 42fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 120

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico CD8465 EX topped our results tables for both general-purpose use and gaming, but we just can't overlook its inclusion of Vista Home Basic.

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