A close contender for our Best Buy award is Arbico's CD8850 XL, a PC that's only just pipped at the post performance-wise.

Not much has changed in this category over the past two months, and Arbico's CD8850 XL shows few differences from its Elite 8850 Pro.

Intel's Core 2 Duo E8600 processor is combined with an ASRock 4Core 1600-D800 motherboard to devastating effect. Scoring 130 points in WorldBench 6, the Arbico CD8850 XL is hot on Chillblast's heels. But while the ASRock performs well, its expansion options are minimal; just two memory slots are provided, making RAM upgrades a costly affair. As with all the PCs in this chart, a 500GB hard drive is also installed.

In common with the Elite 8850 Pro, Arbico's CD8850 XL uses an HD 4850 graphics card to deliver very good gaming performance. Framerates were broadly similar across all our PCs using this card.

The Cooler Master Elite 330 system case has plenty of expansion room and tidy looks. A 22in Acer display, fitted with both digital and analogue inputs, finishes off the Arbico CD8850 XL's smart exterior. This screen provides a notably better picture than that bundled with the company's Elite 8850 Pro.

Like the Chillblast, the Arbico CD8850 XL comes with a pair of Logitech speakers and a subwoofer. Alongside the system's Creative Audigy SE 7.1 sound card, this allows for a vastly improved listening experience compared with rival systems in our chart.

Budget PCs chart ranking (April 09 issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Anubis
  2. Arbico CD8850 XL
  3. Mesh Matrix II 920
  4. CyberPower Gamer Infinity Silent Edition
  5. Zoostorm 64-5300

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Budget PCs buying advice (April 09 issue)

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo range offers almost unbeatable performance for the price. The 3.33GHz E8600 now supersedes the E8500 as the CPU of choice, appearing in the vast majority of desktop PCs in this price category.

Alternatively, go for one of Intel's latest quad-core chips, such as the Q9300. These processors are performing well with newer applications and games. Older Q6600 chips offer good performance with multithreaded apps, but only go for them if the price is right.

AMD's latest Phenom II X4 920 also offers excellent value for money and quad-core performance.

Memory: If fast processors speed up your PC, a large bank of memory stops it from slowing down. Get the most out of your CPU by including at least 4GB of RAM. You can get by with 2GB, but your PC ?will run more smoothly with 4GB.

Storage: Digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can afford. A 400GB-500GB drive is a good investment. If you've got space, consider a pair of smaller drives - a terabyte (1TB) is a huge amount of information to lose in one go.

Your DVD drive should write to the -R/+R formats at 18-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good; if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVD-/+R dual-layer drives. Drives that can read Blu-ray are becoming affordable, but they're still quite rare at this price.

Display: Many PC manufacturers make sacrifices here to keep costs down. But a poor monitor can ruin your computing experience - try it out before buying.

At this price you may get a 19in, 20in or 22in model. Be aware that 19in displays offer lower resolution; 20in and 22in displays usually offer the same resolution, with 22in models displaying larger icons.

A DVI or HDMI connector will provide a considerably better image than a VGA port, so look for a display with a digital input; if you want to connect additional devices you'll need at least two. Finally, look for a good response rate: 8ms or below should be fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: Really hardcore gamers are unlikely to be happy with a sub-£750 PC, but you should be able to find a decent graphics card at this price.

We test PCs on the three-year-old game Fear, and Crysis, a far more demanding title. Although 50fps is enough to make a game playable, you can set your sights higher in this category - look for 80-100fps for decent gameplay.

ATI's Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 and nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 graphics cards deliver excellent performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch.

Sound card and speakers: You may find a budget sound card at this price, but most motherboards depend on a decent built-in audio chip that can handle six-channel sound. To get surround sound you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). You may be offered a 2.1-channel stereo system, which will be good enough for most users. A monitor's built-in speakers seldom offer a satisfying audio experience.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Arbico CD8850 XL: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock 4Core 1600-D800
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Acer X222W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 4850 (games scores: Crysis High = 53fps, Very High = 19fps
  • Fear = 174fps)
  • Creative Audigy SE 7.1
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 130
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock 4Core 1600-D800
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Acer X222W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 4850 (games scores: Crysis High = 53fps, Very High = 19fps
  • Fear = 174fps)
  • Creative Audigy SE 7.1
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 130

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico CD8850 XL delivers excellent performance and value for money, but it’s just pipped at the post by the slightly faster Chillblast.

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