Arbico is used to sitting at the top of the pile when it comes to performance, and this sub-£500 system is no exception. With a WorldBench 6 processing-speed score of 119, the Arbico Elite 8400 is a clear winner in this category, even beating a couple of the latest £751-£1,000 models.

The key to the Arbico Elite 8400's success is a 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor, which offers exceptional performance for the price and is widely used throughout our charts.

The similarly specified Chillblast Fusion Rogue comes close but loses out when it comes to gaming. Both PCs use nVidia 8600 GT graphics cards, but the Arbico Elite 8400’s 1,024MB model offers a distinct advantage over the Rogue’s 512MB XpertVision card.

The Arbico Elite 8400 boasts 2GB of RAM – a standard offering at this price point – while sound is limited to the motherboard’s onboard audio, played through the monitor’s rather tinny integrated speakers.

Some may prefer to make a small performance sacrifice and go for the Chillblast Fusion Rogue instead of the Arbico Elite 8400. Unusually for a sub-£500 PC, it features five external speakers and a subwoofer.

Like the Chillblast Fusion Rogue, the Arbico Elite 8400 comes with Hannspree’s popular and distinctive-looking XM New York flat-panel. It’s a well-made product that’s high on style and low on flimsy plastic components. Image quality isn’t the greatest, but it’s much better than you generally get at this price.

Arbico has plumped for the popular CoolerMaster Elite 330 case with the Elite 8400, which has room for plenty of additional drives. The supplied 232GB SATA hard disk is plenty to be getting along with, however.

Verdict

It’s a close call between the Arbico Elite 8400 and the Chillblast Fusion Rogue. The Arbico Elite 8400 turns in noticeably stronger gaming performance, and it’s narrowly quicker at general computing tasks, managing five more WorldBench points. The Chillblast Fusion Rogue’s surround-sound speakers are tempting, but we prefer this system overall.

Budget desktop PCs chart ranking (July 08 issue)


  1. Arbico Elite 8400
  2. Chillblast Fusion Rogue
  3. Mesh Delta GT
  4. CyberPower Gamer Ultra 930
  5. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 750

See also: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Budget desktop PC buying advice (July 08 issue)

Processor: You’re not going to get the fastest processors at this price, but there are some excellent, affordable chips around if you can find them. Intel’s Core 2 Duo E8400 is a stand-out component and dominates the charts quite convincingly.

We’re also now seeing some quad-core processors in this price range, in the form of the Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 and AMD’s latest Phenom X4 9550.

Don’t be tempted to buy older Intel Pentium D chips – their performance is a long way behind today’s Core 2 Duos.

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.

Check you’re getting the full benefit of the memory – some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will slow things down. Also check your motherboard has some 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 250GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later. If you’re planning on upgrading 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.

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 you’re going to be spending most of your time looking at.

All the PCs in our chart come with flat-panels. The most common size is 19in – be careful when considering larger monitors because the quality is unlikely to be good enough at this price. We don’t see many CRTs, but they’re still a pretty good deal – provided you can put up with the bulky casing, colour depth tends to be better than with 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 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. The fastest chip in this price range is currently the GeForce 8800GS, but including one of these may require compromises elsewhere.

The GeForce 8600s are a good alternative. They can support DirectX 10.0, but they’re unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow’s DirectX 10.0 games. They’ve got 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 most 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 system (five speakers and a subwoofer).

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.

Arbico Elite 8400: Specs

  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 232GB SATA
  • AsRock 4Core1333-GLAN
  • 6 x USB
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.238mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 native resolution)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Gainward nVidia GeForce 8600 GT
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 20x/20x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG Antivirus
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 119
  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 232GB SATA
  • AsRock 4Core1333-GLAN
  • 6 x USB
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.238mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 native resolution)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Gainward nVidia GeForce 8600 GT
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 20x/20x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG Antivirus
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 119

OUR VERDICT

It’s a close call between the Arbico Elite 8400 and the Chillblast Fusion Rogue. The Arbico Elite 8400 turns in noticeably stronger gaming performance, and it’s narrowly quicker at general computing tasks, managing five more WorldBench points. The Chillblast Fusion Rogue’s surround-sound speakers are tempting, but we prefer this system overall.

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