The diminutive eXcel i5255 Pro desktop PC from Arbico performs well and incorporates some great features.

Inside is a 3.3GHz Core i5-2500 CPU, which offers enough computing power for all but the most demanding users. This is the standard version of the chip, and doesn’t have the same ease of overclocking that’s offered by the Chillblast’s multiplier-unlocked CPU (not that the Chillblast is able to take advantage of it). The Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro's CPU also comes with slower GMA HD 2000 integrated graphics.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Chillblast Fusion Atom
  2. Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro
  3. Eclipse Matrix i525z68
  4. Dino PC Plutosaur 2500
  5. Chillblast Fusion Summit

The Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro desktop PC uses an H61-chipset-based motherboard, the ‘Pro’ version of the Asus board selected by Chillblast and Dino PC. Both those PCs offer USB 3.0; this board adds a 6Gbps SATA interface and HDMI.

WorldBench 6 performance is very close between all five systems, and the Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro's 159-point tally is just a single point below the fastest PC. In practice, you won’t notice a difference between the systems on test.

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The Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro's graphics also performed better than the i5-2500 competition – it even beat the i5-2500K-based Chillblast in our Fear test, although that PC took the lead in the tougher Crysis game. These scores are made possible by the motherboard’s GPU Boost feature, which is able to overclock the processor’s integrated graphics.

Like every PC here, the Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro comes with a 21.5in AOC monitor. The lack of external speakers is a disappointment.

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Budget PCs buying advice

Processor: Until recently, Intel’s Core i3 processor had the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. While you’ll still find good value in systems based on this architecture, second-generation Core i5 ‘Sandy Bridge’ chips blow them away in performance terms. Identify these chips by their four-digit model number.

‘K’ versions of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors support overclocking, but you’ll need a pricey Z68- or P67-chipset-based motherboard (the latter also requires a discrete graphics card). A Z68 chipset provides additional support for SSD caching and auto-switching graphics.

Sandy Bridge chips also improve the integrated graphics performance. They provide accelerated graphics encoding, plus VGA and HDMI outputs. The ‘K’ chips come with more powerful integrated graphics than the standard versions. While neither option should be considered fast enough for a true gaming PC, some titles remain quite playable.

Memory: Expect 4GB at this price and don’t settle for less than 2GB. Most CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while older ones can also use DDR2. Check your motherboard has free slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Falling prices mean that 1TB is well within the budget of even a budget PC. You can never have too much storage space, and digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized 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. Get a drive that can write to the DVD+/-R formats at 16-speed or better. If you want to get 8.5GB on to one disc, get a drive that can write to dual-layer discs at 12- and eight-speed respectively.

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

Good-quality full-HD monitors are available even in sub-£500 systems. Expect to find a 21.5in model, although these are often marketed as 22in screens. It’s best to get one with dual inputs and a digital connection, letting you get the best image quality available and hook up additional devices.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. However, decent graphics cards get cheaper all the time, and budget PCs can now handle games that were unthinkable a few months ago.

Intel’s Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with integrated graphics processors that deliver better performance than older Intel integrated solutions. The new Sandy Bridge chips are even faster and offer features such as dual monitor outputs. These machines support HD video without the need for a separate graphics card.

AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 5450 is a popular choice for a budget PC. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it offers support for DirectX 11.0. Many cards can also drive multiple monitors.

If you really want to play games, nVidia’s GeForce GT 240 will provide some extra speed. Be prepared to lower your graphics settings, however.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a sound card at this price point.

Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro: Specs

  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit, Vista or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H61-M Pro motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (games scores: Fear = 19fps, Crysis [Low] = 11fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 24x DVD-R/24x +R/12x -R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -ROM
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 159
  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit, Vista or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H61-M Pro motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (games scores: Fear = 19fps, Crysis [Low] = 11fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 24x DVD-R/24x +R/12x -R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -ROM
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 159

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro desktop PC is a fantastic performer in Windows and games, but we'd prefer to have seen a multiplier-unlocked processor and a set of external speakers supplied.

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