After last issue’s Arbico i3-5445 XL ranked fourth in our sub-£500 desktop PCs chart, the company has taken a slightly different approach with its i3-5500 XL. And the new tack has paid off.

After last issue’s Arbico i3-5445 XL ranked fourth in our sub-£500 desktop PCs chart, the company has taken a slightly different approach with its i3-5500 XL. Gone is the pricey Radeon HD 5450 graphics card, which added support for DirectX 11.0 and extra outputs, but little in the way of gaming framerates. Instead, Arbico has spent the cash on a faster processor and better components. And the decision has paid off.

A 3.2GHz Intel Core i3-550 processor powered the Arbico i3-5500 XL budget desktop PC to a chart-leading score of 132 points in WorldBench 6. This machine is considerably faster than its i3-540-based predecessor, which scored 127 points.

Now relying on integrated graphics, the Arbico i3-5500 XL budget desktop PC put in the poorest showing in our Fear gaming test, offering 17fps at 1024x768 and ‘Maximum’ settings. Only a few frames slower than PCs equipped with a Radeon HD 5450 graphics card, this setup is more than adequate for playing HD multimedia.

The i3-5500 XL desktop PC's budget HKC 21.6in monitor allows Arbico to keep costs down. It provides a full-HD resolution, good image quality and dual inputs. A set of external speakers mean you won’t need to rely on those built into the display for audio, but the lack of a subwoofer results in inferior sound quality to the Palicomp’s setup.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3
  2. Arbico i3-5500 XL
  3. Chillblast Fusion Saturn
  4. DinoPC Plutosaur 540
  5. CyberPower Infinity i3 Apollo XT

Also see:

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

After last issue’s Arbico i3-5445 XL ranked fourth in our sub-£500 desktop PCs chart, the company has taken a slightly different approach with its i3-5500 XL. And the new tack has paid off.

Budget PCs buying advice

Processor: Intel’s Core i3 processor has the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. This issue, we have examples ranging from the 2.93GHz Core i3-530 to the 3.2GHz Core i3-550. These dual-core chips have integrated graphics processors, allowing vendors to build a capable PC at lower cost by omitting a discrete graphics card.

AMD’s quad-core Phenom II X4 550 BE is another good choice of processor for a budget Windows machine, especially for those who like to tinker – this chip has been designed with overclocking in mind.

Memory: In the post-Vista era, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.

Some CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while others can use either this or DDR2. DDR3 memory is getting cheaper and bodes well for performance. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Expect around 500GB at this price point, although you can never have too much storage space. Digital media content 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.

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. Good-quality full-HD monitors are now 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 (DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort), 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 around double the performance of older Intel integrated solutions. These machines support HD video and Windows’ Aero effects without the need for a discrete graphics card.

ATI’s 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 adds support for DirectX 11.0. Many cards can also drive multiple monitors, so you can hook up your TV and display at the same time.

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

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. 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 can handle six-channel sound.

Also see:

>> NEXT PAGE: Specification and our expert verdict

Arbico i3-5500 XL: Specs

  • 3.2GHz Intel Core i3-550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • Asus P7H55-M motherboard
  • 650W WinPower PSU
  • 21.6in HKC 2219A (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD (Fear 'Maximum' settings, 1024x768: 17fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech speakers
  • 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: 132
  • 3.2GHz Intel Core i3-550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • Asus P7H55-M motherboard
  • 650W WinPower PSU
  • 21.6in HKC 2219A (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD (Fear 'Maximum' settings, 1024x768: 17fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech speakers
  • 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: 132

OUR VERDICT

Arbico’s decision to forego the discrete Radeon HD graphics card was a smart move: the i3-5500 XL’s faster processor performed brilliantly in our benchmarks, while its integrated graphics will serve non-gamers well. Support for USB 3.0 is really all that’s lacking from this highly recommended PC.

Find the best price