When it comes to exterior appearance, few machines at this price point - not even the otherwise stunning Best Buy Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT - manage to hide their bargain status. Yet the CyberPower £500 PCA Machine comes with a futuristic casing that gives it the air of a far costlier system.

Whether the cost of the CyberPower £500 PCA Machine's flashy case is responsible for the memory being just 1GB of DDR RAM, we couldn't say. If so, this could be a mistake. All the 1GB PCs we've recently reviewed have lagged behind the 2GB Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT in our WorldBench speed tests - although the fine Athlon processor may also be a factor - and Vista users will find their Windows experience smoother if they pay a little extra for the increased memory.

The CyberPower £500 PCA Machine's 1GB of DDR RAM and Core 2 Duo E4300 chip produced a WorldBench score of 82 - not eye-popping, but there are slower PCs for the money.

The CyberPower £500 PCA Machine's Yuraku MA9BBA is a decent flat-panel with an acceptable colour palette, although the lack of widescreen support might irk some users. The GeForce 8500 GT isn't an outstanding graphics card, but it's pretty standard at this price point - only the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT comes with a genuinely superior model. The CyberPower £500 PCA Machine's sound system is satisfactory, if hardly earth-shattering, and the DVD writer offers solid speeds.

Verdict

That exotic casing aside, there's little to distance the CyberPower £500 PCA Machine from other sub-£500 machines. That's not a significant mark against it, however, and this is a PC that will churn through your workload effectively.

Chart ranking: budget PCs September 07 issue

1st place: Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT
2nd place: Arbico CD7460GT
3rd place: CyberPower £500 PCA Machine
4th place: Arbico CD6320XL (last month 1st place)
5th place: Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC

Buying advice: budget PCs as of July 07

Processor: You're not going to get the fastest processors at this price point, but many cheaper chips are powerful enough to make light work of everyday applications. The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ has only appeared in one sub-£500 PC so far, but it's made quite an impression. Otherwise, the Intel Core 2 Duo range offers plenty of speed for the money, with the E6420 proving particularly adept. The older Intel Pentium D CPUs lack performance, although they do have dual-core facilities. The 3.2GHz version isn't at all bad.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 1GB of memory is a must. You can buy more at a later date, but having at least this much is only going to become more important as applications designed for Vista appear. Check you're getting the full benefit of your memory capacity - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will ultimately slow your PC down.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media - such as video and music files - will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can: 250GB to 320GB drives are a good investment. It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure your PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at rates of at least 16-speed. Rewrite speeds of eight-speed are good, and if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or DVD+R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you should look for an absolute minimum of six-speed on one of the formats. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Display: To keep the price of a PC down, compromises have to be made - and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you're going to be spending most of your time looking at. All PCs now come with flat-panels. As for size, 19in models are the most common. Don't go for a larger screen - price constraints mean the quality simply won't be good enough. We aren't seeing any CRTs, but they're still a pretty good deal if you can find them - provided you can put up with the bulky casing, the colour depth tends to be better than on 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 best machines in this category generally manage to include a decent graphics card. You should be looking for PCs that can produce at least 50fps (frames per second) if you're going to be playing games regularly - 70fps or 80fps is preferable. Today's chips of choice come from the nVidia GeForce 7900 range, although the 7600 (either the GT or GS) will also do reasonably well. If you're primarily looking for a PC for work or general internet use, you can afford to compromise in this area.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it's an area in which vendors are likely 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 speaker system. 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 at all.

CyberPower £500 PCA Machine: Specs

  • 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4300
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB Sata
  • Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard
  • six USB ports
  • 19in Yuraku MA9BBA flat-panel (0.294mm, 1,280x1,024)
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 8500GT PCI Express graphics
  • onboard Realtek
  • 2 x Logitech S100 speakers
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • WorldBench 6: 82 points
  • 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4300
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB Sata
  • Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard
  • six USB ports
  • 19in Yuraku MA9BBA flat-panel (0.294mm, 1,280x1,024)
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 8500GT PCI Express graphics
  • onboard Realtek
  • 2 x Logitech S100 speakers
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • WorldBench 6: 82 points

OUR VERDICT

That exotic casing aside, there's little to distance the CyberPower £500 PCA Machine from other sub-£500 machines. That's not a significant mark against it, however, and this is a PC that will churn through your workload effectively.

Find the best price