AMD processors don't tend to perform as well as their Intel counterparts under the stresses of our WorldBench 6 test, but that's no reason to discount them. A carefully specced AMD system, such as the CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores, can deliver very good value for money.

The dual-core Athlon X2 7850 CPU used here nudges just above the 100-point mark. This represents a significant performance loss compared to the fastest Intel-based systems in the group. When it comes to games, however, the CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores excels.

The cost savings made by this choice of processor leave enough cash in the pot to add an ATI Radeon HD 4770 graphics card to the CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores. This is a considerably faster graphics card than any other in this price band, delivering almost double the performance of the competition in our ‘Very High' Crysis test.

A 4GB allocation of RAM and 320GB hard drive are standard fare at this price point, as is the CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores' 19in monitor. The Hanton produced rather flat, muted colours, but its inclusion of a digital connection is pleasing.

The AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores' well-designed system case comes as a nice surprise, given that CyberPower usually bundles it with its pricier models. Its black mesh finish and subtle blue trim lends it a comparatively expensive appearance.

Inside, the Asus motherboard leaves little room for expansion. All memory slots are spoken for, while the graphics card and 500W Cooler Master power supply consume much of the CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores' remaining space.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (September 09 issue)

  1. Arbico CD 8467 XL
  2. Palicomp Ballistix Excalibur E85SLI-19
  3. CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores
  4. Eclipse Mirage A995R467
  5. HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice at this price, although slower processors such as the E8400 will still be fast enough for most users. Lower-cost alternatives, such as the Intel E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed.

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

Make sure you're getting the full benefit of the memory - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will slow things down. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. Hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later.

If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, ensure that you've got spare drive bays inside your PC's 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 to one disc, get a drive that can write to DVD-R DL and +R DL at 12- and eight-speed respectively. Keep an eye out for 22-speed models.

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. The most common size is 19in - the quality of larger monitors is unlikely to be good at this price. Look for a monitor with a DVI or HDMI digital connector to ensure the best picture quality. Make sure the PC has one, too.

If display size or quality is of critical importance to you, you may be able to get a 22in 1,080p flat-panel if you're willing to cut costs elsewhere.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. You'll want a PC that can produce at least 50fps for gaming.

ATI does well in this price bracket and, thanks to recent price reductions, we're seeing Radeon HD 4670 cards appearing once again where the cheaper HD 4650 had temporarily taken over.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version if possible. If you don't play games at all, consider purchasing a machine that relies on the integrated graphics of its motherboard - you'll save a packet.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. Without power-hungry components under the bonnet, there's simply no need for a more powerful supply. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then you'll need to ensure that your PSU is able to deliver enough juice to power your new components. 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 have built-in chips that can handle six-channel sound. To get the best out of them, you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). Separate stereo speakers are rare in systems costing less than £500, however. Prepare to make sacrifices elsewhere if getting standalone speakers is a requirement for you.


>> NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict

CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores: Specs

  • 2.8GHz AMD Athlon X2 7850
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • Asus M9A2VM-F 780V
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W Cooler Master PSU
  • 19in Hanton H-341WB (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 4770 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 46/19fps
  • Fear = 150fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • three-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 105
  • 2.8GHz AMD Athlon X2 7850
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • Asus M9A2VM-F 780V
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W Cooler Master PSU
  • 19in Hanton H-341WB (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 4770 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 46/19fps
  • Fear = 150fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • three-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 105

OUR VERDICT

Gamers should place this excellent budget PC at or near the top of their list. With a full three-year warranty to fall back on, the only real drawback to the AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores is CyberPower’s decision to use Vista Home Basic.

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