Gamers will love this machine. While its WorldBench 6 score of 100 points may be relatively low, the quad-core CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite has potential that isn’t demonstrated by standard benchmarks.

Gamers will love this machine. Although its CPU has the slowest clock speed here, its quad-core capabilities enable the CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite to perform certain tasks, such as video encoding, much faster than the dual-core competition. While its WorldBench 6 score of 100 points may be relatively low, this PC has potential that isn’t demonstrated by standard benchmarks.

In gaming tests, the CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite is more than able to hold its own. Its ATI HD 4850 graphics card is faster than the second-place Arbico’s HD 4770 in some games, if only by a very small margin, while its quad-core CPU opens up a new market of titles that take advantage of multicore processors.

The CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite's styling will also appeal to gamers, with a transparent side panel built into its metallic blue case proudly showing off its innards. Unfortunately, the budget hasn’t stretched to interior lighting.

The CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite uses the same Asus motherboard as the Chillblast Fusion Blizzard. Only two memory slots are available, so you’ll need to replace rather than add to the existing modules if you wish to upgrade the CyberPower’s 4GB allocation. The large graphics card makes the spare PCI Express x1 slot inaccessible, but there’s a free PCI slot for an add-in card.

The CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite's 19in Digimate monitor matches the Arbico’s flatscreen display. It’s a rather basic model, but it comes with dual inputs and a pleasantly thin black bezel.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (issue 176)

  1. CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite
  2. Arbico Phenom 5570HD
  3. Chillblast Fusion Blizzard
  4. Packard Bell x5620uk
  5. RL Supplies Modula 9010


>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Gamers will love this machine. While its WorldBench 6 score of 100 points may be relatively low, the quad-core CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite has potential that isn’t demonstrated by standard benchmarks.

Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Processor: AMD's Phenom II X2 550 is a great choice of CPU for a budget PC. You can also now find quad-core CPUs in this price range from both AMD and Intel. The AMD Athlon X4 620 and Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 are good examples.

The Core 2 Duo E8500 is still a good choice if you have no interest in gaming and want to spend your money on fast general-purpose performance. Low-cost alternatives, such as Intel's E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed.

Memory: In the era of Vista and Windows 7, 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: Expect up to 500GB at this price; 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.

Look for a DVD drive that can write to the -/+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 (-/+R DL) 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. 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 - and you're willing to cut costs elsewhere - you may be able to get a 22in 1080p flat-panel.

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.

With VAT reverting to 17.5 percent at the beginning of January, don't expect to see HD 4870s at this price point.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version if possible. And if you don't play games at all, consider purchasing a machine that relies on integrated graphics.

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. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then your PSU must be 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).

>> NEXT PAGE: Specification and our expert verdict

CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite: Specs

  • 2.6GHz AMD Athlon X4 620
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA II
  • Asus M2N68-AM
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 650W EZCool PSU
  • 19in Digimate L-1935WD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Peak ATI Radeon HD 4850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 42/19fps
  • Fear = 155fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 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: 100
  • 2.6GHz AMD Athlon X4 620
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA II
  • Asus M2N68-AM
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 650W EZCool PSU
  • 19in Digimate L-1935WD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Peak ATI Radeon HD 4850 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 42/19fps
  • Fear = 155fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 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: 100

OUR VERDICT

CyberPower’s Ultra Athenna Elite is a well-balanced PC and a great budget choice for those who are after a quad-core system and like to play the odd game. It also comes with a long three-year warranty.