CyberPower tends to cater for the enthusiast who wants their PC to perform well and look great, and the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT budget desktop PC is no exception.

CyberPower tends to cater for the enthusiast who wants their PC to perform well and look great, and the Ultra Athenna XT budget desktop PC is no exception. With its metallic-blue trim and glossy piano-black finish, it immediately stands out from the crowd and looks more expensive than most of the competition.

The CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT budget desktop PC makes good use of its 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550, delivering 116 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test - the highest score in the chart. But the Chillblast does a pretty good job keeping up, scoring 114 points with a slower 3GHz CPU.

Like the competition, CyberPower supplies 4GB of memory with the Ultra Athenna XT budget desktop PC. You also get a 500GB hard drive, which is a generous offering in comparison to those provided by Eclipse and Arbico, plus a long three-year warranty (albeit not the collect-and-return guarantee offered by Chillblast).

It's one of three systems here to use an ATI Radeon HD 5670 graphics card. The CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT budget desktop PC is thus quite capable of playing sophisticated games at reasonable framerates, with the latter necessary given that the 18.5in AOC monitor is limited to a 1366x768 resolution. The Best Buy Eclipse offers much faster graphics for the same amount of money, however.

Chart ranking (July 2010 issue)

  1. Eclipse Matrix a55R575
  2. Chillblast Fusion Hades
  3. CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT
  4. Palicomp Excalibur 630-19 System
  5. Arbico Phenom 5467 HD

>> NEXT PAGE: Desktop PC buying advice

CyberPower tends to cater for the enthusiast who wants their PC to perform well and look great, and the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT budget desktop PC is no exception.

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 630 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 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 now, and bodes well for performance. 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.

ATI's HD 5670 is a popular choice for a budget PC, but if you shop around you may be able to find an HD 5850. This will give you considerably better gaming performance, but will require compromises to be made elsewhere.

For nVidia and ATI cards, look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version if available. 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 can handle six-channel sound.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specification and our expert verdict

CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT: Specs

  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM SE2 motherboard
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 450W WinPower PSU
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 512MB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 5670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 47/15fps
  • Fear = 114fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/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: 116
  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM SE2 motherboard
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 450W WinPower PSU
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 512MB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 5670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 47/15fps
  • Fear = 114fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/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: 116

OUR VERDICT

Choosing between the CyberPower and Chillblast systems is a difficult task. Whereas the Chillblast offers a nicer display, the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT budget desktop PC houses the faster CPU. There’s really very little between them.

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