CyberPower's systems tend to cater for the enthusiast who wants their PC to perform well and look good. The Ultra Athenna XT 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.

CyberPower's systems tend to cater for the enthusiast who wants their PC to perform well and look good. The Ultra Athenna XT 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 system is powered by an AMD Phenom II X2 550 processor running at 3.1GHz. This is the joint-fastest clock speed in the chart and the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT desktop PC makes solid use of it, achieving a WorldBench 6 real-world speed score of 116. However, the Palicomp delivers significantly faster overall performance with its Intel Core i3 540 CPU.

The usual 4GB of RAM is supplied, although CyberPower has gone for the more expensive and faster DDR3 type rather than the DDR2 chips supplied by Arbico and Eclipse. You also get a 500GB hard drive with the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT desktop PC, which is perfectly adequate at this price point, plus a long three-year warranty (albeit not the collect-and-return guarantee offered by Chillblast).

CyberPower supplies an ATI Radeon HD 5670 graphics card with 512MB of video memory. This is more than capable of playing sophisticated games at reasonable framerates, particularly in the undemanding environment of the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT desktop PC's low-res 18.5in monitor.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19
  2. Chillblast Fusion Vortex
  3. Eclipse Quantum a55r575
  4. CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT
  5. Arbico Phenom 5524 GT

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

CyberPower's systems tend to cater for the enthusiast who wants their PC to perform well and look good. The Ultra Athenna XT 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.

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 KR 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 18.5in - 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 better performance, but may require compromises elsewhere.

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

Intel's Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with graphics processors that deliver around double the performance of older integrated solutions. Such a PC won't be up to most games, but it will support HD video and Windows 7's Aero effects.

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.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT (updated): Specs

  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM SE2 motherboard
  • 450W WinPower PSU
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 512MB Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 5670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 47/15fps
  • Fear - 114fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 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 DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM SE2 motherboard
  • 450W WinPower PSU
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 512MB Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 5670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 47/15fps
  • Fear - 114fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 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

While the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT desktop PC looks good and offers plenty of performance for your money, gamers would do better to look to the same-priced Eclipse, which offers many of the same specs but faster graphics.

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