DinoPC’s Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC delivers good Windows performance, and gaming framerates more than double those of the competition in our tests.

DinoPC’s Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC uses a 3.06GHz Intel Core i3-540 processor to deliver good Windows performance, and its nVidia GeForce GT 240 graphics card offered gaming framerates more than double those of the competition in our tests.

Its general-speed score of 123 wasn’t the slowest of the group, but in WorldBench 6 the DinoPC Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC trailed three points behind the Palicomp, which uses the same processor. And it was nine points behind the Arbico. Performance is still fast enough for all but the most demanding users, however.

Gaming performance is a different story. The DinoPC Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC's nVidia GeForce GT 240 graphics card has double the video memory and considerably more processing power than the Radeon HD 5450 selected by Palicomp and Chillblast. Its 44fps score in our Fear gaming test (1024x768, ‘Maximum’ settings) was more than double that of the competition. This sub-£500 PC is no hardcore gaming rig, but it’ll happily cope with games that would leave the other PCs here trembling.

A standard 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB hard drive are provided. With the same Asus P7H55-M motherboard as the Arbico, there’s unfortunately no support for USB 3.0. This can be added to the DinoPC Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC later, of course.

The stylish 21.5in AOC F22+ monitor has proved popular in this chart, also featuring in the Palicomp and Chillblast’s specifications. A set of Gigabyte external speakers complements the DinoPC Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC's display, but no subwoofer is provided.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3
  2. Arbico i3-5500 XL
  3. Chillblast Fusion Saturn
  4. DinoPC Plutosaur 540
  5. CyberPower Infinity i3 Apollo XT

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>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

DinoPC’s Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC delivers good Windows performance, and gaming framerates more than double those of the competition in our tests.

Budget PCs buying advice

Processor: Intel’s Core i3 processor has the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. This issue, we have examples ranging from the 2.93GHz Core i3-530 to the 3.2GHz Core i3-550. These dual-core chips have integrated graphics processors, allowing vendors to build a capable PC at lower cost by omitting a discrete graphics card.

AMD’s quad-core Phenom II X4 550 BE is another good choice of processor for a budget Windows machine, especially for those who like to tinker – this chip has been designed with overclocking in mind.

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 and bodes well for performance. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Expect around 500GB at this price point, although 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.

Get a drive that can write to the DVD+/-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 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. Good-quality full-HD monitors are now available even in sub-£500 systems. Expect to find a 21.5in model, although these are often marketed as 22in screens. It’s best to get one with dual inputs and a digital connection (DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort), letting you get the best image quality available and hook up additional devices.

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.

Intel’s Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with integrated graphics processors that deliver around double the performance of older Intel integrated solutions. These machines support HD video and Windows’ Aero effects without the need for a discrete graphics card.

ATI’s Radeon HD 5450 is a popular choice for a budget PC. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it adds support for DirectX 11.0. Many cards can also drive multiple monitors, so you can hook up your TV and display at the same time.

If you really want to play games, nVidia’s GeForce GT 240 will provide some extra speed. Be prepared to lower your graphics settings to achieve smooth gameplay, however.

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.

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>> NEXT PAGE: Specification and our expert verdict

DinoPC Plutosaur 540: Specs

  • 3.06GHz Intel Core i3-540
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • Asus P7H55-M motherboard
  • 500W PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB Palit nVidia GeForce GT 240 (Fear 'Maximum' settings, 1024x768: 44fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Gigabyte GP-S4600 speakers
  • 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: 123
  • 3.06GHz Intel Core i3-540
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • Asus P7H55-M motherboard
  • 500W PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 1GB Palit nVidia GeForce GT 240 (Fear 'Maximum' settings, 1024x768: 44fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Gigabyte GP-S4600 speakers
  • 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: 123

OUR VERDICT

None of the budget PCs in this group test is suitable for hardcore gamers, but the DinoPC’s nVidia GeForce GT 240 graphics card makes the Plutosaur 540 budget desktop PC the most capable if you want to play the occasional game. If games don’t interest you, we’d recommend the faster Windows performance and better all-round specification of our Best Buy Palicomp PC.

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