Eclipse’s Explorer i525H67 PC has a very similar specification to our Best Buy Arbico eXcel i5250 MX, which centres around a 3.33GHz Intel Core i5-2500 CPU. Once again, we see 4GB of system memory, a 1TB hard drive and AOC’s 21.5in F22+ display – a good match for Eclipse’s glossy black EZCool N-800D system case.

A large circular power switch with an eye-catching chrome-effect surround is fitted to the front, helping you to ignore the Eclipse Explorer i525H67 system case’s plasticky finish.

Group test: What's the best budget PC?
Group test: What's the best £750 PC?

The Eclipse Explorer i525H67 looks good, provided that you don’t touch it – but touch it you will if you want to access the USB and audio jacks concealed behind a hinged flap. It’s a neat solution, but an inexperienced user might never find them.

The Eclipse Explorer i525H67's H67-chipset-based motherboard is more expensive than the Arbico’s. Another Asus model, this board offers a good feature set but lacks premium features. Like the Arbico’s board it offers just two memory slots, but trumps it with SATA 6Gbps and Intel Rapid Storage Technology support, plus a few extra expansion slots and S/PDIF digital audio.

Group test: What's the best £1,000 PC?
Group test: What's the best desktop PC?

In our tests, the Eclipse Explorer i525H67 PC performed very well; it was a single point behind the Arbico in WorldBench 6. In games, its integrated graphics did slightly better, scoring 17fps in Fear against the Best Buy’s 16fps.

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget PCs buying advice


Budget PCs buying advice

Processor: Until recently, Intel’s Core i3 processor had the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. While you’ll still find good value in systems based on this architecture, second-generation Core i5 ‘Sandy Bridge’ chips blow them away in performance terms. Identify these chips by their four-digit model number.

‘K’ versions of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors support overclocking, but you’ll need a pricey P67-chipset-based motherboard, which itself requires a discrete graphics card. If you use a ‘K’ chip without a P67 motherboard, you won’t be able to overclock it but will be able to take advantage of its improved graphics processor over standard chips (which are themselves improved over first-gen Core processors).

Neither option should be considered fast enough for a true gaming PC, but some titles are playable. Intel lists games optimised to run on its integrated technology at tinyurl.com/b4vppc.

Group test: What's the best budget PC?
Group test: What's the best £750 PC?

Memory: Expect 4GB at this price and don’t settle for less than 2GB. Most CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while older ones can also use DDR2. Check your motherboard has free slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Falling prices mean that 1TB is well within the budget of even a budget PC. You can never have too much storage space, and digital media 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.

Group test: What's the best £1,000 PC?
Group test: What's the best desktop PC?

Flat-panel: It’s the component you’ll be spending all your time looking at, but PC makers often compromise on the monitor.

Good-quality full-HD monitors are 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, 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. The new Sandy Bridge chips are even faster and offer features such as dual monitor outputs. These machines support HD video and Windows Aero effects without the need for a separate graphics card.

AMD’s ATI 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 offers support for DirectX 11.0. Many cards can also drive multiple monitors.

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

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a sound card at this price point.

Eclipse Explorer i525H67: Specs

  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • ASRock H67M B3 motherboard
  • 500W PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ monitor (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (Fear: 17fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 158
  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • ASRock H67M B3 motherboard
  • 500W PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ monitor (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (Fear: 17fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 158

OUR VERDICT

Two very similar desktop PCs sit in our top two rankings: the Eclipse Explorer i525H67 has the better motherboard; the other supplies external speakers. With little between the two in performance, we’re swayed by the Arbico’s speaker set and longer two-year warranty.

Find the best price