In the fiercely competitive sub-£500 price bracket, compromises often have to be made. But Eclipse has somehow managed to stretch the budget with its Eclipse Matrix a55R575 budget desktop PC with one of the fastest processors in the chart.

In the fiercely competitive sub-£500 price bracket, compromises often have to be made. But Eclipse has somehow managed to stretch the budget with its Matrix a55R575 budget desktop PC to combine the fastest graphics card and processor in the chart: there's a 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550 dual-core CPU and a Radeon HD 5750 under the bonnet.

As a result, the Eclipse Matrix a55R575 budget desktop PC delivers excellent performance across the board. Although it doesn't deliver the fastest WorldBench 6 score here, just three points separate it and the top two performers, Chillblast's Fusion Hades and the CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT.

And the Eclipse Matrix a55R575 budget desktop PC dominates when it comes to gaming. It recorded 20fps in our ‘Very High' Crysis test, beating the competition by 33 percent or more. Whatever game we threw at it, the Matrix excelled.

Only in two areas will you find compromises. First, the fairly stylish 18.5in monitor delivers reasonable image quality, but it's limited to a 1366x768 resolution and you may find screen space a little cramped for office-type work. Second, unlike the Palicomp, the Eclipse Matrix a55R575 budget desktop PC doesn't come with external speakers.

Please note that in the review printed in the July 2010 issue of PC Advisor, this system is incorrectly listed with an ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics processor. This should read ATI Radeon HD 5750. Since its Best Buy award was on the merit of its measured performance and the overall package, the Eclipse Matrix a55R575 still earns the PC Advisor Best Buy award.

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: Buying advice

In the fiercely competitive sub-£500 price bracket, compromises often have to be made. But Eclipse has somehow managed to stretch the budget with its Matrix a55R575 budget desktop PC to combine the fastest graphics card and processor in the chart.

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 5750. 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

Eclipse Matrix a55R575: Specs

  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 465GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM Plus motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 1GB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 5750 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 52/20fps
  • Fear = 177fps)
  • onboard sound
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x (DVD-R/+R -R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 113
  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 465GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-AM Plus motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 1GB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 5750 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 52/20fps
  • Fear = 177fps)
  • onboard sound
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x (DVD-R/+R -R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 113

OUR VERDICT

If your usual computing activities involve listening to music, surfing the web and tinkering with the occasional spreadsheet, you may benefit from choosing a PC that comes with a larger screen. For sheer value for money and all-round performance, however, the top spot has to go to Eclipse Matrix a55R575 budget desktop PC.

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