Eclipse's Matrix i525z68 is the first desktop PC we’ve tested with a Z68-chipset motherboard, and we certainly didn’t expect to find it at this price. The budget simply won’t allow a vendor to take advantage of its best features. It does, however, offer unique upgrade potential.

Support for 6Gbps SATA, HDMI and USB 3.0 is standard. The ASRock board selected by Eclipse also uses Intel’s Smart Response Technology, letting a solid-state disk (SSD) boost the performance of your existing hard drive. At this price, Eclipse hasn’t been able to include an SSD.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Chillblast Fusion Atom
  2. Arbico eXcel i5255 Pro
  3. Eclipse Matrix i525z68
  4. Dino PC Plutosaur 2500
  5. Chillblast Fusion Summit

Lucid’s Virtu technology also lets you switch between the Eclipse Matrix i525z68's integrated graphics and a dedicated card – if one had been fitted – and retain the CPU’s video-encoding power.

Several sacrifices have been made to include this motherboard. The most noticeable is the processor: the Eclipse Matrix i525z68 uses the standard version of Intel’s i5-2500, which has slower integrated graphics than its multiplier-unlocked sibling.

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The supplied 21.5in AOC F22 monitor will be adequate for most users, but its ‘s+’ suffix denotes an analogue-only screen. The Eclipse Matrix i525z68's other specs are standard for the category, including a 1TB hard drive and 4GB of RAM.

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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 Z68- or P67-chipset-based motherboard (the latter also requires a discrete graphics card). A Z68 chipset provides additional support for SSD caching and auto-switching graphics.

Sandy Bridge chips also improve the integrated graphics performance. They provide accelerated graphics encoding, plus VGA and HDMI outputs. The ‘K’ chips come with more powerful integrated graphics than the standard versions. While neither option should be considered fast enough for a true gaming PC, some titles remain quite playable.

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.

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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 better performance than 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 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 Matrix i525z68: Specs

  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • ASRock Z68 Pro3 motherboard
  • 500W PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22s+ (0.28mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (games scores: Fear = 16fps, Crysis [Low] = 9fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 22x DVD-R/22x +R/12x -R DL/16x +R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -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
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • ASRock Z68 Pro3 motherboard
  • 500W PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22s+ (0.28mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (games scores: Fear = 16fps, Crysis [Low] = 9fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 22x DVD-R/22x +R/12x -R DL/16x +R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -ROM
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 158

OUR VERDICT

If you’re looking for a budget PC with firm plans to upgrade later, then the Eclipse Matrix i525z68 is an excellent choice. We recommend paying a little extra for an Intel Core i5-2500K processor to unlock its full potential, however.

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