Eclipse's Matrix i85a465 doesn't look nearly as good as Palicomp's Excalibur. The case, although tidy and inoffensive, has a distinctly budget look to it. It also feels rather flimsy and lightweight.

Beneath the 3.5in drive bay sits a small door that conceals a pair of USB ports, and below this door sits a small strip that glows blue when the Eclipse Matrix i85a465 is switched on. Unfortunately, this splash of decoration does little to improve our first impressions.

Look inside, however, and it's a different story. Eclipse has fitted a full-size motherboard, which provides six memory slots in total (two for DDR3 RAM; four for DDR2 RAM), making an upgrade from the Eclipse Matrix i85a465's limited 2GB allocation a cinch.

With Intel's 3.16GHz E8500 chip under the hood, the Eclipse Matrix i85a465 scored 117 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed tests. Sold overclocked to 3.8GHz, the Eclipse is capable of an incredible 131-point score.

In common with the Arbico, the Eclipse Matrix i85a465 uses an HD 4650 graphics card. In this case it's only the 512MB version, but this places fewer demands on the wallet and offers similar performance in our gaming tests. Results suggest the pricier card is a better bet for more demanding games, however.

The Eclipse Matrix i85a465's 19in Hanns-G display is a relatively good performer, fitted with both analogue and digital connectors.


Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (March 09 issue)

  1. Cyberpower Gamer Infinity 600
  2. Arbico CD8465 EX
  3. Eclipse Matrix i85a465
  4. Palicomp Excalibur E85-19
  5. Chillblast Fusion Spark

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Budget desktop PCs buying advice (March 09 issue)

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice at this price point, although slower processors such as the E8400 will still be fast enough for most users. Lower-cost alternatives include the Intel E7000- and E4000-series chips, although these offer weaker performance at any given clock speed.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB of RAM is a minimum requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn't recommend it. The bulk of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.

Make sure you're getting the full benefit of the memory - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will slow things down. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media content such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 320GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later. If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, make sure you've got enough free drive bays in your system case.

Look for a DVD drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at 16-speed or better. If you want to copy 8.5GB at once, get a drive that can write to DVD-R DL and +R DL at 12- and eight-speed respectively. Keep an eye out for 22-speed models.

Flat-panel: PC manufacturers have to make compromises to keep prices down and often start with the monitor. But you don't want to spend all your computing time looking at a poor-quality display.

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 high 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.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for £300 or £400, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. Nonetheless, some sub-£500 PCs come with decent cards.

You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps if you're going to be playing games - 70fps or 80fps is better still. Current dollar prices have made it harder to build decent systems for under £500 and this month we're seeing slower graphics cards provided in all the chart systems. The usual 9800 GT and 9600 GT have been replaced by the 9500 GT.

Those in the ATI camp have seen the HD 4670 replaced by the HD 4650, which offers correspondingly lower performance. For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB model rather than the 512MB version.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price. Most motherboards have built-in chips that can handle six-channel sound. To get the best out of them, you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer), but you're unlikely to get surround speakers at this price point. Even stereo speakers are rare in systems costing less than £500. Prepare to make sacrifices elsewhere if getting standalone speakers is a requirement for you.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Eclipse Matrix i85a465: Specs

  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ASRock P43Twins1600
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hanns-G HW191D (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 4650 (games scores: Crysis = 22fps
  • Fear = 42fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 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: 117
  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ASRock P43Twins1600
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hanns-G HW191D (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 4650 (games scores: Crysis = 22fps
  • Fear = 42fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 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: 117

OUR VERDICT

Overall, the Eclipse Matrix i85a465 is well specified and an excellent performer if you buy it overclocked. It’s somewhat let down by its build quality, however, and its gaming performance is outclassed at higher resolutions by the Arbico.

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