The Eclipse Matrix i86A487 offers a similar spec to Chillblast's chart-leading system. Performance is almost identical, which is unsurprising given that the two rely on the same CPU and graphics card combo. This allows for a powerful WorldBench score of 129 and 24fps in Crysis.

Thanks to recent price cuts from AMD, the HD 4870 graphics card is now within reach of sub-£750 PCs such as the Eclipse Matrix i86A487. Those vendors quick enough off the mark to include one are able to deliver an excellent combination of performance and value for money.

On paper, the Eclipse Matrix i86A487 has some advantages over the Best Buy Chillblast. There's the higher-rated 600W PSU, for example, and a more advanced motherboard with extra card slots. Housed in a smart black case, this PC is also better-looking. But the Eclipse comes without any external speakers, forcing you to rely on the tinny output of the analogue-only monitor.

Our Eclipse Matrix i86A487 test system was supplied with a 32bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium, reducing the usable memory to 3GB. There's room to upgrade here, but be sure to specify the 64bit operating system if you plan to do so - it will come at no extra cost.


Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (August issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Meteor
  2. Eclipse Matrix i86A487
  3. CyberPower Gamer Ultra HD II
  4. Arbico CD8850 XL
  5. Chillblast Fusion Isis


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Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (August issue)

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo range offers almost unbeatable performance for the price. The 3.33GHz E8600 now supersedes the E8500 as the CPU of choice, appearing in the vast majority of desktop PCs in this price category.

Alternatively, go for one of Intel's latest quad-core chips, such as the Q9300 or Q9400. These processors perform well with newer applications and games.

AMD's Phenom II X4 920 and 940 also offer excellent value for money and quad-core performance, the latter being designed for easy overclocking.

Memory: If fast processors speed up your PC, a large bank of memory stops it from slowing down. Get the most out of your CPU by including at least 4GB of RAM. You can get by with 2GB, but your PC will run more smoothly with 4GB.

Storage: Digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive; buy the biggest you can afford. A 500GB drive is a good investment. Consider using a pair of smaller drives rather than one large drive - a terabyte (1TB) is a huge amount of information to lose in one go.

Your DVD drive should write to the -R/+R formats at 18-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good; if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVD-/+R dual-layer drives. Drives that can read Blu-ray are becoming affordable, but they're still quite rare at this price.

Display: Many PC manufacturers make sacrifices here to keep costs down. But a poor monitor can ruin your computing experience - try it out before buying.

Be aware that 19in screens offer a lower resolution than 20in and 22in monitors; 22in models display larger icons. Newer 22in flat-panels in the 16:9 format are capable of displaying full-HD content at a screen resolution of 1,080p.

A DVI or HDMI connector will provide a considerably better image than a VGA port, so look for a display with a digital input; if you want to connect additional devices you'll need at least two. Finally, look for a good response rate: 8ms or below should be fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: Truly hardcore gamers are unlikely to be happy with a sub-£750 PC, but you should be able to find a decent graphics card at this price.

We test PCs on the three-year-old game Fear, and Crysis, a far more demanding title. Although 50fps is enough to make a game playable, you can set your sights higher in this category - look for 80-100fps for decent gameplay.

Current pricing will limit you in this area, but ATI's Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards deliver great performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch. If you're not into gaming, cutting back on graphics won't harm general performance.

Power supply: A large PSU is less vital at this price point, but look for a model with a full set of SATA and PCI Express connectors to make later upgrades easier.

Sound card and speakers: You may find a budget sound card at this price, but most motherboards depend on a decent built-in audio chip that can handle six-channel sound. To get surround sound you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). A 2.1-channel stereo system will be good enough for most users. A monitor's built-in speakers seldom offer a satisfying audio experience.

Eclipse Matrix i86A487: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • MSI P31 Neo-F motherboard
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 600W Storm PSU
  • 21.6in Hanns-G HG221A flat-panel monitor (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 62/24fps
  • Fear = 232fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888 sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 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: 129
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • MSI P31 Neo-F motherboard
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • 600W Storm PSU
  • 21.6in Hanns-G HG221A flat-panel monitor (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 62/24fps
  • Fear = 232fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888 sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 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: 129

OUR VERDICT

Whereas all other machines in our chart come with at least two-year warranties, the Eclipse Matrix i86A487 comes with just a one-year guarantee. For this reason alone, we can’t recommend it above the Fusion Meteor.

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