The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ has proven a huge success for Eclipse before, but the Mirage Sli a60n86GT's modest WorldBench 6 score of 90 compares unfavourably with the Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 machines. The Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT’s 160GB hard drive is a respectable minimum offering in this category, while its RAM allocation of 2GB (pleased though we always are to find this in a sub-£500 PC) is matched by all the other machines in the chart.

The Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT's Hannspree XM New York flat-panel is this system’s one eye-catching component – although not everybody will like its ‘interesting’ styling. The GeForce 8600 GT is a solid graphics card for the money, although the likes of the Radeon HD 3850 are a significant improvement when it comes to games performance.

Verdict

The Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT is a PC that doesn’t enthral, but doesn’t appal either. While most of the other machines here have interesting selling points, the Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT’s lack of an edge leaves it struggling to command attention.

Budget PCs chart ranking (March 08 issue)


  1. Arbico CD6750 SX
  2. Eclipse Fusion i670A385HD
  3. Advance Technologies AT-FX Air+
  4. CyberPower Gamer Ultra 550 - last month 2
  5. Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT - last month 3


See also:
Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT: expert review
Budget PCs chart ranking
Budget PCs buying advice
Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT: our first look

Budget PCs buying advice (March 08 issue)

Processor You’re not going to get the fastest processors at this price, but many of today’s chips are powerful enough to make light work of standard applications – and there are some excellent, affordable processors around if you can find them.

This month’s Core 2 Duo E6750 is a stand-out component, and plenty of cheaper systems use the decent E6500 and E6550 chips. The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is also an option, and has fared pretty well in its outings to date. Don’t be fooled into buying an older Intel Pentium D, though. They have dual-core facilities, but their performance is a long way behind today’s Core 2 Duo range.

Memory In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB has almost become a requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn’t recommend it – with applications only moving in one direction, you shouldn’t compromise in this area. Check you’re getting the full benefit of the memory – some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will ultimately slow your system down.

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 250GB drive is a good investment that you won’t regret.

It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure the PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the –R/+R formats at rates of at least 16-speed. If you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or +R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you should look for an absolute minimum of six-speed on one of the formats. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Flat-panel Compromises have to be made to keep the price of a PC down, and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you’re going to be spending most of your time looking at.

All the PCs in our charts now come with flat-panels. The most common size is currently 19in – you should be very careful when considering going above this size because the quality is unlikely to be good enough under these sorts of price constraints. We don’t see many CRTs now, but they’re still a pretty good deal if you can find them – provided you can put up with the bulky casing, the colour depth on these displays tends to be better than you get on flat-panels.

Graphics cards Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, fervent gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£500 PC. Nonetheless, the cream of the crop do tend to come with decent cards.

You should still be looking for PCs that can produce 50 frames per second (fps) if you’re going to be playing games – 70fps or 80fps is better still. Today’s chip of choice is the Radeon HD 3850. This card is faster than anything else that you’re likely to get at this price point.

The GeForce 8600s are a good alternative. They can support DirectX 10.0, although they’re unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow’s DirectX 10.0 games. They have plenty of pace to tackle today’s games.

Sound card and speakers You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price – it’s an area where vendors try to cut costs. Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you’ll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you won’t get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category – indeed, you won’t necessarily get a subwoofer or speakers at all.


See also:
Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT: expert review
Budget PCs chart ranking
Budget PCs buying advice
Eclipse Mirage Sli a60n86GT: our first look

Our first look

The £500 category is very much one in which it’s all too easy to slip into the background. With so little money to spread across the many components that go into a modern system, the opportunities for distinguishing your PC are few and far between. After several months of triumphs, Eclipse is finding it harder to make its machines stand out, and the Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT sticks determinedly to the middle ground.

The Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT's Athlon 64 X2 6000+ has proven a huge success for Eclipse before, but its modest WorldBench score of 90 in no way compares to the blazing Arbico CD6750 XL – nor, really, the CyberPower Gamer Infinity 550. This makes the Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT's slightly under-specced 160GB hard drive more of a failing – we could certainly forgive it in the case of the zippy Arbico CD6750 XL – while even the 2GB of DDR RAM is uninspiring because all of its rivals carry a similar capacity.

The Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT's Hannspree XM New York flat-panel is this system’s one eye-catcher – though not everybody will like its ‘interesting’ styling. The GeForce 8600 GT is a strong graphics card, but the Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT’s lack of basic speed leaves it lagging in the games tests.

Chart ranking: Sub-£500 budget PCs, January 08 issue


  1. Arbico CD6750 XL
  2. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 550
  3. Zoostorm 4-2353
  4. Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT
  5. PC Specialist Apollo Home GT (last month 4)

Verdict

This is a PC that doesn’t enthral, but doesn’t appal either. While the top three all have interesting selling points, the Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT’s lack of an edge leaves it struggling to command attention.

Buying advice: budget PCs as of January 08 issue

Processor: You're not going to get the fastest processors at this price, but many of today's chips are powerful enough to make light work of standard applications. We've seem some amazing chips - the Core 2 Duo E6750 being a stand-out - but you're far more likely to see E6450 or E6550 chips. The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is also a decent option.

Don't be fooled into buying an older Intel Pentium D. They've got dual-core facilities but their performance is a long way behind today's Core 2 Duo range.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age 1GB has become a must-have. If you can get it then by all means go for more - all the PCs here are equipped with 2GB - but make sure you're not being stung by compromises elsewhere. Check you're getting the full benefit of the memory - some onboard graphics controllers need to use system memory, which will ultimately slow the system down.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive so buy the biggest you can. Drives with a capacity of 250GB are a good investment.

Make sure the PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at 16-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good. If you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for DVD-R DL or DVD+R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you need to look for an absolute minimum of six-speed on one of the formats. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Display: To keep the price of a PC down, compromises have to be made - and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part you're going to be spending most of your time looking at. All PCs now come with flat-panels - 19in models have become the most common size. Be very careful when going above this. The quality is unlikely to be good enough given the price constraints. We don't see many CRTs now, but they're still a pretty good deal if you can find them. Colour depth tends to be better than on flat-panels.

Graphics cards: Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, fervent gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£500 PC. Nonetheless, the cream of the crop do tend to come with decent graphics cards. You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps (frames per second) if you're going to be playing games - 70fps or 80fps is better still.

Today's chips of choice come from the nVidia GeForce 8600 range. These cards can support DirectX 10.0 (although they're unlikely to be powerful enough to show tomorrow's DirectX 10.0 games titles in all their finery). More to the point, they have plenty of pace with which to tackle today's games.

The ATI Radeon HD 2600 cards are just as good, however, and we expect to see more of these making an appearance in the coming months.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it's an area where vendors are likely to cut costs. Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you'll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, there's a good chance you won't get anything better than a 2.1-channel system in this category - indeed, you won't necessarily get a subwoofer or speakers at all.

Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT: Specs

  • 3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 160GB serial ATA
  • Asus M2N-E SLI
  • 6 x USB ports
  • 19in Hannspree XM NY (0.283mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 max resolution @75Hz)
  • 256MB Sparkle nVidia GeForce 8600 GT (PCI Express)
  • onboard C-Media
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • max DVD speeds 18x/18x/8x/8x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base and 30-day premier warranty
  • WorldBench 6.0 score: 90
  • 3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 160GB serial ATA
  • Asus M2N-E SLI
  • 6 x USB ports
  • 19in Hannspree XM NY (0.283mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 max resolution @75Hz)
  • 256MB Sparkle nVidia GeForce 8600 GT (PCI Express)
  • onboard C-Media
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • max DVD speeds 18x/18x/8x/8x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base and 30-day premier warranty
  • WorldBench 6.0 score: 90

OUR VERDICT

This is a PC that doesn’t enthral, but doesn’t appal either. While the top three all have interesting selling points, the Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT’s lack of an edge leaves it struggling to command attention.

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