Eclipse is the second PC manufacturer in our chart to dabble with an AMD processor. The Mirage A995R467 runs a 2.6GHz quad-core Phenom X4 Black Edition 9550 CPU.

With the exception of Intel's Core i7 chips, quad-core CPUs struggle in our WorldBench 6 speed test, and the Eclipse Mirage A995R467's lowly score of 95 may seem a little weak. But such processors race ahead when using multithreaded apps, and are far more adept at multitasking.

Eclipse supplies the same 19in Hanton display with the Mirage A995R467 as the Recommended Palicomp PC. Whether you'll swoon over its high-gloss finish is a matter of personal taste and, to some extent, your room lighting. It certainly looks good playing games.

In common with the Best Buy Arbico, Eclipse has fitted an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card. The Mirage A995R467 is not only able to keep up with the framerates achieved by that PC, but actually improves on them.

The system case is tidy, but plain: it looks rather cheap when compared to the Palicomp or CyberPower housings. Inside, the Eclipse Mirage A995R467's Asus motherboard is large but offers several expansion ports (sadly, not for dual graphics cards or additional RAM). A beefy 650W AlphaPower PSU provides ample headroom for overclocking, too.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (September 09 issue)

  1. Arbico CD 8467 XL
  2. Palicomp Ballistix Excalibur E85SLI-19
  3. CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores
  4. Eclipse Mirage A995R467
  5. HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs

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

Memory: In this Vista-shackled age, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority 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 will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. Hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later.

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/+R formats at 16-speed or better. If you want to copy 8.5GB to one disc, 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: 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, you may be able to get a 22in 1,080p flat-panel if you're willing to cut costs elsewhere.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. You'll want a PC that can produce at least 50fps for gaming.

ATI does well in this price bracket and, thanks to recent price reductions, we're seeing Radeon HD 4670 cards appearing once again where the cheaper HD 4650 had temporarily taken over.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version if possible. If you don't play games at all, consider purchasing a machine that relies on the integrated graphics of its motherboard - you'll save a packet.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. Without power-hungry components under the bonnet, there's simply no need for a more powerful supply. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then you'll need to ensure that your PSU is 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 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). Separate stereo speakers are rare in systems costing less than £500, however. Prepare to make sacrifices elsewhere if getting standalone speakers is a requirement for you.


>> NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict

Eclipse Mirage A995R467: Specs

  • 2.6GHz AMD Phenom X4 Black Edition 9950
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • Asus M4N78 SE
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 650W AlphaPower PSU
  • 19in Hanton H-350WDB (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 470 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 38/12ps
  • fear = 94fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/12x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 95
  • 2.6GHz AMD Phenom X4 Black Edition 9950
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • Asus M4N78 SE
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 650W AlphaPower PSU
  • 19in Hanton H-350WDB (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Asus ATI Radeon HD 470 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 38/12ps
  • fear = 94fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/12x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 95

OUR VERDICT

If you’re in the market for a quad-core system, the Eclipse Mirage A995R467 is a good choice. Better all-round performance is available from budget dual-core systems, however.

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