Eclipse's Pearl i84R483 offers similar performance to Chillblast's Horizon, another PC based on the Intel Core 2 Duo E8400. Although it's the slowest performer in our WorldBench 6 speed test, the Eclipse's score of 115 points is a considerable improvement over the company's previous entry to our chart, and will be perfectly adequate for most users.

Alongside the obligatory 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM is an ATI Radeon HD 4830 graphics card with 512MB of RAM. This card outperforms the HD 4670s supplied by Arbico and Palicomp and also edges ahead of the HD 4730 installed in the Chillblast. So, although the Eclipse Pearl i84R483's Core 2 Duo E8400 loses you a little overall performance when compared to the E8500, the money saved has been put to use in improving your gaming experience.

The Eclipse Pearl i84R483 is housed in a very basic yet tidy-looking case. A small flap conceals a pair of front-facing USB ports and audio sockets. Inside, its dual memory slots are occupied with the supplied memory but there is a spare PCI socket available for expansion. There's also plenty of room to install an additional hard drive.

The Eclipse Pearl i84R483's monitor is an interesting choice: it's a 19in widescreen model and offers a native display resolution of 1,366x768. This is a slightly lower resolution than the 1,440x900 found in standard 16:10 aspect ratio monitors, but it makes onscreen text and icons larger and easier to read.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (Nov 09 issue)

  1. Mesh Matrix II 550BE PCA
  2. Palicomp Excalibur Ballistix E85-4670-19
  3. Arbico CD 8570 XL
  4. Eclipse Pearl i84R483
  5. Chillblast Fusion Horizon

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs 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. Low-cost alternatives, such as Intel's E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed. AMD's latest offerings, such as the Phenom II X2 550BE, offer excellent performance and good value for money.

Memory: In the age of Windows Vista, 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: Expect 500GB at this price, but you can never have too much storage space. Digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard 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.

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 HD 4670 cards appearing once again. The HD 4770 and HD 4870 provide very good budget gaming performance.

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 installed, there's simply no need for a more powerful supply. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then your PSU must be 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.


>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Eclipse Pearl i84R483: Specs

  • 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Dup E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (Windows 7 voucher included)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Biostar G31-M7TE motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • EZCool 500W PSU
  • 19in Hyundai H95W (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1,366x768)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4830 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 51/17fps
  • Fear = 158fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 115
  • 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Dup E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (Windows 7 voucher included)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Biostar G31-M7TE motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • EZCool 500W PSU
  • 19in Hyundai H95W (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1,366x768)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4830 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 51/17fps
  • Fear = 158fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 115

OUR VERDICT

The Eclipse Pearl i84R483 is a reasonably well-balanced system with its performance weighted in favour of graphics over general speed. If your main interest is in gaming, this PC is a better bet than the Palicomp or Arbico.

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