A £500 PC with a Sandy Bridge processor, the Eclipse Solar i523P67 offers excellent performance and value for money.

The blisteringly fast Solar i523P67 from Eclipse is hot on the Chillblast’s heels, with 144 points scored in WorldBench 6. Its Core i5 chip is another in Intel’s new Sandy Bridge line-up, but it’s clocked slightly slower at 2.8GHz.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘P67’ in this PC’s name: it doesn’t use the P67 chipset. Rather, the Eclipse Solar i523P67's Asus motherboard is based on the H67 chipset, which is able to take advantage of the CPU’s integrated graphics. Sandy Bridge processors offer an updated version of Intel’s integrated graphics, and this chip features the same 850MHz graphics-processing speed as Chillblast’s i5-2400.

This motherboard, which is also used by the Chillblast, offers USB 3.0 and 6 gigabits per second (Gbps) SATA support, enabling you to use the latest high-speed internal and external hard drives with the Eclipse Solar i523P67 desktop PC.

Eclipse has plumped for the EZCool N-880D PC case, which offers plenty of expansion room but is clearly a budget model. Costs have also been cut on the monitor, with the AOC F22s+ used here a VGA-only version of the popular F22+. And no external speakers are provided with the Eclipse Solar i523P67.

Like the other PCs on test, the memory allocation is a standard 4GB, and Eclipse supplies a 1TB hard drive. The Eclipse Solar i523P67's one-year warranty is comparatively short, however.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Chillblast Fusion Skyline
  2. Eclipse Solar i523P67
  3. Arbico i3 5600 XL
  4. Dino PC Plutosaur 650
  5. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3

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Next page: Buying advice

A £500 PC with a Sandy Bridge processor, the Eclipse Solar i523P67 offers excellent performance and value for money.

Budget PCs buying advice

Processor: Until recently, Intel’s Core i3 processor had the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. While you’ll still find good value in systems based on this architecture, Intel’s brand-new Sandy Bridge chips outclass them in performance.

Sandy Bridge chips also offer an improved version of Intel’s integrated graphics, providing accelerated graphics encoding and VGA and HDMI outputs.

Memory: In the post-Vista era, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.

Some CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while others can use either this or DDR2. DDR3 memory is getting cheaper and bodes well for performance. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Falling prices mean that 1TB is well within the budget of even a budget PC. You can never have too much storage space, and digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized 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.

Get a drive that can write to the DVD+/-R formats at 16-speed or better.

If you want to get 8.5GB on to one disc, get a drive that can write to dual-layer discs at eight-speed.

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. Good-quality full-HD monitors are now available even in sub-£500 systems. Expect to find a 21.5in model, although these are often marketed as 22in screens. It’s best to get one with dual inputs and a digital connection (DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort), letting you get the best image quality available and hook up additional devices.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. However, decent graphics cards get cheaper all the time, and budget PCs can now handle games that were unthinkable a few months ago.

Intel’s Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with integrated graphics processors that deliver around double the performance of older Intel integrated solutions.

Sandy Bridge chips are even faster and offer features such as dual-monitor outputs. These machines support HD video and Windows’ Aero effects without the need for a separate graphics card.

AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 5450 is a popular choice for a budget machine. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it adds support for DirectX 11.0. Many graphics cards can also drive multiple monitors, so you can hook up your TV and display at the same time.

If you really want to play games, nVidia’s GeForce GT 240 will provide some extra speed. Be prepared to lower your graphics settings to achieve smooth gameplay, however.

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. 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 can handle six-channel sound.

Next page: Specification and our expert verdict

Eclipse Solar i523P67: Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i5-2300
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H67-M LE motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22s+ (02.8mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 17fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC887 sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 24x/24x/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: 144
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core i5-2300
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H67-M LE motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22s+ (02.8mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 17fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC887 sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 24x/24x/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: 144

OUR VERDICT

The Eclipse Solar i523P67 is unable to match the value offered by our Best Buy PC, with a slower processor, inferior monitor and no external speakers. However, it remains an incredibly fast PC, and will appeal to those who require more storage space than Chillblast provides.

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