Although it was edged out of our pricier desktop PC categories long ago, Intel's 3.16GHz Core 2 Duo E8500 processor still delivers excellent value for money and can be found at the heart of many of the best budget PCs, including the Eclipse Solar i85a465HD.

This chip earned the Eclipse Solar i85a465HD an impressive 123 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed tests, making it the fastest system in our sub-£500 chart. With 4GB of memory also under the hood, you'll be hard pushed to notice the difference between the Solar's general performance and that of PCs that cost twice as much.

The Eclipse Solar i85a465HD's 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4650 delivers playable framerates on a wide range of games, provided that you keep the quality and resolution settings reasonably low. Gaming performance really doesn't come any better than this at this price.

Presented in a tidy black case, the Eclipse Solar i85a465HD is smart and unobtrusive. There's plenty of potential for expansion, with space inside the casing and available slots on the motherboard. Cooling provision is minimal, unfortunately - the benefit of this is that the system is very quiet - and we'd recommend installing a fan at the rear if you plan to upgrade any components.

The 19in Yuraku display's rear-mounted controls are easy to use and maintain a clean appearance at the front of the screen. Curiously, the Eclipse Solar i85a465HD's power LED is also hidden at the rear. The omission of a DVI connector means image quality can't match the sharpness and clarity seen on other displays.


Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (May 09 issue)

  1. Eclipse Solar i85a465HD
  2. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 600 (last month 1)
  3. Arbico CD8465 EX (last month 2)
  4. Palicomp Excalibur E85-19 (last month 4)
  5. Mesh Nero 9850 HD

NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (May 09 issue)

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.

The current economic situation has meant that we're seeing slower graphics cards provided with all our chart systems. The usual 9800 GT and 9600 GT have been replaced by the 9500 GT and the HD 4670 by the HD 4650.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version.

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.

Eclipse Solar i85a465HD: Specs

  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • MSI P31 Neo-F V2
  • 500W PSU
  • 19in Yuraku flat-panel (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4650 (games scores: Crysis = 22fps
  • Fear = 42fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/8x/12x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 123
  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • MSI P31 Neo-F V2
  • 500W PSU
  • 19in Yuraku flat-panel (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4650 (games scores: Crysis = 22fps
  • Fear = 42fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/8x/12x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 123

OUR VERDICT

The Eclipse Solar i85a465HD's display quality is the only slight weak point of a great all-round performer.

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