Eclipse's Spirit i86R489 is the third system in our chart to house a 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600. Although this processor is used to great effect by Arbico and Chillblast, however, Eclipse has failed to match their levels of performance. Its WorldBench 6 real-world speed score of 123 is nine points below the highest-scoring system and leaves it closer in performance terms to the E8500-based CyberPower Gamer Infinity Draco.

Gaming performance, on the other hand, is excellent, thanks to the Eclipse's ATI Radeon HD 4890 graphics card and 1,024MB of memory. The Spirit i86R489 produced framerates roughly in line with the Chillblast and Arbico PCs in our 3D gaming tests as a result.

The Eclipse Spirit i86R489's other specifications are standard fare at this price point, including a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of DDR2 RAM. The inclusion of a 600W power supply should provide ample juice for upgrades.

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The Hanns-G monitor supplied with the Eclipse Spirit i86R489 is a reasonably decent model but lacks a digital connector. This is an important omission, and can seriously affect image clarity.

The Eclipse Spirit i86R489's system case is an inexpensive affair, finished in matt black. But while it doesn't impress on the style front, it certainly comes off better than those systems that look fancy but don't have the build quality to back it up.

The MSI motherboard occupies most of the available space inside the case. This is a full-size motherboard that offers more expansion capabilities than the microATX model used by Arbico. Four Dimm slots allow for easy memory expansion; there are also four SATA ports to allow multiple hard drives to be connected, and three PCI slots for adding extras to the Eclipse Spirit i86R489 such as a sound card.

Chart rankings: Budget desktop PCs (October 09 issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Predator
  2. Arbico CD8690 XL
  3. Eclipse Spirit i86R489
  4. CyberPower Gamer Infinity Draco
  5. CyberPower Gamer Ultra HD II

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (October 09 issue)

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo range offers almost unbeatable performance for the price. The 3.33GHz E8600 now supersedes the E8500 as the CPU of choice, appearing in the majority ?of desktop PCs in this price category.

Alternatively, go for one of Intel's latest quad-core chips, such as the Q9300 or Q9400. These processors perform well with newer applications and games.

AMD's Phenom II X4 920 and 940 also offer excellent value for money and quad-core performance, the latter being designed for easy overclocking.

Memory: If fast processors speed up your PC, a large bank of memory stops it from slowing down. Get the most out of your CPU by including at least 4GB of RAM. You can get by with 2GB, but your PC will run more smoothly with 4GB.

Storage: Digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive; buy the biggest you can afford. A 500GB drive is a good investment. Consider using a pair of smaller drives rather than one large drive - a terabyte (1TB) is a huge amount of information to lose in one go.

Your DVD drive should write to the -R/+R formats at 18-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good; if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVD-/+R dual-layer drives. Drives that can read Blu-ray are becoming affordable, but they're still quite rare at this price.

Display: Many PC manufacturers make sacrifices here to keep costs down. But a poor monitor can ruin your computing experience - try it out before buying.

Be aware that 19in screens offer a lower resolution than 20in and 22in monitors; 22in models display larger icons. Newer 22in flat-panels in the 16:9 format are capable of displaying full-HD content at a screen resolution of 1,080p.

A DVI or HDMI connector will provide a considerably better image than a VGA port, so look for a display with a digital input; if you want to connect additional devices you'll need at least two. Finally, look for a good response rate: 8ms or below should be fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: Truly hardcore gamers are unlikely to be happy with a sub-£750 PC, but you should be able to find a decent graphics card at this price.

We test PCs on the three-year-old game Fear, and Crysis, a far more demanding title. Although 50fps is enough to make a game playable, you can set your sights higher in this category - look for 80-100fps for decent gameplay.

Current pricing will limit you in this area, but ATI's Radeon HD 4890 graphics cards deliver great performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch. If you're not into gaming, cutting back on graphics won't harm general performance.

Power supply: A large PSU is less vital at this price point, but look for a model with a full set of SATA and PCI Express connectors to make later upgrades easier.

Sound card and speakers: You may find a budget sound card at this price, but most motherboards depend on a decent built-in audio chip that can handle six-channel sound. To get surround sound you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). A 2.1-channel stereo system will be good enough for most users. A monitor's built-in speakers seldom offer a satisfying audio experience.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Eclipse Spirit i86R489: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • MSI P31 Neo-F
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 600W EZCool PSU
  • 22in Hanns-G HSG1041 (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4890 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 62/29fps
  • Fear = 250fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 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: 123
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • MSI P31 Neo-F
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 600W EZCool PSU
  • 22in Hanns-G HSG1041 (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1,024MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4890 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 62/29fps
  • Fear = 250fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • 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: 123

OUR VERDICT

The Eclipse Spirit i86R489 is a tidy system but it’s let down by some poor performance scores in our benchmarks. It comes with a comparatively weak one-year warranty and lacks a sound card and external speakers.

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