The Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT budget PC's WorldBench real-world speed score of 89 easily outshone many other PCs at this price point, with their low-end Core 2 Duo chips. The presence of 2GB of DDR RAM makes it clear that Eclipse has created something a little bit special.

AMD is losing out to Intel in our other areas of the PC market, but it's a different story in the sub-£500 category. The success of the Athlon 64 X2 6000+, as featured in the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT, shows there's life left in this range of processors.

The quality of screens available with £500 PCs has improved enormously in recent months, but the 19in HannsG still impressed us with its steady image and colourful palette. (Update - Eclipse has now changed this to the 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel.) It's given excellent support by the GeForce 8600 GT graphics card, one of the more powerful sub-£150 DirectX 10.0 nVidia cards available. Combine this with the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT's speed and this is clearly the best gaming PC for the money.

There are compromises, but these are fairly minor. The 160GB hard drive looks stingy compared with the 250GB units that proliferate elsewhere, but even 160GB is a sizeable amount of storage space. If you like storing audio and video files you may find space a little tight, but it's enough for the average user. We aren't fans of onboard sound either - although frankly it's a fact of life at this price - and the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT's warranty is a little skimpy.

The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is an inspired choice of chip for a £500 PC. The Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT combines good baseline speed with strong RAM and graphics and a decent DVD writer - for the money, this overall package leaves little to be desired.

Verdict

Externally, the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT isn't a looker. But peek under the lid and it's a true work of art.

Chart ranking: budget PCs September 07 issue

1st place: Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT
2nd place: Arbico CD7460GT
3rd place: CyberPower £500 PCA Machine
4th place: Arbico CD6320XL (last month 1st place)
5th place: Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC

Buying advice: budget PCs as of July 07

Processor: You're not going to get the fastest processors at this price point, but many cheaper chips are powerful enough to make light work of everyday applications. The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ has only appeared in one sub-£500 PC so far, but it's made quite an impression. Otherwise, the Intel Core 2 Duo range offers plenty of speed for the money, with the E6420 proving particularly adept. The older Intel Pentium D CPUs lack performance, although they do have dual-core facilities. The 3.2GHz version isn't at all bad.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 1GB of memory is a must. You can buy more at a later date, but having at least this much is only going to become more important as applications designed for Vista appear. Check you're getting the full benefit of your memory capacity - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will ultimately slow your PC down.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media - such as video and music files - will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can: 250GB to 320GB drives are a good investment. It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure your PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at rates of at least 16-speed. Rewrite speeds of eight-speed are good, and if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or DVD+R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you should look for an absolute minimum of six-speed on one of the formats. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Display: To keep the price of a PC down, compromises have to be made - and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you're going to be spending most of your time looking at. All PCs now come with flat-panels. As for size, 19in models are the most common. Don't go for a larger screen - price constraints mean the quality simply won't be good enough. We aren't seeing any CRTs, but they're still a pretty good deal if you can find them - provided you can put up with the bulky casing, the colour depth tends to be better than on flat-panels.

Graphics cards: Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, fervent gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£500 PC. Nonetheless, the best machines in this category generally manage to include a decent graphics card. You should be looking for PCs that can produce at least 50fps (frames per second) if you're going to be playing games regularly - 70fps or 80fps is preferable. Today's chips of choice come from the nVidia GeForce 7900 range, although the 7600 (either the GT or GS) will also do reasonably well. If you're primarily looking for a PC for work or general internet use, you can afford to compromise in this area.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it's an area in which vendors are likely to cut costs. Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you'll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, there's a good chance you won't get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category - indeed, you won't necessarily get a subwoofer at all.

Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT: Specs

  • 3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 160GB Sata
  • MSI K9N4 Ultra motherboard
  • six USB ports
  • 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 8600GT PCI Express graphics
  • onboard Realtek
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • WorldBench 6: 89 points
  • 3GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 160GB Sata
  • MSI K9N4 Ultra motherboard
  • six USB ports
  • 19in HannsStar AH191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 8600GT PCI Express graphics
  • onboard Realtek
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/8x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • WorldBench 6: 89 points

OUR VERDICT

Externally, the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT isn't a looker. But peek under the lid and it's a true work of art.

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