HP's Compaq Presario CQ5011uk is unlike any other PC here; it's difficult to decide whether it should sit at the top or bottom of our chart. The answer to this question depends entirely on what you want and need from your PC.

The first major difference is cost, and the HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk is priced £100 below the rest of the competition. As such, it's reasonable to expect that a few compromises have been made in its spec. And indeed there have.

At the core of the HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk is a CPU verging on extinction - the 2.4GHz Intel Pentium E2200 processor. This is a significantly slower chip than the Core 2 Duo chips found in most of today's PCs.

No graphics card is included, and the motherboard's integrated graphics leave anything other than running office or basic multimedia apps out of the question. Unsurprisingly, the HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk wouldn't run Crysis at all, and reduced Fear to a slideshow with a paltry result of just 3fps.

Only 3GB of RAM is supplied with the HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk, although bringing this allocation in line with the competition would only be worthwhile if you also installed the 64bit version of Vista.

The HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk's 19in Hanns-G is a fairly decent monitor, but the analogue-only version used here can't match the quality of the DVI-enabled version we're used to seeing supplied with our chart PCs.

Nevertheless, if all you need is a reasonable PC for surfing the web, none of these shortcomings are important. And the HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk has a few good points.

The system case is extremely well designed, a huge amount of software is preinstalled and there's a tremendous amount of interactive setup help. In short, the HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk is the ideal PC for your mum.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (September 09 issue)

  1. Arbico CD 8467 XL
  2. Palicomp Ballistix Excalibur E85SLI-19
  3. CyberPower AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores
  4. Eclipse Mirage A995R467
  5. HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk

>> NEXT PAGE: 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. 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.

ATI does well in this price bracket and, thanks to recent price reductions, we're seeing Radeon HD 4670 cards appearing once again where the cheaper HD 4650 had temporarily taken over.

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 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.


>> NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict

HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E2220
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 3GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • MSI Boston motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 300W Lite-On PSU
  • 19in Hanns-G HG191A (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • Intel GMA 3100 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = fail
  • Fear = 3fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 20x/20x/12x/8x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 93
  • 2.4GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E2220
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 3GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • MSI Boston motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 300W Lite-On PSU
  • 19in Hanns-G HG191A (0.24mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • Intel GMA 3100 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = fail
  • Fear = 3fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 20x/20x/12x/8x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 93

OUR VERDICT

With a well-designed system case, a huge amount of preinstalled software and interactive help and an attractive price tag, the HP Compaq Presario CQ5011uk is the ideal PC for your mum.

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