Mesh's Matrix DX 250 offers plenty of speed for everyday computing and gaming but, with it's compact case, there's little room for upgrading.

The 3GHz Athlon II X2 250 dual-core processor used by the Mesh Matrix DX 250 is one of the faster chips available at this price point. It performs well in WorldBench 6, scoring 110 points, and should be powerful enough for most users. The Athlon is a little slower than the Phenom CPU found in the Arbico, however, despite its use of faster memory.

Like all the PCs in this price category, the Mesh Matrix DX 250 comes with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. Because of its conveniently compact system case, this PC is necessarily fitted with an undersized motherboard. As a result, there's limited scope for internal upgrades. The 300W power supply is therefore more than adequate, despite advertising only half the power of models fitted in competing PCs.

An ATI Radeon HD 5670 provides the Mesh Matrix DX 250 with the latest graphics technology and full compatibility with recent 3D games. At this price, framerates can be more important than visual effects, however. You may prefer to plump for a slightly older but faster card such as one of the HD 4700- or 4800-series options supplied by CyberPower and Arbico.

The Mesh Matrix DX 250 is sold with a rather nice AOC monitor. At 20in, it's the largest in the chart, and it offers the highest screen resolution of 1600x900. The true 16:9-format panel is a little wider than the competition and will display slightly smaller text.

Although its performance in our benchmarks is beaten by rival systems, the Mesh Matrix DX 250 is a well-balanced system that performs well in all manner of tasks.

The Mesh Matrix DX 250 offers a great out-of-the-box experience, too, thanks to the wealth of software that comes preinstalled. Its compact case and large monitor add appeal, but it won't be easy to upgrade and we would prefer a warranty lasting more than just one year.

Chart ranking: Budget PCs (issue 178)

  1. CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite
  2. Arbico Phenom 5570HD
  3. Chillblast Fusion Battleaxe
  4. Mesh Matrix DX 250
  5. Eclipse Matrix A62R567

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Mesh's Matrix DX 250 offers plenty of speed for everyday computing and gaming but, with it's compact case, there's little room for upgrading.

Buying advice

Processor: AMD's Phenom II X2 550 is a great choice of CPU for a budget PC. You can also now find quad-core CPUs in this price range from both AMD and Intel. The AMD Athlon X4 620 and Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 are good examples.

The Core 2 Duo E8500 is still a good choice if you have no interest in gaming and want to spend your money on fast general-purpose performance. Low-cost alternatives, such as Intel's E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed.

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

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

Storage: Expect up to 500GB at this price; you can never have too much storage space. Digital media content 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.

Look for a DVD drive that can write to the -/+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 (-/+R DL) at 12- and eight-speed respectively.

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 - and you're willing to cut costs elsewhere - you may be able to get a 22in 1080p flat-panel.

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.

AMD's HD 5670 is a popular choice for a budget PC. However, you may find better performance for your money from the older HD 4850 and HD 4770. Performance will vary considerably depending on which games you play.

For nVidia and ATI cards, look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version if available. And if you don't play games at all, consider purchasing a machine that relies on integrated graphics.

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. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then your PSU must be 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 can handle six-channel sound.

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>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Mesh Matrix DX 250: Specs

  • 3GHz AMD Athlon II X2 250
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M4A78LT-M LE motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 300W HEC PSU
  • 20in AOC 2036Sa (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1600x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 5670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 45/15fps
  • Fear = 115fps)
  • onboard sound
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • CyberLink suite
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 110
  • 3GHz AMD Athlon II X2 250
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M4A78LT-M LE motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 300W HEC PSU
  • 20in AOC 2036Sa (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1600x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 5670 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 45/15fps
  • Fear = 115fps)
  • onboard sound
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • CyberLink suite
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 110

OUR VERDICT

It ticks plenty of boxes right now, and DirectX 11.0 graphics allow some futureproofing, but the Mesh Matrix DX 250 has little room for upgrading and a fairly stingy warranty.

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