With a brand-new AMD Phenom II processor and excellent 1,080p monitor on the Mesh Matrix II 920's feature list, it represents excellent value for money.

AMD's processors have rarely been seen in our charts of late, but Mesh has plumped for the company's brand-new Phenom II chip for its Matrix II 920. Sporting twice as many processor cores and running at 2.8GHz, this chip is often a match for Intel's quad-core CPUs. Unfortunately, it isn't up against any quad-core machines, and the Matrix II scored a disappointing 111 points in WorldBench 6.

Quad-core processors only really show their potential on multithreaded applications, which our WorldBench 6 test suite doesn't cater for. One such application is Autodesk 3D Studio Max. In our tests, the Mesh Matrix II 920 was considerably faster when running this application than any of the dual-core systems.

Despite its name, the Phenom II X4 920 lags behind Intel's Core i7 920 chip. But a PC based on AMD's design also costs considerably less to build, leaving the Mesh Matrix II 920 more cash in the pot for other tasty components.

In another first for our charts, the Mesh Matrix II 920 comes with one of the new breed of 16:9 TFT displays from Iiyama. Although this monitor offers the same 22in diagonal we're used to at this price point, it has a native 1,080p screen resolution that allows playback of HD video without any downscaling. Housed in an NXZT hush case, the Matrix II is also pleasantly quiet.

The Mesh Matrix II 920 comes with tool-free drive bays and plenty of free expansion slots are available on the motherboard. While we would have liked to see a Blu-ray drive included to turn this into a true multimedia machine, Mesh has stretched the budget to include a memory-card slot and a set of 5.1-channel speakers from Creative.

Budget PCs chart ranking (April 09 issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Anubis
  2. Arbico CD8850 XL
  3. Mesh Matrix II 920
  4. CyberPower Gamer Infinity Silent Edition
  5. Zoostorm 64-5300

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Budget PCs buying advice (April 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 vast majority of desktop PCs in this price category.

Alternatively, go for one of Intel's latest quad-core chips, such as the Q9300. These processors are performing well with newer applications and games. Older Q6600 chips offer good performance with multithreaded apps, but only go for them if the price is right.

AMD's latest Phenom II X4 920 also offers excellent value for money and quad-core performance.

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, so buy the biggest you can afford. A 400GB-500GB drive is a good investment. If you've got space, consider a pair of smaller drives - 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.

At this price you may get a 19in, 20in or 22in model. Be aware that 19in displays offer lower resolution; 20in and 22in displays usually offer the same resolution, with 22in models displaying larger icons.

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: Really 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.

ATI's Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 and nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 graphics cards deliver excellent performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch.

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). You may be offered a 2.1-channel stereo system, which 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

Mesh Matrix II 920: Specs

  • 2.8GHz AMD Phenom II X4 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M3A
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Iiyama Pro Lite E2208HDS (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1,920x1,080)
  • 512MB PCI Express HIS ATI Radeon HD 4850 (games scores: Crysis High = 48fps, Very High = 20fps
  • Fear = 170fps)
  • Integrated 7.1 High Definition sound
  • 5 x Creative T6100
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • CyberLink DVD Suite
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 111
  • 2.8GHz AMD Phenom II X4 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M3A
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Iiyama Pro Lite E2208HDS (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1,920x1,080)
  • 512MB PCI Express HIS ATI Radeon HD 4850 (games scores: Crysis High = 48fps, Very High = 20fps
  • Fear = 170fps)
  • Integrated 7.1 High Definition sound
  • 5 x Creative T6100
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • Microsoft Works 8.5
  • CyberLink DVD Suite
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 111

OUR VERDICT

AMD CPUs are rare sightings in our charts and, in the case of the Mesh Matrix II 920, its entrance was a good decision. With a less expensive (albeit slower) processor under the hood, Mesh has been able to include some tasty components.

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