Whereas many vendors aim either for the best possible raw application performance or for the top gaming framerates, Mesh likes to build well-balanced systems that deliver a great all-round computing experience.

The Mesh Pulse 8600GT uses a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 processor. This is considerably slower than some chips in this chart, but it should be more than adequate for most users. The 4GB of RAM is ample for running memory-hungry applications such as image-editing software, and the 22in Hanns-G monitor gives you the screen space you’ll need to run them comfortably.

The Mesh Pulse 8600GT‘s 500GB Samsung hard drive is the largest in this price category, while the external Logitech S220 2.1-channel speakers will give audio a boost.

The Mesh Pulse 8600GT’s gaming performance is a little unimpressive. The 256MB GeForce 8600 GT can handle basic 3D games easily enough, but will struggle with more demanding titles, especially if you’re hoping to make the most of the display’s 1,680x1,050 resolution.

In addition to audio ports, FireWire and a total of three USB sockets, the Mesh Pulse 8600GT‘s front panel houses a multi-slot memory card reader – a welcome bonus at this price. The case is fairly small, and there’s not much expansion space. The motherboard is a pretty basic model, with only two memory slots and a sparse selection of ports.

Budget desktop PCs: chart ranking (Nov 08 issue)

  1. Arbico Elite 8595
  2. Chillblast Javelin
  3. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 850
  4. Mesh Pulse 8600 GT
  5. Dell Inspiron 530/2583

>> Next page: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Budget desktop PCs: buying advice (Nov 08 issue)

Processor: Even at this price, you can find some extremely fast processors. Among the excellent, affordable chips available, Intel’s superb Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice – two of the systems in this chart feature it. Prices should drop now that the E8600 has become available.

Lower-cost alternatives include the E7000 and E4000 series of chips, although these offer weaker performance at any given clock speed.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB of RAM is almost a requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn’t recommend it. The bulk 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. And 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 such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 320GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later. If you’re planning to upgrade hard drives internally, make sure you’ve got enough free drive bays in your system 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 at once, get a drive that can write to DVD-R DL and +R DL at 12- and eight-speed respectively. Keep an eye out for some of the new 22-speed models.

Flat-panel: PC manufacturers have to make compromises to squeeze machines into this category and often start with the monitor. But you don’t want to spend all of your computing time looking at a poor-quality display.

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 enough at this price. Look for a monitor with a digital DVI or HDMI connector to ensure the best picture quality. Make sure the PC has one too.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for £300 or £400, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. Nonetheless, the best machines in this category come with decent cards.

You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps if you’re going to be playing games – 70fps or 80fps is better still. The fastest chip in this price range is the GeForce 9800 GT, but including one may require compromises elsewhere.

The GeForce 9600s are a good alternative. They can support DirectX 10.0, but they’re unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow’s DirectX 10.0 games. They’ve got plenty of pace to tackle today’s games.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price. Most motherboards have decent 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), but most people will be happy with stereo two-channel audio. You won’t necessarily get separate speakers or a sub at all.

Mesh Pulse 8600GT: Specs

  • 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus P5N-MX
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Hanns-G Hi221D (0.282mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 256MB PCI Express Leadtek nVidia GeForce 8600 GT (games scores: Crysis = 15fps
  • Fear = 46fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 20x/20x/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: 101
  • 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus P5N-MX
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 22in Hanns-G Hi221D (0.282mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 256MB PCI Express Leadtek nVidia GeForce 8600 GT (games scores: Crysis = 15fps
  • Fear = 46fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 20x/20x/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: 101

OUR VERDICT

The Mesh Pulse 8600GT offers advantages in terms of storage and display, and is well suited to photography and video fans. But it’s roundly beaten in straight performance.

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