Packard Bell's iMedia A3317 is a compact, tidy-looking PC that ships with a custom-design tool-free case. But it's clearly an entry-level system - its WorldBench 6 performance falls a long way behind the competition, while it's the only PC here to rely on integrated graphics. This renders it quite useless for any form of 3D gaming.

There's very little room for expansion inside the Packard Bell iMedia A3317's case, although a pair of memory slots and one 16x PCI Express slot are free. If you decide to upgrade, bear in mind the limitations of the tiny 250W power supply.

The Packard Bell iMedia A3317's 19in LG monitor is a good-looking model with an expensive-looking finish, but it lacks a digital connection. Image quality suffers as a result.

For all its flaws, however, the Packard Bell iMedia A3317 is deserving of a second glance. For one thing, this machine costs £100 less than any other PC in our charts; for another, it comes stuffed full of software utilities. While this won't suit all users - some may even consider it ‘bloatware' - it can offer the inexperienced the hand-holding they need. Applications include extensive automated setup and updating and recovery software.

Our Packard Bell iMedia A3317 review sample was fitted with a 2.2GHz Phenom X3 8550, and Packard Bell claims this is the current specification. But official specs still list a slower 2.1GHz AMD Phenom X3 8450 CPU. We suggest you check this with the firm before purchase.


Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (July issue)

  1. Arbico CD 8467 XL
  2. Chillblast Comet
  3. Eclipse Aspire i84a465
  4. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 600
  5. Packard Bell iMedia A3317

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (July issue)

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.

The current economic situation has meant that we're seeing slower graphics cards provided with all our chart systems. The usual 9800 GT and 9600 GT have been replaced by the 9500 GT and the HD 4670 by the HD 4650.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version.

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.

Packard Bell iMedia A3317: Specs

  • 2.2GHz AMD Phenom X3 8550
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit
  • 3GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • Packard Bell GL100 motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 250W FSP PSU
  • 19in LG W1941S flat-panel monitor (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,366x768)
  • 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2100 integrated graphics (games scores: Crysis (Low/High) = 4fps/fail
  • Fear = 2fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200 sound card
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 16x/16x/8x/8x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • software bundle
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 88
  • 2.2GHz AMD Phenom X3 8550
  • Windows Vista Home Basic 32bit
  • 3GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • Packard Bell GL100 motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 250W FSP PSU
  • 19in LG W1941S flat-panel monitor (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,366x768)
  • 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2100 integrated graphics (games scores: Crysis (Low/High) = 4fps/fail
  • Fear = 2fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200 sound card
  • speakers built into monitor
  • max DVD speeds: 16x/16x/8x/8x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • software bundle
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 88

OUR VERDICT

It's specifications are somewhat down on the other systems in the chart, but so too is the Packard Bell iMedia A3317's price tag - this machine costs £100 less than any of the competition. It also comes with a selection of software preinstalled that's ideal for novice users.

Find the best price