Sub-£500 PCs tend not to be blessed with extraordinary speed, but the Arbico CD6420XL has nothing to be ashamed of.


  1. Arbico CD6420XL
  2. Eclipse Max i935N79-VSTA
  3. Arbico CD9600XL
  4. Mesh Elite Value PCA
  5. Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC

First place

Sub-£500 PCs tend not to be blessed with extraordinary speed, but the Arbico CD6420XL has nothing to be ashamed of. Its benchmark score of 76 (achieved on our brand-new WorldBench 6 real-world speed suite) isn't a stunning total when compared with more expensive PCs, but it's a good six points ahead of its nearest rival.

Like the other sub-£500 PCs, the Arbico comes with only 1GB of DDR RAM - if you're looking for smooth Vista performance it might be worth asking how much it'll cost to upgrade to 2GB. But the Intel Core 2 Duo E6320 is a decent processor, delivering plenty of performance for the money.

Not that this is the best machine in every respect - gaming fans will find the runner-up from Eclipse a better buy. That PC's GeForce 7900 GS graphics card offers significantly more firepower than the Arbico's 7600 GS. Despite holding an overall speed advantage, the CD6420XL finished our games tests (which include such intensive titles as Fear and Company of Heroes) with marginally lower framerates than the Eclipse.

The HannsG flat-panel is respectable considering the budget, providing a pleasing picture and reasonably accurate colours. The 250GB hard drive is bettered by only one of the other PCs (the Mesh), and this should be plenty for most users. The DVD writer is excellent and the audio system is functional - only one of the competing machines, the Zoostorm, fares any better in the sound department.

Buying advice

Processor: You're not going to get the fastest processors at this price, but many of today's chips are powerful enough to make light work of everyday applications. Look for an Intel Core 2 Duo - these promise acres of power. The E6300 and E6320 are particularly good, although other incarnations such as the E4300 are capable of strong performance. The older Intel Pentium D chips lack the power of the Core 2 Duos but they still have dual-core facilities. The 3.2GHz version isn't bad at all. Don't discount AMD. The Athlon 64 4800+ still has plenty to offer to the customer on a shoestring budget.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 1GB is a must. You can buy more at a later date, but having at least this much is only going to become more important as applications designed for Vista appear. Check you're getting the full benefit of the memory - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will ultimately slow the system down.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media - such as video and music files - will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can: 250GB-320GB drives are a good investment.

It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure your PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at rates of at least 16-speed. Rewrite speeds of eight-speed are good, and if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or DVD+R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you should look for an absolute minimum of six-speed on one of the formats. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Display: To keep the price of a PC down, compromises have to be made - and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you're going to be spending most of your time looking at. All PCs now come with flat-panels. 19in models are the most common, and you shouldn't consider going above this size - price constraints mean the quality simply won't be good enough. We aren't seeing any CRTs, but they're still a pretty good deal if you can find them - provided you can put up with the bulky casing, the colour depth tends to be better than on flat-panels.

Graphics cards: Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, fervent gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£500 PC. Nonetheless, the best machines in this category generally manage to iinclude a decent graphics card. You should be looking for PCs that can produce at least 50fps (frames per second) if you're going to be playing games regularly - 70fps or 80fps is preferable. Today's chips of choice come from the nVidia GeForce 7900 range, although the 7600 (either the GT or GS) will also do reasonably well. If you're primarily looking for a PC for work or for general internet use, you can afford to compromise in this area.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point as it is an area in which vendors are likely to cut costs. Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you'll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, there's a good chance you won't get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category - indeed, you won't necessarily get a subwoofer at all.

Arbico CD6420XL: Specs

  • 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6320
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5VD2-X motherboard
  • 6 USB ports
  • 19in HannsG HU196DP flat-panel, 0.294mm pixel pitch, 1,280x1,024 maximum resolution
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 7600 GS, PCI Express
  • onboard SoundMax sound card
  • maximum DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x (DVD -ROM/-R/+R) 8x/8x (-R DL/+R DL) 6x/8x/12x (-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • includes CyberLink PowerDVD, Ahead Nero
  • 2-year RTB warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score 76
  • 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6320
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5VD2-X motherboard
  • 6 USB ports
  • 19in HannsG HU196DP flat-panel, 0.294mm pixel pitch, 1,280x1,024 maximum resolution
  • 256MB nVidia GeForce 7600 GS, PCI Express
  • onboard SoundMax sound card
  • maximum DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x (DVD -ROM/-R/+R) 8x/8x (-R DL/+R DL) 6x/8x/12x (-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • includes CyberLink PowerDVD, Ahead Nero
  • 2-year RTB warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score 76

OUR VERDICT

The Arbico CD6420XL functions extremely well as an all-purpose PC. It's got bags of speed, a decent display and a list of components that compares favourably with those of its competitors. Gamers might prefer the Eclipse, but for general computing this is definitely the Best Buy.

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