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.
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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