It's always nice to see new blood entering the desktop PC market, especially when a system offers the fine quality of this exhibit from PC Advisor first-timer DLR. The DLR Vantage MM550GE doesn't land a knockout blow, but a series of sure-footed component choices see it go toe-to-toe with the best that the sub-£500 category has to offer.
DLR's first wise move is to opt for AMD over Intel. In the higher price categories, the Intel chips tend to prove victorious. But at the entry-level price of the DLR Vantage MM550GE, AMD's offerings tend to offer better value for money.
The DLR Vantage MM550GE's beating heart is a dual-core AMD Phenom II X2 550 CPU. Running at 3.1GHz, this offers copious amounts of processing power for its modest outlay, and propels the Vantage to a pleasing WorldBench score of 113 - only one point off the sizzling Arbico Phenom 5570HD.
The X2 255 doesn't have the quad-core capabilities of the likes of the CyberPower Ultra Athenna Elite, but for the majority of £500 PC shoppers - who frankly are unlikely to be turning their machine to high-end multi-threaded apps such as CAD and video rendering - the DLR Vantage MM550GE's dual-core solution is more than ample.
The 4GB of DDR2-800 RAM comes from the reputable Kingston stable, and while it's from the company's cheaper line, it's nice to see DLR resisting the impulse to compromise with cheap generic memory. Some machines offer DDR3 at this price point, but the DLR's keen turn of speed suggests that the DLR Vantage MM550GE PC has hardly been hampered by the choice of RAM. The 500GB Samsung hard drive offers a useful amount of storage.
The graphics card is a cut above the standard £500-budget fare, a 1GB Vertex3D ATI Radeon HD 5750 that hit some high marks in our gaming tests. The Crysis test scores topped the 50 frames per second barrier in the High Quality segment - placing the DLR Vantage MM550GE PC several frames ahead of the other machines in the £500 chart - and was the only £500 system to pass the all-important 25fps mark with the highest quality settings switched on.
The DLR Vantage MM550GE is no less devastating in older less demanding titles, and FEAR allowed it to scorch ahead of the competition again, clearing the 200fps mark. Add DirectX 11 support, and this is the best graphics card we've seen yet at this price point.
Given the high calibre of the graphics, and the battery of digital DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort connectors, it's slightly disappointing that DLR should bundle the DLR Vantage MM550GE PC with the Hannspree HF207AP, a 20in screen that lacks any digital connection.
However this Hannspree still produces very pleasing image quality. Moderately sharp, and with a versatile palette, we found ourselves liking the HF207AP despite its lack of digital support. Its quality is very palatable given the low price, and is very slightly larger than the 19in models that typically appear in sub-£500 systems.
The DLR Vantage MM550GE's Ezcool H-550 case is a sturdy choice, with decent amounts of room underneath the lid, plus a good sampling of USB ports. The 500W-rated PSU might be modest, but we can't imagine many budget PC users wishing to swap the installed ATI graphics card for a hungrier one.
Built into the front of the case is a convenient memory card drive, and the DLR Vantage MM550GE PC also contains a 22-speed Samsung SH-S223C DVD writer. Fractionally less zippy than the 24-speed versions available, its drop in performance is negligible. And Samsung drives tend to be smooth and reliable in use.
Wi-Fi and a one year return-to-base warranty finish off the DLR Vantage MM550GE's extras. The latter isn't particularly extensive, although it does start as a free collect-and-return warranty for the first three months.
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