Palicomp promises a lot for your money in the Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced. Besides the ubiquitous Intel Core i5-2500K processor, it has 8GB of DDR3 RAM and is the only PC here to include a subwoofer with its Logitech speakers. This offers improved bass.
The Cooler Master Elite 330 system case offers the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced smart, yet relatively sober, looks. It’s a budget model, but still one of the best featured in our chart.
We’re far more impressed by the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced's Z68-chipset motherboard, however. It makes the Sonar Advanced the only PC here able to take full advantage of the overclockable Core i5 processor.
The Asus P8Z68-V LX motherboard also offers four memory slots, which is two more than is provided by the H61 board used by the competition. It also supports 6Gbps SATA and, should you want to add a solid-state drive (SSD), Smart Response Technology. This enables the SSD to act as a high-speed cache, boosting operation of the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced's main hard drive.
At stock speed, the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced turned in a respectable 162-point tally in WorldBench 6. It was narrowly beaten by the Chillblast.
Unsurprisingly, this Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced budget PC uses integrated graphics rather than a costly dedicated card. The Core i5 chip’s graphics are up to the job of low-level gaming and serving up HD multimedia.
The catch is in the Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced one-year return-to-base warranty. Chillblast offers a far more appealing two-year collect-and-return policy. However, this PC offers good performance.
Budget PCs chart ranking
- 1. Chillblast Fusion Neutrino
2. Arbico eXcel 5250MX V2
3. CyberPower Ultra Triton
4. Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Advanced
5. Eclipse Voyager i525H61
Budget PCs buying advice
Processor: Intel’s second-generation Core i5 chips have the budget category sewn up. The 3.3GHz Core i5-2500K delivers superb performance and its integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics are more than adequate for HD multimedia and low-level gaming. The non-overclockable i5-2500 is slightly cheaper and delivers the same application performance, but it features less powerful Intel HD 2000 graphics.
‘K’ versions of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors support overclocking, but you’ll need a pricey Z68- or P67-chipset-based motherboard (the latter also requires a discrete graphics card). A Z68 chipset provides additional support for SSD caching and auto-switching graphics.
Sandy Bridge chips also provide accelerated graphics encoding, plus VGA and HDMI outputs. While integrated graphics aren’t fast enough for a true gaming PC, some titles remain playable if you lower the quality settings.
If you really want to play games, AMD’s A6 CPUs are slower in desktop applications but feature faster integrated graphics. They also support DirectX 11.0.
Memory: Expect up to 8GB and don’t settle for less than 2GB. Most CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while older ones can also use DDR2. Check your motherboard has free slots if you plan to upgrade later.
Storage: Falling prices mean that 1TB is well within the reach of even a budget PC. You can never have too much storage space, and digital media 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.
Get a drive that can write to the DVD+/-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 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.
Good-quality full-HD monitors are available even iat this price. Expect to find a 21.5in model, although these are often marketed as 22in screens. It’s best to get one with dual inputs and a digital connection (DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort), letting you get the best image quality available and hook up additional devices.
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.
Intel’s Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with integrated graphics processors that deliver better performance than older Intel integrated solutions. The new Sandy Bridge chips are even faster and offer features such as dual-monitor outputs. They also support HD video without the need for a separate graphics card. AMD’s A6 chips offer even faster graphics.
The AMD Radeon HD 5450 is a popular choice for a budget PC. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it offers support for DirectX 11.0. Many graphics cards can also drive multiple monitors.
If you really want to play games, nVidia’s GeForce GT 240 will provide some extra speed. Be prepared to lower your graphics settings, however.
Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.