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Group test: top 5 bargain desktop PCs reviewed

PLUS how to get a PC for less than £500

We sourced a bundle of desktop PCs for under £500, put them through their paces in the PC Advisor Test Centre, and come up with our Top 5 budget systems of September 2008. And we've also got a simple to understand, expert buying guide, for all PC bargain hunters.

Budget desktop PCs buying guide

Processor: Even at this price, you can find some extremely fast processors. Among the excellent, affordable chips available, Intel's superb Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice - two of the systems in this chart feature it. Prices should drop now that the E8600 has become available.

Lower-cost alternatives include the E7000 and E4000 series of chips, although these offer weaker performance at any given clock speed.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB of RAM is almost a requirement.

You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn't recommend it. The bulk 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. And 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 such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 320GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later. If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, make sure you've got enough free drive bays in your system 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 at once, get a drive that can write to DVD-R DL and +R DL at 12- and eight-speed respectively. Keep an eye out for some of the new 22-speed models.

NEXT PAGE: budget desktop PCs buying guide: flat-panel, graphics card and audio

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