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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, part II

Flat-panel: PC manufacturers have to make compromises to squeeze machines into this category and often start with the monitor. But you don't want to spend all of your computing time looking at a poor-quality display.

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 enough at this price. Look for a monitor with a digital DVI or HDMI connector to ensure the best picture quality. Make sure the PC has one too.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for £300 or £400, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. Nonetheless, the best machines in this category come with decent cards.

You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps if you're going to be playing games - 70fps or 80fps is better still. The fastest chip in this price range is the GeForce 9800 GT, but including one may require compromises elsewhere.

The GeForce 9600s are a good alternative. They can support DirectX 10.0, but they're unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow's DirectX 10.0 games. They've got plenty of pace to tackle today's games.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price. Most motherboards have decent built-in chips that can handle six-channel sound. To get the best out of them you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer), but most people will be happy with stereo two-channel audio.

You won't necessarily get separate speakers or a sub at all.

NEXT PAGE: Top 5 desktop PC reviews

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