Coming in at £50 less than the top three systems, Mesh’s Elite 9600 GT is a solid performer as a business desktop, although with less impressive gaming credentials.
Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (Feb 09 issue)
Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo range offers almost unbeatable performance for the price. The 3.33GHz E8600 now supersedes the E8500 as the CPU of choice, appearing in the vast majority of desktop PCs in this price category.
Alternatively, go for one of Intel's latest quad-core chips, such as the Q9300. These processors are performing well with newer applications and games. Older Q6600 chips offer good performance with multithreaded apps, but only go for them if the price is right.
Memory: If fast processors speed up your PC, a large bank of memory stops it from slowing down. Get the most out of your CPU by including at least 4GB of RAM. You can get by with 2GB, but your PC will run more smoothly with 4GB.
Storage: Digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can afford. A 400GB-500GB drive will make a good investment. If you've got space, consider a pair of smaller drives - a terabyte (1TB) is a huge amount of information to lose in one go.
Your DVD drive should write to the -R/+R formats at 18-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good; if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVD-/+R dual-layer drives. Drives that can read Blu-ray are becoming affordable, but they're still quite rare at this price.
Display: Many PC manufacturers make sacrifices here to keep the price down. But a poor monitor can ruin your computing experience - try it out.
At this price you may get a 19in, 20in or 22in model. Be aware that 19in displays offer lower resolution; 20in and 22in displays offer the same resolution, with 22in models displaying larger icons.
A DVI or HDMI connector will provide a considerably better image than a VGA port, so look for a display with a digital input; if you want to connect additional devices you'll need at least two. Finally, look for a good response rate: 8ms or below should be fast enough for games.
Graphics cards: Hardcore gamers are unlikely to be happy with a sub-£750 PC - after all, the top graphics cards alone can cost £400. But you should be able to find a decent card at this price.
We test PCs on the three-year-old game Fear, and Crysis, a far more demanding title. Although 50fps is enough to make a game playable, you can set your sights higher in this category - look for 80-100fps for decent gameplay. Just don't expect to run cutting-edge titles at the most demanding settings.
ATI's Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870 and nVidia's GeForce 9800 GTX+ graphics cards deliver excellent performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch.
Sound card and speakers: You may find a budget sound card at this price point, but most motherboards depend on a decent built-in audio chip that can handle six-channel sound. To get surround sound you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). You may be offered a 2.1-channel stereo system, which will be good enough for most users. A monitor's built-in speakers seldom offer a satisfying audio experience.
>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict
Mesh Elite 9600 GT: Specs
- 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
- Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
- 4GB DDR2 RAM
- 500GB SATA
- Asus P5QL Pro
- 8 x USB 2.0
- 22in AMW X2210WDS (0.28mm pixel pitch
- 512MB PCI Express Asus nVidia GeForce 9600 GT (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 46/13
- Fear = 129)
- onboard sound
- 2 x Logitech S220
- 22x/22x/8x/8x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
- Microsoft Works 8.5
- CyberLink video-editing suite
- one-year return-to-base warranty
- WorldBench 6 score: 125