Budget PCs buying advice as of Feb 08 issue

Processor: Dual-core is the way to go for prospective PC buyers. The Intel Core 2 Duo chips currently lead the way. The E6850 is a powerful chip at this price point – three of our Top 5 offer its undoubted charm. As a general rule of thumb, however, the E6750 is a more likely option. This processor is still incredibly fast and would make a worthy addition to any £750 PC.

If you’ve got one eye on the future, consider a Core 2 Quad chip. You’ll sacrifice a little speed for the money now, but you might make it up in spades when multithreaded software applications start hitting the shops.

Memory: It’s a sign of how important memory has become that, even in the sub-£750 category, 2GB is standard, with the odd system daring to stretch to 4GB. If you’re on a budget, there’s no need to go quite this far, but 2GB is a definite must. Memory is only going to become more and more important in the next 12 months, so stock up now.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media files such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 320GB or 400GB drive should make a good investment.

It’s a good idea to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure your PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the –R/+R formats at rates of at least 18-speed. Eight-speed rewriting is good, and if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or +R DL. Write speeds on these have got significantly faster in recent months, and you really need to be looking for an absolute minimum of eight-speed.

Monitor: Compromises have to be made to keep the price of a PC down, and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you’re going to be spending most of your time looking at.

Virtually all PCs (and all of our Top 5) come with flat-panels. We’d recommend a 19in model – they’re rife at this price point. Be very careful, though, when offered anything larger than 19in, as the quality at this price point could be low. Finally, look for a screen with a good response rate – 8ms or below should be more than fast enough.

Graphics cards: Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, feverish gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£750 PC. Nonetheless, the best PCs do tend to come with decent graphics cards.

Although 50 frames per second (fps) is enough to make a game playable, at this price you can set your sights a little higher. Choose one that can do 80 to 100fps on a number of titles. The 512MB 8800 GT has only been out for a few weeks, but it’s already established itself as the likely gold standard at this price – you may be able to find an 8800 GTX if you hunt hard enough, but the 8800 GT is a more feasible option. Stocks may be running a little low, so be patient.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it’s an area where vendors are likely to cut costs. Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you’ll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, you may not get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category – indeed, you won’t necessarily get a subwoofer at all.

OUR VERDICT

Overall, the PC Specialist Apollo 880GT is a good PC with some excellent features – but the E6750’s slight lack of speed leaves it trailing the top three.