Buying advice: £501-£750 desktop PCs, December 07 issue

Processor: Dual-core is the way to go for prospective PC buyers. Intel’s Core 2 Duo chips currently lead the field. The E6850’s appearance in this month’s chart is a bit of a surprise – as a general rule of thumb, the E6750 and E6700 are better options. But all of these processors are incredibly fast and would make a good 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 £750 category, 2GB is rapidly establishing itself as the standard. Only a few months ago, 1GB seemed sufficient, but you’d be well advised now to play it safe and plump for the extra gigabyte. It’s only going to become more important in the next 12 months.

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

It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure the PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the –R/+R formats at rates of at least 18-speed. Rewrite speeds of eight-speed are 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 – you need to be looking for an absolute minimum of eight-speed.

Display: To keep the price of a PC down, compromises have to be made – 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.

All PCs now come with flat-panels. As for size, 19in models are the most common. Be very careful when offered anything larger than this, as the quality at this price point could be low.

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 machines in this category generally manage to include a decent graphics card.

Although 50fps (frames per second) is enough to make a game playable, you might want to set your sights a little higher at this price. Choose a card that can produce 80 to 100fps on a number of games. The 640MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS and the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics cards are fantastic and are fast becoming standard at this price point. The 320MB 8800 GTS is a decent choice.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it’s an area in which 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 often won’t get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category.


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