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Dandy Desktops : Ten £399 PCs for your Business

Although business laptops are riding the crest of the wave as more and more companies opt for them, business desktops are still very quite popular.

In this guide, we will preview ten Business Computers that cost under £399 including VAT and delivery and you will be surprised how powerful cheap computers have become in the past few years thanks partly to falling memory price and the advent of multi core computing

All the computer here come with the following minimum features: a monitor, a dual core processor, at least 1GB of memory, Windows Operating System, 1 year warranty and at least 160GB hard disk space.

There are more than a few reasons why desktops could be preferred to laptops
(a) They are generally cheaper for similar configuration
(b) They are more readily serviceable
(c) They are more readily upgradable
(d) They are less fragile than laptops and are more rugged
(e) There is a greater choice of desktops at any given price
(f) Desktops are less likely to be stolen and therefore are intrinsically more "secure"

What makes a computer, a business model rather than a consumer PC often starts with what's outside the PC rather than what's inside.

A conservative appearance and practical design often distinguish the business computer from a consumer one; you will seldom find memory card readers on business computers for example, something which has not only solved a number of security issues but also shaves costs and untick yet another potential issue for the system administrator.

Business computers are also often bundled with a number of services like onsite warranty and support which are provided by third parties.

Another issue that has to be taken into account when choosing a business computer is the total cost of ownership which caters not only for the cost of the computer and peripherals but also for associated (and often rarely accounted for) considerations.

A computer which comes which integrates technology that allows easier remote management will save money and time, even if it costs more initially.

So here are the ten Business Desktop Computers costing £400 or less that we have rounded.

Acer Extensa 210, £379.99 delivered

The Extensa 210 (£379.99 including VAT and delivery from PC World) is Acer's take on Small and Medium Business sector.

Like many entry level desktops, this one comes with an AMD Dual Core processor, the X2 4200+, coupled with 1GB memory, a 160 GB Hard disk drive and Windows XP Professional, which will certainly please those that abhor the thought of running Windows Vista on a budget computer.

The Extensa 210 uses a motherboard based around a RS690V/SB600 chipset solution; its desktop chassis provide with suitable expansion with two external 5.25-inch drive bays and six 3.5-inch drive bays, two of which are external.

The one DIMM occupies a single DIMM slot which means that you can upgrade up to 8GB of memory, although Windows XP Professional would only efficiently manage a fraction of it.

The rest of the configuration is mundane with a Gigabit LAN connection, eight USB ports, three free SATA ports as well as an integrated graphics module which will be more than adequate for Windows XP.

Surprisingly, there's a card reader sitting in the front of the PC.

Expansion slots include two PCI slots, one PCI Express X16 and an additional X1 slot; The bundle is completed by a nice 17-inch LCD TFT screen, a keyboard and a mouse.

The Extensa 210 also has an Acer eLock management and a lock pad solution which ensures that no third party has access to the innards of the computer.

A couple of niggling issues to be noted : Acer has installed a number of trial and DVD reading software which are out of place on a business computer and the 250w power supply is underpowered should you like to upgrade the computer.

Acer also provides with a one year return to base warranty.

When it comes to desktop computers, Dell certainly offers some of the best deals out there and its Vostro range has proved to be quite popular with small and medium businesses.

The Vostro range has been specifically designed for small businesses and integrate a number of features unique to this range.

The refreshed Vostro 200 (available at Dell for £401.85 with VAT and Delivery) marks the return of Chip manufacturer Intel to the roost.

The MT version (for Mini Tower) is a tidy, unimpressive black chassis which has been cleverly designed to make life easier for technicians to maintain or upgrade the computer with Dell's tool-less casing and excellent expandability.

There's no 3.5-inch bay but Dell has provided with one more external 5.25-inch bay should users want to add a removable device.

The Vostro 200MT comes with a Dual Core Intel Pentium E2160, a 19-inch widescreen LCD monitor, 2GB memory in two memory modules, a 160GB hard disk drive as well as a DVD writer.

Multimedia is handled by an onboard Intel X3100 graphics chip as well as a 7.1 High Definition Audio chip.

Software-wise, there's Windows Home Basic and Microsoft Works 9.0 which should be adequate for most Small and Medium Businesses and you can upgrade to Windows XP Pro for an additional £50

There are no extra installed software (like trial applications).

What sets apart this particular business PC from others is the fact that it comes with a great 3-year warranty (next business day) and has a superlative Wireless Logitech EX110 mouse/keyboard bundle

Acer L310, £399.97 delivered

The Acer L310 (on sale at Ebuyer for £399.97 including VAT and Delivery) is the smallest computer in this Business PC group test and it is easy to see why. It is smaller than an Oxford Edition Dictionary and take up to 10x less space than a traditional tower PC.

On top of that, this computer consumes much less power compared to the rest of the competition thanks to an all in one design and an efficient power supply unit.

The L310 uses the Intel Core 2 Duo processor - the 2GHz coupled with the 946GZ Express chipset which provides with the integrated graphics and audio modules as well.

Two 512MB DDR2 DIMMs occupy the two available slots with a 3.5-inch 320GB hard disk drive backed by a slot-in DVD writer.

Strangely enough, Acer could have used a smaller, more energy efficient 2.5-inch hard disk drive to boost the computer's green credentials.

Like the rest of the bunch, it has a LCD monitor, a 19-inch LCD Acer model capable of displaying 1440x900 pixels.

Intriguingly, the L310 has a normal D-Sub video port and a DVI one as well as two Firewire ports.

Other features include six USB and a Gigabit LAN port, a card reader, a pair of speakers and a wireless keyboard/mouse combo.

Acer provides with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium as operating system and MS Works as well.

The L310 also includes Acer's Empowering trio, the eDataSecurity Management console, an eRecovery Management tool and the ePerformance solution which help keep your computer in tip top shape.

Warranty is a standard one year and the only major gripes are the lack of expansion options and the fact that it comes with 1GB of memory only, part of which is allocated to the integrated graphics module.

Fujitsu Siemens P2420, £401.83

Fujitsu-Siemens brings together the best of two worlds in the Esprimo P2420; the Japanese practicality with the German precision. This Business computer is solidly built and won't win any awards for its looks but that was never its intentions. Presented as the cost-effective member of the Fujitsu-Siemens family of SMB-oriented machines, the P2420 offers a lot more than what you would expect from computers at this price.

For a start, there's an Athlon 64 x2 running at 2.6GHz coupled with two 1GB memory modules. A 160GB hard disk drive and a DVD writer serve as primary and secondary storage. This combination means that the computer will be able to readily handle all but the most demanding business applications.

Other features include a Gigabit Ethernet Port, an integrated Nvidia graphics module, eight USB ports, one 3.5-inch and one 5.25-inch unoccupied bay.

But that's not all. Fujitsu had the great foresight of bundling the P2420 with a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista Business AND Microsoft Windows XP Professional in what it calls Twinload. Essentially, you get the possibility of swapping in between the two OSes for free, something that we expect could soon be adopted by others.

The P2420 also comes with a three year warranty, although you will have to fork an additional £47 to bring it up to the level of the Dell Vostro 200MT's warranty - a three year, next business day option.

Since the Fujitsu Siemens computer does not come with a screen, the Hannspree Boston 19-inch Wide HA TFT monitor, also on sale at Misco, could be an excellent match. The screen's texture mimics the grainy patterns of wooden furniture and comes with both D-Sub and DVI Port as well as a resolution of 1440x900 and three years onsite swap warranty.

The Esprimo P2420 and the HannG monitor are on sale at Misco for only £401.83 delivered.

Nec Powermate VL260, £389.59

Nec is the only Japanese PC manufacturer in the group and although it tries its best to impress, the VL260 will only suit you if you are looking for a straight forward, no thrill (and frill) business desktop computer that not only melts in the crowd but also sticks to what it does best.

That could actually be the best way to describe this Powermate VL260. You could mistake it for a Packard Bell computer - which seems to share the same black tool less microtower chassis design but although Nec employs the same set of components, there's more than meets the eye.

For a start, the VL260 comes with Windows XP Professional OS out of the box and a full three year onsite warranty that puts it right up there with the best on offer.

Then there's a guaranteed minimum lifecycle of 15 months with a 3 months transition between platforms which should help you to manage your IT suite. There's also a Kensington security cable and a lock righ which will secure your PC.

But there are some corner cuttings though; the CPU is an Intel Dual Core E2140 processor coupled with only 1GB memory and a 80GB hard disk drive, only half the capacity of other business computers in this group preview.

Other features include a DVD writer, Gigabit ethernet and six USB ports as well as a keyboard and a mouse.

You can pair this computer with the Hannspree 19-inch TFT monitor from Misco which can display up to 1440x900 pixels and comes with two video ports.

The Powermate VL260 and the HannG monitor are on sale at Misco for only £401.83 delivered.

Mesh Elite M2180, £399 delivered

Meshcomputers is often disregarded as being a second tier computer manufacturer and although it lacks the financial clout and marketing punch of the Dells and Lenovos of this world, it is doing a great job in the current computer market.

Their £399 business computer is the Elite M2180 which comes with a few unique features that differentiate it from the rest of the bunch.

First, the Elite M2180 (on sale at Meshcomputers for £399 including VAT and Delivery) is built around an Intel Pentium E2180 dual core processor with 4GB worth of memory - no other computers in the group comes with so much memory, although we would prefer to have a slightly bigger screen or a more powerful processor.

Unless you use memory hungry applications like the latest versions of photo or video-editing software, 2GB should be more than sufficient.

This Business PC barely compromises though on the rest of the features : there's a mini tower with a lot of expansion possibility which houses a 250GB hard disk drive, a DVD writer, and a multi card reader, six USB 2.0 and NIC port as well.

The M2180 also comes with a 19-inch Widescreen LCD TFT monitor with internal speakers complete with a Logitech desktop keyboard and optical mouse - substantially better than no-name brands.

The bundle is rounded up with Windows Vista Home, Microsoft Works 8.5 and Cyberlink Video Editing Suite.

Covered by a one year hardware warranty, the M2180 is a good all-rounder business machine.

HP Pavilion A6027, £405.48

The HP Pavilion A6027 is not a business machine per se but its credential and the fact that it is build by HP make it a very good candidate for an Office computer.

Physically, it is a mid tower with a stylish piano black finish and is larger than most computers in the group but offers excellent expansion prospects.

Unlike others, HP judiciously thought about placing the card reader at the top of the tower as it would be easier for users who have tucked their computers away under the desk to access them.

HP has chosen an AMD x2 4400+ dual core processor as the heart of the system and has flanked it with 2GB of memory, a 250GB hard disk drive and a 16x Lightscribe DVD writer.

Interestingly, there's a dedicated video card onboard, albeit one with 64MB memory. Still, it offers a DVI and a VGA port which means that you can connect two screens to it.

The rest of the specification is pretty unremarkable : High definition Audio, 10/100mbps LAN, USB keyboard and mouse, Windows Vista Home Premiuma and Works 8.0.

The PC can also be paired with a E-machines 17-inch Widescreen TFT monitor (on sale at Morgancomputers for £99.99) which can display up to 1280x720 pixels and comes witha standard VGA input.

The A6027 (£293.74 at Morgancomputers) is also covered by a one year HP warranty.

Lenovo ThinkCentre A55, £386.52 delivered

Since Lenovo took over IBM's PC division, the Chinese computer manufacturer has been fairly quiet, leaving other companies like Acer to lead the way when it came to flooding the market with computer models.

However, Lenovo seeks to follow IBM's past by focusing on delivering the best value for money; with the Thinkcentre A55 8975, Lenovo faithfully replicates the features that made IBM such a popular and reliable PC vendor.

The A55 8975 is the entry level Business PC from Lenovo and comes with a few unique features such as pre-loaded rescue and recovery functionality out of the box thanks to the Thinkvantage technology.

It sports a Dual Core Intel Pentium E2180 processor which runs at 2GHz; it is backed by 1GB memory with a 160GB hard disk drive and a DVD writer.

As it is, the desktop chassis has some good room for expansion and you can find a slew of IO ports at the back ranging from a Gigabit Ethernet connector to the more casual USB ports.

The A55 is powered by Windows XP Pro and has been combined here with the 22-inch Nec LCD22WV widescreen monitor available from PCWB for £386.52 including VAT and delivery.

Both parts come with a one-year warranty.

HP DX2250, £388.82 delivered

The HP Compaq DX2250 sits comfortably at the bottom of the HP business PC range and although it carries a rock bottom price, it is far from being an also-run.

The DX2250 uses a similar chassis to the DC7700 which means that you won't have to be worried about being cramped for space.

Inside the computer, you will find a dual core AMD X2 5000+ processor, 2GB worth of memory and a huge 160GB hard disk drive

Five internal and external empty bays as well as four expansion slots mean that there users can add more components in the long run.

Secondary storage is handled by a 16x Lightscribe DVD writer and an ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 chipset takes care of the video and the sound.

You can bundle the DX2250 with a 22-inch LCD HP monitor from Ebuyer; the monitor can display up to 1680x1050 pixels and comes with an integrated USB hub as well as a three year warranty, thrice that of the DX2250 itself.

What's more interesting from a business point of view, is that HP has partnered with Microsoft to offer Office 2007 at a greatly reduced price.

The HP DX2250 and the HP L2245W are both available for £388.82 delivered from Ebuyer, after a £80 cashback offer straight from HP till the end of May.

For example, Office 2007 Basic will cost you £97.66, The Small Business Edition, £111.60 while the Professional Edition is available for £128, all prices including HP's cashback.

In comparison, retail versions of the Office 2007 Small Business 2007 and Professional packages will set you at £315.52 and £375.68 respectively.

In effect, this means that HP will give you PC for free if you buy Office 2007 Professional from them.

The Acer Aspire M1610 bears some passing resemblance with the Lenovo Thinkcentre PC with which it shares a mid-tower chassis and though it looks like a business PC, it actually belongs to Acer's consumer range, the Aspire.

It is quite refreshing to see four USB ports in the front as well as four external bays which will provide with ample expansion capabilities.

Unlike most of the computers here, the M1610 is powered by an Intel Core2Duo processor, the E4500 which ranks amongst the fastest here.

There's a spacious 250GB hard disk drive as well as a generous 2GB of memory; video is handled by an integrated SIS graphics module - not the best choice in graphics but still usable.

The M1610 also comes with Windows Vista Premium and Microsoft Works, good for very small businesses but bigger organisations will be looking to upgrade.

Acer has not cut corners when it comes to connectivity as it bundled in a card reader as well as a Firewire port.

The M1610, bundled with a 17-inch LCD Viewsonic monitor, costs £399.99 delivered from Comet.

Two computers came out of the lot when it comes to sheer value for money. The DX2250 offers a combination that will prove irresistible to many system administrators.

HP is the only one capable of offering a complete package including Office 2007 for less than £500 and the screen in the bundle is an astounding 22-inch monitor.

The Vostro 200 also gets cookie points for bundling a three-year warranty in the package, a service upgrade that can costs up to £100 when purchased from other vendors.

There's also a strict demarcation between Business PCs and would-be Business computers with Windows XP rather than Vista being the main differentiating factor.

Overall though, there's no denying that any of those computers would probably be able to handle most office tasks with panache.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.