£500 can buy a surprising amount of computing power. Prices have been falling like there's no tomorrow and hardware manufacturers have continued to introduce new technologies at breakneck speeds even as the recession deepens.
Today, we evaluate five systems, four of which can be readily purchased either online or from a high street store with the fifth one being build with parts purchased from online shops.
The Mesh Nero 9850HD is an extraordinary well configured computer and at this price, one could have expected some corners to be cut. Alas, we couldn't find any significant ones.
Available at Comet for £499, the 9850HD comes with an AMD Phenom processor, the 9850, which has four cores running concurrently at 2.5GHz with 4MB L2 cache. Furthermore, there's also 4GB RAM, available as two 2GB modules.
Storagewise, Mesh has judiciously placed a 500GB hard disk drive with 16MB Buffer, with a Dual Layer Samsung DVD writer which should prove to be adequate for most tasks.
Other notable specs include an interesting microATX Asus motherboard which provides with 7.1 HD Audio capabilities as well as an HDMI output and other usual features.
The rest of the feature list is enticing as well. You get Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit, a rather surprising oddity, a 22-inch IIyama monitor capable of displaying 1920x1080 pixels and powered by a Nvidia Geforce GPU.
Mesh Computers also generoulsy threw in a Logitech Keyboard and Optical Mouse, Cyberlink's award winning video editing suite, a card reader, a Gigabit Ethernet port and 12 (yes 12) USB ports. The system comes with a one year onsite warranty.
You can buy it at Comet online.
Ebuyer Extra Value PC 7873-1001
Ebuyer does not produce its own computers, instead relying on others to do so. The popular e-tailer chose to partner with Zoostorm to build what is an existing platform especially if you are a budding gamer.
The 7873-1001 comes, like the Mesh 9850, with a Quad core processor from AMD - a Phenom 9500 clocked at 2.2GHz, with 4GB RAM - filling both memory banks available - and a 640GB hard disk drive with 16MB cache.
The system uses a Foxconn A7VMX motherboard which is a mATX model. There's the mandatory DVD writer and the usual accessories like a keyboard, a card reader and a mouse.
Most interesting though is the inclusion of an Nvidia Geforce GTS 250 graphics card with 512MB RAM GDDR3, originally known as the 9800GTX/8800GT. The huge cooler on the card makes it almost impossible to use both PCI slots on the motherboard according to some reviewers.
The system comes without any operating system however. Ebuyer's offer stands out because the system only costs £399.99 only and would be ideal if you are only looking for an upgrade to your base unit and plans to keep both your monitor and your Windows License.
The computer also comes with a one year warranty. You can purchase it at Ebuyer.
Acer Aspire M5201
The Acer Aspire M5201 costs £50 more than Ebuyer's proposal but could be a better buy for some of us. The computer has some fantastic components on offer.
It comes with the same Quad Core CPU from AMD, a 2.2GHz Phenom 9500. Similarly, the M5201 comes with 4GB RAM and a DVD writer.
But then the goodies come piling in. You get Windows Vista Home Premium, Blu-ray capability (reader, not burner), a staggering 1.28TB storage (that's two 640GB which you can use as RAID-0 or RAID-1), plus a Nvidia 8600GT graphics card.
The M5201 also provides with 8 USB ports as well as a keyboard and a mouse. Buying from Tesco also comes with some advantages.
You can purchase Norton 360 at half price, you get double clubcard points (that's nearly £9 worth of points) and you can opt for its "Buy Now, Pay Later" scheme.
The M5201 also comes with a number of software applications (including a few from Acer and Microsoft's ubiquitous Works 8.5 application suite); you can buy it from Tesco Direct here.
Built It Yourself
Building a computer by yourself is no longer a chore that requires you to have extensive knowledge in computer technology or the proverbial degree in computer science.
We've selected the necessary building parts to assemble a great computer for less than £500, a price that not only includes the operating system but also, as you will see, some rather unique components.
There's the familiar AMD x4 9550 processor (Amazon, £94.39), 4GB RAM PC5300 Kingston Valueram (Play, £27.98), a midi ATX Case with a 350W PSU for (Ebuyer, £23.74), the popular Foxconn A6VMX which features an AMD690V chipset (Ebuyer, £37.05), a Liteon DVD Dual Layer DVD writer (Ebuyer, £13.49), a Hitachi DeskStar 1TB Hard Drive SATAII 7200rpm 16MB Cache (Ebuyer, £66.99), a PowerColor HD 4650 512MB DDR2 Dual DVI TV Out PCI-E Graphics Card (Ebuyer, £37.50), a Hiyatek 26-in-1 Card Reader With Fan Controller and E-SATA Port (Ebuyer, £5.86), WIndows VIsta Home Basic (Ebuyer, £64.98), a Black Wired Keyboard and Mouse Desktop Set (Ebuyer, £6.99) and finally, a Cibox C2202 22-inch Widescreen TFT monitor with 3 year warranty (Ebuyer, £105.16).
Overall, we will have spent a grand total of £484.13 including delivery, from a number of high profile web retailers, leaving us with £15 to spend elsewhere. A great deal surely if you can assemble your own computer.
Modified HP Proliant ML115 Server
The HP Proliant ML115 is a server by default, albeit a cheap one. At £199.99 at Ebuyer, It comes with an Opteron 1352 Quad Core processor, 1GB RAM, a 160GB hard disk drive and a DVDROM.
There's no OS but there's a one year next business day warranty that will come handy. Interestingly, using standard parts, you can build on the ML115's great foundations.
Adding an additional 3GB of PC6400 DDR2 RAM will cost you £23.86 from Ebuyer. Using the other bits and pieces from above, you can manage to get a powerful computer for under £500 but with more solid credentials.
We shied away from any dual core computers because we believe that in most situations, quad core computers will be faster than similar priced dual core models.
All but one of the computers here come with a dedicated video card. Some like the Aspire M5201 even come with a Bluray and a HDMI port which makes it perfect if you want to connect your computer to your lounge television.
Which one should you get? Frankly speaking, all of them will be powerful enough for everyday need.
To put things in perspective, you are essentially purchasing a server with four processors or cores, 1TB worth of storage and 4GB memory. This would have cost you north of £10,000 only a few years ago.