Never in the history of computing has so much power and storage been available for so cheap. The competition between AMD and Intel means that technology that were worth tens of thousands of pounds only a decade ago can be had for a few hundreds pounds.
Multi core technology has been one of the most important milestones in consumer computing. Dual or Four-way processors were the exclusive reserve of expensive workstations and servers as recently as 2004 but things have now changed.
Gathered today are 10 Desktop computers which are widely available in the UK for under £350 including delivery. They all sport four cores on one physical socket (hence the name quad core) which means that they provide with exceptional firepower for not a lot of money.
The cheapest of them all is the Advent T9610, a first-generation Quad core computer on sale at EuroPC. It is graded as a "cancelled/As new stock" and carries a 12-month returb to base warranty. Don't let the terms "refurbished" or "reconditioned" drive you way as they form the bulk of the best bargains in the tech industry.
Still, for £280 + P&P, you could do a lot worse. At the heart of the system is a Q6600 processor running at 2.4GHz, coupled with 3GB RAM and a smallish 250GB hard disk drive. The T9610 also packs Windows Home Premium, a Geforce 8400GS graphics card, all packed in a nice mid-tower casing.
Still from EuroPC and still extremely desirable is the Advent PQD5002, a smooth looking machine running on a Phenom X4 9550 processor with 4GB RAM, 500GB hard disk drive and Vista Home Premium. It has a powerful integrated ATI subsystem with six USB ports. Its price? A mere £280 + P&P (opens in new tab). As for all refurbished deals, stocks are extremely limited.
Not far behind is the Ebuyer Extra Value (opens in new tab) Desktop PC which doesn't come with any OS but cost a few pennies under £300. This PC might be housed in a bog standard enclosure but its components are quite capable; it has an Intel Q8300 processor (2.5Ghz, 4MB L2 Cache), 4GB RAM, a 750GB hard disk drive, a DVD writer and a one year warranty. It will be ideal for number crunching boffins on a shoestring budget.
DinoPC (opens in new tab) vows not to be undercut when it comes to price and offers a Quad core system with three year return to base warranty for £269.95. The system, which unsurprisingly doesn't come with any OS, still has an Athlon II X4 620 processor, 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard disk drive and a DVD writer with everything else integrated on a Foxconn motherboard.
This PC is genuinely impressive if you prefer a no-frill offer. The reseller also sells an Intel equivalent system (opens in new tab) with a Core 2 Quad Q8300, 4GB RAM, 1TB hard disk drive and a 512MB ATI Radeon HD4350 video card for £349.85 including delivery.
For those looking for a more elegant chassis, there's the Acer X3810, again from Ebuyer (opens in new tab). It is more expensive than the former model at £329.95, sports less RAM (3GB), less hard disk space (320GB) and has a slightly slower processor (Q8200 running at 2.33GHz). But it can be upgraded to Windows 7, has a HDMI, nine USB and an eSATA port and shouldn't be out of place even in a posh lounge.
Still from the same online retailer is a refurbished Compaq CQ5115 model, available for £350 as well (opens in new tab). This particular computer comes with Vista, a stylish casing, 4GB RAM, a Q8300 processor, 500GB hard disk drive and a DVD writer, what you would have expected for this price.
However, Tesco goes beyond the call of duty with the Acer ASX1300 (opens in new tab). It sheds the Intel processor for an AMD 9450e (2.1GHz, 1MB L2 cache) and adds a 19-inch LCD monitor, all for £349 (to which you should add nearly 700 Clubcard points).
There's only 2GB RAM though - which is shared with the graphics module - with a 320GB hard disk drive and nine USB ports. Still, this is an excellent deal for those looking for a complete, ready to use set.
Now if you can spend an additional £9 over budget, the Zoostorm (opens in new tab) might be the best deal available. It is similar, specs wise to the £299 offer from Ebuyer but offers twice the amount of storage and Windows Vista Home Premium - upgradable to Windows 7 for free.
Each of these systems will suit a particular audience. The Tesco offer is ideal for those looking for a complete, out of the box experience.
The DinoPC AMD system on the other hand targets those looking for the cheapest available Quad core system. Gamers will choose the second DinoPC Intel system because of the ATI HD4350 card.