The Best Bargain PCs
Buying a computer is always an exercise in compromise. When you're deciding whether a budget-priced PC will match your power and expandability needs, the answer depends on how many concessions you're willing to make.
To help with your decision, we put seven sub-$750 desktop PCs (each came with a monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard) and five sub-$1000 laptops--including those from the major brands--through their paces in the PC World Test Center. As always, we tested performance in productivity applications using our WorldBench 6 Beta 2 benchmark and evaluated the gaming capabilities--such as they were--of each system using Doom 3 and Far Cry test scripts at a variety of resolutions. We also compiled a reality check of key budget-PC trade-offs: See "What Does $1000 Really Buy?". Finally, look for our in-depth reviews for each model at the links on the next page, plus rankings, specifications, and test scores for all of the Top 5 desktops and laptops in this story.
All the desktops and laptops we tested shipped with Windows Vista--usually the 32-bit version of Vista Home Premium, which costs about $100 if you were to buy it separately. Sys Technology's $708 Sys SlimLine Si200 desktop and Toshiba's $699 Satellite Pro A210-EZ2201 laptop came with the less expensive (roughly $70) Vista Home Basic. Among other things, Basic lacks support for the Aero environment and its translucent effects. Two models--Acer's $748 Veriton VM460-UD2180C desktop and Fujitsu's $899 LifeBook S7211 laptop--had Vista Business, which retails for about $120; it lacks Vista Home's Parental Controls but adds office-centric extras such as full Remote Desktop support and Rights Management Services.
Despite boasting more expansion room than most value PCs have, the Acer Veriton wasn't as well equipped as competing desktops that cost less, so it missed our Top 5 chart. Also missing the cut was HP's $719 Pavilion Slimline s3300z. It sports the same ultracompact design as other models in HP's Slimline series and uses an energy-efficient 1.9-GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 BE-2300 processor, but its unexceptional speed and limited expansion options were big drawbacks.
Finally, you may notice that our charts provide context for a system's WorldBench 6 Beta 2 performance numbers by describing the result on a word scale: Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor. Though a sub-$1000 desktop that scores 77 in WorldBench 6 may deserve its Superior performance rating when compared with similarly priced machines--which is what we've done in this roundup--it's important to remember that if it were compared against power desktops, where price is no objection and WorldBench 6 Beta 2 results over 120 are common, then that sub-$1000 PC's performance word score would drop to Poor. Performance results should always be kept in proper perspective.
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