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If there’s one thing the British love, it's a bargain. Even if it’s not really a bargain, they want to at least feel like they are getting one. This computer has specifications that not too long ago would only have been seen in a top end machine, yet carries a price tag of only £339. so being British, my instant reaction is “that’s a bargain!” - the question is, are my nationality driven instincts correct?
One of the sure signs of a cheap PC, is a cheap case and dodgy looks. There's no denying that the chassis of this Compaq is a fairly cheap affair, based on a thin steel construction with a lowly 300W power supply but it’s certainly not bad looking. In fact, it’s quite attractive, with rounded edges thanks to a plastic shroud that raises the front of the case off the desk slightly. Both the 5.25in drives have a hinged flap that opens up when the drive is ejected. These flaps are made from a shiny black plastic, which are quite fetching. The rest of the drive bay area matches with the same black plastic.
Being MicroATX means it’s quite cute in size and is fairly sturdy – no random vibrations here. There is a 92mm case fan included just above the processor, but this and the CPU cooler are both fan controlled. When used in conjunction with AMD’s Cool’N’Quiet technology, the machine was almost silent. We could hear the noise of the hard drive more than anything else – a sure sign of a quiet machine.
Behind the first flap is a Hitachi/LG 16x dual-layer DVD burner, while the second expansion slot is free should you wish to add another drive. Below this is a 9-in-one-card reader, supporting all the major formats. There are also three USB ports, a 6-pin FireWire port and audio connectivity.
Inside the case, things get a bit more interesting. The motherboard used is actually an MSI that's made specifically for OEM use. However, it is almost identical to MSI’s retail RS480M2-IL. This motherboard uses the Radeon Xpress 200 (RD480) chipset using the SB400 southbridge. ATI is known more for its GPUs than its chipsets, with the SB400 southbridge being the weak link, having sub-par IDE, USB and SATA performance.
The Presario uses integrated graphics, which are fine for general use but you wouldn’t want to start playing games on it. It only has D-Sub output, so if you are hoping to use a DVI flat panel, think again. However, an x16 PCI Express slot is also available should you want to upgrade to a better graphics card. If you chose an ATI graphics card, you could use this in conjunction with the onboard graphics for a triple head output. This feature isn’t used by most, but it’s nice to know it’s there.
This motherboard also brings with it 100Mbit networking via the Realtek 8100C chipset and 5.1 audio thanks to the Realtek ALC658 chipset. These are both bottom of the rung chipsets, but are fine for casual users. Coaxial S/PDIF output is onboard, should you have equipment capable of taking advantage of it.
There are also three PCI slots, a total of seven USB 2.0 ports and two FireWire ports should you wish to expand in any other way.