Top 10 budget desktop PCs

Aimed at the value conscious consumer, these budget desktops will tackle your computing needs -- without breaking the bank

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Lenovo IdeaCentre K220
IdeaCentre K220 Review, by David Murphy, PC World September 10, 2009



CPU: Core 2 Quad Q8200; CPU speed: 2330GHz; Graphics adapter: Nvidia GeForce 9300GE; Monitor: No; Hard drive size: 640GB; WorldBench rating: Good

Great price for its general performance
Above-average storage capacity

Unplayable gaming graphics
Dreadful selection of connections

In performance, the $649 (as of 8/23/09) Lenovo IdeaCentre K220 beats nearly all of its ultrainexpensive rivals. But one competitor on our Top 10 Value PCs chart crushes the IdeaCentre badly enough in both general and gaming performance that it's difficult to avoid comparing the two PCs.

The K220's processor is a 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200, reigniting the debate over whether it's important for a low-budget system to have a multicore CPU. I'm not sure that the presence of two additional cores is enough to justify the speed loss in comparison with the chip in the $700 Micro Express MicroFlex 82B--that PC has a 3.0GHz Core 2 Duo E8400 that screamed through our benchmarks. The K220's included 4GB of DDR3-1066 memory is a nice touch, but one that ultimately helps little in boosting overall system performance. On the other hand, the K220's single 640GB Western Digital hard drive offers above-average capacity, far surpassing the 82B's pathetic 250GB of storage.

In our gaming tests, the K220's lack of genuine graphics power cost it dearly. In none of our tested games--on any resolution or quality setting--was the K220 able to hit a playable average of 30 frames per second. By contrast, the 82B delivered huge results on two of our older benchmark tests, Doom 3 and Far Cry. And that shouldn't be a surprise when you compare the two PCs' video cards: The K220 has an anemic nVidia GeForce 9300GE whereas the 82B has an oldie-but-goodie, an nVidia GeForce 8800GT. As for general system performance, the speedier (albeit dual-core) CPU in the 82B delivered an improvement of more than 15 percent over the K220. The K220's WorldBench 6 score of 99 isn't bad considering the system's price--it's a better result than what we've seen from most PCs that cost the same or less--but the K220 simply isn't the equal of Micro Express' 82B.

The K220's internal design makes upgrading as easy as possible. Though the wiring job is a little haphazard, it will still allow you to wedge in one additional hard drive, as well as a single 5.25-inch device, one PCI Express x1 card, or two PCI cards. I missed having an additional PCI Express x16 card option, which could have paved the way for some crazy graphical or device upgrades. At least all of the installable areas are screw-free.

Connectivity-wise, the K220 needs a boost. The weak selection of just six USB ports and one ethernet port on the system's rear is a dreadful shortcoming that's reminiscent of what systems had a few years ago. The front of the K220 offers a multiformat card reader alongside two USB ports. But, really: Where are the next-generation connections? A busy computer user needs more than USB nowadays.

The plain black case gives the K220 a comforting, clean look; this PC is not flashy. The optical-bay covers are stealthily designed to fit the look of the front panel, with recesses for the connections placed vertically along the side. The case has barely any writing or other eccentricities to muck up the sophisticated design. It's too bad, though, that Lenovo carries the clean, unadorned theme over to its input devices as well: The mouse and keyboard we received with our test machine were generic and uninteresting.

Lenovo's IdeaCentre K220 value PC beats out lesser-equipped (and cheaper) PCs on our chart, but that's not exactly a difficult task. In contention against other systems of a similar price, however, particularly Micro Express' MicroFlex 82B, the K220 doesn't quite hold its own. You do lose two processor cores if you cross over to the 82B, but on that PC you gain the ability to play games, as well as other benefits such as better general performance, upgradability, and connections. If you can stomach losing out on the K220's ample 650GB of hard-drive space, the 82B is clearly the superior PC.

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