The Dell Inspiron 530 was powerful enough to earn superior scores (for a value PC) in both its productivity and graphics performance tests, yet it's quite inexpensive at US$689 (as of 2/7/08).
Our test system was based on a 1.8-GHz Intel Pentium dual-core E2160 processor and had two sticks of 1GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM, for a total of 2GB of memory. It came with a 19-inch Dell SE198WFP wide-screen LCD (1440 by 900 native resolution), as well. Most value systems use integrated graphics that rely on main system memory, but the 530's graphics duties are handled by a 128MB nVidia GeForce 8300GS graphics card. The 250GB Western Digital Caviar hard drive provides an average amount of storage space for PCs in this price range, and our test unit had a DVD/CD combo writer, too.
As for performance, the 530 earned a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 73--commendable in the value desktop category, and slightly better than the 71 earned by the Compaq Presario SR5350F, which uses the same Intel Pentium dual-core E2160 CPU. The Inspiron 530 provided the best performance in the 3DS Max DirectX component of the WorldBench suite of all the value systems recently tested. Not surprisingly, therefore, it also earned the top scores among value systems for its graphics performance, making it the best choice for playing simple games. Because its graphics card has only a modest 128MB of memory, however, it still isn't powerful enough for intensive gaming titles, such as Doom 3 and Far Cry. In our Doom 3 tests, the system earned only a subpar score of 20 frames per second running at 1024 by 768 resolution with antialising turned on.
The 530's attractive, glossy white-and-silver midtower case is well ventilated, and its sliding front panel covers an external bay module containing a media card reader and connectivity ports. Inside the 530's case, you'll find that good old-fashioned screws secure the components, so you'll need a screwdriver when installing expansion cards and optical drives. Like most other value systems, the 530 uses a smaller motherboard that supports fewer expansion options than larger (and pricier) boards. Available expansion options include one 5.25-inch external and one 3.5-inch internal drive bay, two PCI and one PCIe x1 card slots (the PCIe x16 slot is filled by the discrete graphics card), and two (out of four) DIMM memory sockets. The 530 lacks FireWire ports, but they can be added as an extra-cost ($30) option.
The Dell monitor delivered sharp text and fine color quality in both still and moving images. The USB-based optical mouse and enhanced keyboard that Dell bundles with this system are comparatively better (in performance and features) than the standard-issue input devices that come with most value systems. Among the keyboard's extras are several quick-launch keys, a retro-style volume knob, and two upstream USB ports. The 530's online-only documentation is exemplary, with thorough, well-written instructions that are (thankfully) specific to the actual model, unlike the more generic documentation that some vendors often include.
If you want a value desktop with an excellent price-to-performance ratio and some room to grow, Dell's Inspiron 530 is arguably the best deal among the budget PCs we've tested recently.