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Dell Inspiron 518 value desktop PC

If you want everyday value performance that's a cut above the norm, take a look at the Inspiron 518. Sporting a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU, 3GB of PC6400 DDR2 memory, and a 320GB Western Digital Caviar SE16 hard drive (7200 rpm, 16MB cache), the unit romped to a very nice WorldBench 6 score of 108. Among value desktops at the time of testing, that number was second only to the 117 posted by the Micro Express MicroFlex 82B. But while the Inspiron 518's ATI Radeon HD3450 turned in gaming frame rates that should satisfy a casual user, it was no match for the MicroFlex 82B's nVidia 8800GT graphics, which quadrupled the Inspiron's frame rates.

Performance aside, this Inspiron looks nicer than the MicroFlex, with clever design flourishes such as a recessed storage tray area on the top of the system. That tray adds two easily accessible USB ports to the two on the face of the unit. The Dell's interior was reasonably tidy, though we'd have liked the cables secured and tied off a bit better. There's room inside for one optical drive and one additional hard drive, which should accommodate the upgrade needs of most users. The bundled 20-inch SP2009W wide-screen LCD monitor is a pleasure to use and includes a built-in Webcam.

The Windows Vista Home Premium desktop was less cluttered on the Inspiron 518 than on many value PCs we've seen--especially from Dell. But it's by no means clutter-free, with Google Desktop, an eBay icon, a Zingspot gadget, and McAfee running in the system tray. Dell bundles Microsoft Works 9, Cyberlink PowerDVD for movie playback, and Roxio Easy Media Creator for other media and optical tasks.

All in all, the Inspiron 518 is a strong system with a nice mix of performance, bundled software, and smart design.