Windows Vista is here and we've got the first batch of desktop PCs that use the new operating system. Does the new OS make these machines better than their XP predecessors? Yes. Does Vista's presence make it any easier to make a purchasing decision? Absolutely not -- if anything, it's even more difficult.
At the moment, when buying a PC, you'll need to look at the badge on the front to check whether it's 'Vista Capable' or 'Vista Premium Ready'. Vista Capable PCs can run the basic elements of Vista, but not the flashy new user interface features -- for that you'll need a PC with at least a modern graphics card. You can check the full requirements for Vista Capable and Vista Premium Ready PCs in our guide. Both these badges will soon be replaced with a simple 'designed for Vista' one, so you'll need to check the specs of the PC to see which version of Vista it will run.
Next you'll need to get your head around the sheer number of Vista versions. There are six main editions: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate edition, plus 32-bit and 64-bit variants of most of these versions. Not all versions are created equally -- and neither are all PCs. We've rounded up four of the best contenders for your pocket money, at least one of which should meet your needs.
Gamers should divert their attention to the Alienware Area-51 7500 -- the fastest gaming PC we've ever reviewed. This Vista Premium Ready PC runs Vista Home Premium Edition and is unofficially known as the 'Predator 2'. It comes with an Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX -- a graphics card that can make an Xbox 360 look like a ZX Spectrum. It's compatible with forthcoming DirectX 10 games (only on Vista), so if you're into extreme 3D thrills you should look no further.
Discerning media freaks will want to go for the Evesham Mini PC, which also ships with Vista Home Premium Edition. This features an updated version of Media Center so you get an improved user interface for easier access to your music, movies, TV and photos, and support for multiple dual TV tuners. It only comes with one dual TV tuner, but you can add a second one to record or play four separate TV programmes simultaneously.
Bear in mind the Mini PC is 'only' Vista Capable -- so if you want a bit more power from your Media Center you should opt for the Vista Premium Ready Sony Vaio VGX-XL202 -- one of the first desktops to come with a Blu-ray drive. This not only lets you watch Blu-ray flicks, but also allows you to burn up to 25GB of data on to a single disc -- that's around 36 DivX movies.
If cheapness is more of a requirement than gaming and media capabilities, cast your eyes towards the HP dx5150 small form factor (SFF) PC. It's Vista Capable, so it isn't powerful enough to take full advantage of the fancy 3D portions of the new user interface, but it gives you the core Vista experience, such as improved file organisation, security and reliability. Best of all it only costs about £250.