This is one of the most capable gaming PCs we've seen for under £500, but the gaming power comes at the cost of desktop performance
3.2GHz Intel Pentium G3420, 8GB RAM, 21.5in 1,920×1,080 display, Windows 8.1
While many PCs priced around the £500 mark use processors with relatively powerful integrated graphics, such as AMD’s A-series range and Intel’s Core i3 models, the CCL Elite Owl III takes a different tack. This PC’s processor is a 3.2GHz dual-core Pentium G3420. This processor’s on-chip Intel HD Graphics aren’t up to much more than showing your desktop and watching movies. Fortunately, CCL has bolstered the system’s 3D graphics capabilities with an overclocked 1GB Nvidia GeForce 750 graphics card with HDMI, DVI and VGA outputs.
The processor scored just 46 in our benchmark tests, making it a little underpowered by desktop PC standards, but it’s still up to the demands made upon your average home PC: browsing the web, composing documents and doing the odd bit of image editing. We’d recommend something a bit more powerful if you spend a lot of time transcoding media or multitasking with CPU-hungry applications, though.
However, the Nvidia GeForce 750 graphics card is this PC’s stand-out feature. On most PCs with integrated graphics we only run our laptop Dirt Showdown test, which is set to 1,280×720 with High quality and 4x anti-aliasing. In this test the CCL PC managed a huge 68.1fps, so we ran the test again at 1,920×1,080 and Ultra quality, where we still saw a smooth 41.5fps.
To stretch the Elite Owl III a bit further we ran our Crysis 3 benchmark at 1,920×1,080 with High detail and 4x AA. In this test the CCL PC only managed 22.8fps, which is too jerky to be playable. However, we saw a silky smooth 37.1fps average when we re-ran the test at medium settings and 1x anti-aliasing, showing that, as long as you have a decent graphics card, your processor has little to do with gaming performance in even the most challenging titles.
The system’s motherboard is a microATX Gigabyte GA-H81M-HD3. Although it only has two memory slots, each filled with a 4GB module of 1,600MHz RAM, there are rather more expansion slots than you’ll find on many microATX boards. The motherboard has two PCI slots, one PCI-E x1 slot and a PCI-E x16 slot for your graphics card. Both the x16 and x1 slots are occupied, with the latter taken up with a useful Wi-Fi card. One of the PCI slots is blocked by the graphics card, but the other is still free, so you can add upgrades such as a sound card in future.
The motherboard’s USB3 header isn’t in use, as the case only has a couple of USB2 ports on the front panel. We’d be inclined to connect this header to a USB3 backplate to add more ports to the system, but you still get four USB3 ports as standard on the back of the PC, along with two standard USB. The back of the motherboard is also home to six 3.5mm stereo outputs for 7.1 analogue surround sound, as well as an optical S/PDIF output for digital 5.1 surround. There are mic and headphone ports alongside the USB ports on the front panel, too.
The motherboard has just four SATA ports, and only two of them are SATA3. Still, only a 1TB hard disk and a DVD-RW drive are connected as standard, so there’s scope to add an SSD to one of the SATA3 ports, moving the hard disk or optical drive to a SATA2 port where the slower connection won’t cause a bottleneck.
The PC has two 5 1/4in drive bays, four 3 1/2in bays, two of them external, and a vertical mounting point suitable for a 2 1/2in SSD. As there aren’t drive cages all the way down behind the PC’s front panel, you’ve got a little under 350mm length to play with if you want to add a larger graphics card, which is plenty for even the most powerful models. The case is compact and well finished inside and out. There’s no soundproofing to speak of, but the system is very quiet anyway, in part because it’s entirely lacking in case fans. This didn’t cause a problem during our tests and the PC didn’t get particularly warm.
The PC comes with a BenQ DL2215 LCD monitor, which has a matt rather than gloss finish. It’s a 21.5in widescreen display with a resolution 1,920×1,080 and both DVI and VGA inputs. We carried out our usual colour and contrast tests using a USB colour calibrator. To the eye, the screen looks a little washed out with slightly uneven backlighting. It didn’t do too well in our contrast test, with our device measuring a contrast ratio of 350:1 and black level of 0.51cd/m2, so blacks aren’t as deep as on most screens we see. Colour accuracy was also below average, with the screen displaying just 84.5% of the sRGB colour gamut at default settings. It’s an acceptable monitor, but certainly isn’t one of the better screens we’ve seen with a budget PC.
The mouse and keyboard are a Microsoft Wired 200 set. The mouse is inordinately small but comfortable enough to use. The keyboard is reasonably well laid out for quick typing, but its keys feel simultaneously loose and unresponsive. It’s perhaps the worst Microsoft set we’ve seen and we’d be inclined to replace it in fairly short order, but neither the mouse nor keyboard are catastrophically fragile or inaccurate, so they’ll do to begin with.
We like the CCL Elite Owl III, which looks tidy and has stonking gaming performance for the price, thanks to its factory-overclocked graphics card. However, its dual-core Pentium processor is underpowered. We’re not great fans of the monitor, either. Unless you’re specifically looking for the best gaming performance you can get for £500, the Elite Owl probably isn’t for you, and even gamers should consider buying the Eclipse Galaxy A10 R7-250 without its monitor, as it has much more processor power and is almost as powerful in games.
|Processor||Intel Pentium G3420|
|Processor external bus||100MHz (DMI)|
|Processor clock speed||3.2GHz|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel H81|
|USB2 ports (front/rear)||2/6|
|eSATA ports (front/rear)||0/0|
|Wired network ports||1x 10/100/1000|
|Wireless networking support||802.11n|
|PCI-E x1 slots (free)||1 (0)|
|PCI-E x16 slots (free)||1 (0)|
|Free Serial ATA ports||2|
|Free memory slots||0|
|Free 3.5in drive bays||3|
|Hard disk model(s)||Seagate Barracuda (ST1000DM003-1CH162)|
|Graphics card(s)||1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 OC|
|Graphics/video ports||HDMI, DVI, VGA|
|Sound outputs||7.1 line out, optical S/PDIF out, headphone, microphone|
|Supported memory cards||none|
|Optical drive type(s)||DVD+/-RW +/-DL|
|Viewable size||21.5 in|
|Screen model||Benq DL2215|
|Screen inputs||DVI, VGA|
|Keyboard||Microsoft Wired Keyboard 200|
|Mouse||Microsoft Basic Optical Mouse v2.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Operating system restore option||Windows disc|
|Warranty||one year RTB|