Do you work in an office populated by Dell computers? If so, you're probably used to sitting in front of black boxes running Windows XP, with the usual word processing and spreadsheet tools, which all work adequately well.

Throw a task at the computer that puts it under more stress than usual, and you see that Dell's business machines are not as good at decoding video, rendering 3D graphics, or anything that goes beyond everyday business productivity.

The Dimension C521 is Dell's next generation of workhorse office PC system and comes with an Athlon 64 3800 processor, an ATi X1300 GPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM and runs Windows Vista Home Premium, all housed in a stylish new white chassis.

Windows Vista is the most noticeable change from before and no doubt the hardware upgrade is needed to ensure Vista remains responsive with the Aero interface enabled. The computer's Windows Experience Index score of 4.2 puts it firmly in the mid range of desktop PCs, as we expected our own tests to verify.

Beefing up hardware on your office desktop isn't just needed to provide Vista with horsepower; everyday computing tasks are now more demanding too. Multimedia is more entrenched in our computing lives than ever; websites with embedded video are popular for both research and lunchtime recreation, while even PowerPoint presentations commonly contain both audio and animation elements.

Dell's office line up used to feature an old Intel-based onboard graphics chip, but with the move to using an X1300 series GPU, there's no longer a reason for any of Dell's machines not to run whatever software you throw at it.

That said, this is no patch on the XPC line. The benchmarks don't come out badly but we can hardly imagine teenage gaming addicts begging their parents to fork out for a Dell Dimension C521. The 3DMark score confirms this, managing just 1,154 points, but this is much better than the integrated graphics of the last generation.

Of course, that isn't important, because the point is to raise the performance bar for small business machines rather than make any great strides at the top end.

Massive storage

The Athlon 64 3800 is noticeably single-core only, but remains a decent number cruncher. Dell has blessed us with the option of a 250GB Western Digital hard drive, perhaps overkill for an office desktop, but hard drives are so cheap these days, massive storage can be taken for granted.

The same could be said for the DVD rewriter in our test machine, not to mention the embedded 7.1 audio and six USB ports buried in the chassis. After using the Dimension C521 for a while, you might think that Dell has tried to bring the home PC experience we're used to right into the office.

You no longer need to assume that since it bears the name Dell and sits on your desk, you can't do certain tasks with your computer. You might not want or need all this extra power - we can't see many offices employing full 7.1 speaker setups - but at least you aren't going to be restricted by any lack of oomph.

The final ace up Dell's sleeve is the price. The Dimension C521 comes in at £500, including VAT, for a PC and 19in monitor, fully capable of multimedia tasks and some gaming, with giant storage and optical backup, all running off Vista Home Premium. With the exception of breaking your wallet, there isn't much this PC won't do.

With such a long list of features and such a high degree of versatility, the Dimension C521 could be a good choice for a budget family machine, although compared with the competition it comes out a bit weak. The X1300 will run today's games but it may look long in the tooth when Direct X10 titles become commonplace.

Bumping the memory up to 2GB and upgrading the CPU will mean it's better tooled to run tomorrow's applications under Vista. Once these additions are factored in, the PC will be less of a bargain, and other similarly priced desktops will give it a run for its money.

This hypothetical criticism doesn't stop us recommending the C521, though. A desktop PC capable of so much for so little is guaranteed to keep Dell's logo in offices for some time yet. Orestis Bastounis