Offering a balanced feature set and excellent performance in both office use and gaming, Chillblast’s Fusion Flame is well worth its Best Buy award. All the systems in this month’s chart use a Core 2 Duo E8500 processor, but their performance varies quite significantly. UPDATE, November 17, 2008: Chillblast informs PC Advisor that the Fusion Flame is no longer available in the specification submitted for review. As a consequence, PC Advisor has removed the Best Buy award initially proffered to the Chillblast Fusion Flame. As ever, check the specifiation closely before you buy. See also: Chillblast stripped of Best Buy award.

The Chillblast Fusion Flame delivered 126 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test. Although this score was narrowly beaten by the Zoostorm 62-3311's 128 points, the Chillblast’s performance is consistent in both work and play. This desktop PC has enough power to run demanding games at playable speeds.

Indeed, nVidia’s GeForce 9600 GT produced chart-topping framerates in our gaming tests, despite stiff competition from ATI’s Radeon HD 4670, as seen in the Arbico Elite 4685HD and CyberPower Gamer Infinity 600 computers. Your exact mileage will vary depending on the games you play but the Chillblast Fusion Flame's nVidia chip delivered healthy scores in both Crysis and Fear.

The Chillblast Fusion Flame is supplied with a 19in Hannspree XM New York. This popular display comes with four out of the five machines in this month’s budget PCs chart.

Rather than relying on the Hannspree’s built-in speakers, however, Chillblast has thrown in a pair of Logitech S220 speakers – and it’s the only vender in this price bracket to do so. The subwoofer gives an enormous boost to sound quality, making the Chillblast Fusion Flame a far better multimedia PC than its rivals in the chart.

The Octigen Case Pro 337 chassis is rather basic but it’s relatively capacious, with plenty of free drive bays and a 400W power supply. Meanwhile, the Chillblast Fusion Flame's motherboard offers three PCI slots and a PCI Express slot for expansion, as well as a pair of memory slots in case you wish to upgrade the 4GB allocation of DDR2 RAM.

>> NEXT PAGE: BUDGET DESKTOP PCs BUYING ADVICE

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (January 09 issue)

Processor: Even at this price, you can find some extremely fast processors. Among the excellent, affordable chips available, Intel's Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice - all five of the PCs in this chart feature it. Prices should drop now that the E8600 has become available.

Lower-cost alternatives include the Intel E7000- and E4000-series chips, although these offer weaker performance at any given clock speed.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB of RAM is almost a requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn't recommend it. The bulk of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.

Make sure you're getting the full benefit of the memory - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will slow things down. And check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media content such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 320GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later. If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, make sure you've got enough free drive bays in your system case.

Look for a DVD drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at 16-speed or better. If you want to copy 8.5GB at once, get a drive that can write to DVD-R DL and +R DL at 12- and eight-speed respectively. Keep an eye out for 22-speed models.

Flat-panel: PC manufacturers have to make compromises to keep prices down and often start with the monitor. But you don't want to spend all of your computing time looking at a poor-quality display.

All the PCs in our chart come with flat-panels. The most common size is 19in - the quality of larger monitors is unlikely to be high at this price. Look for a monitor with a DVI or HDMI digital connector to ensure the best picture quality. Make sure the PC has one too.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for £300 or £400, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. Nonetheless, the best sub-£500 PCs come with decent cards.

You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps if you're going to be playing games - 70fps or 80fps is better still. The fastest chip in this price range is the GeForce 9800 GT, but including one may require compromises elsewhere.

The GeForce 9600 GT is a good alternative. It supports DirectX 10.0, but is unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow's DirectX 10.0 games. This card has got plenty of pace to tackle today's games.

The Radeon HD 4670 also performs well, but isn't quite as fast as the GeForce 9600 GT in our selected game tests.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price. Most motherboards have built-in chips that can handle six-channel sound. To get the best out of them you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). Prepare to make sacrifices elsewhere if getting standalone speakers is a requirement for you.

>> NEXT PAGE: SPECIFICATION AND OUR EXPERT VERDICT

Chillblast Fusion Flame: Specs

  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • ASRock Wolfdale 1333-GLAN 2.0
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.283mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 9600 GT (games scores: Crysis = 48fps
  • Fear = 139fps)
  • onboard realtek ALC662
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • AVG Free
  • Nero
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 126
  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • ASRock Wolfdale 1333-GLAN 2.0
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.283mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 9600 GT (games scores: Crysis = 48fps
  • Fear = 139fps)
  • onboard realtek ALC662
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • AVG Free
  • Nero
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 126

OUR VERDICT

This PC is a good all-rounder, but the Chillblast Fusion Flame isn't quite perfect. We weren’t mightily impressed to see internal cabling bundled over the top of the CPU cooler, restricting airflow. We’d also have liked to see a memory-card reader.

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