Based on the 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400, Chillblast's Fusion Horizon is a little slower than PCs fitted with the faster E8500 chip. However, in day-to-day use the difference would be hard to notice. Scoring 119 points in WorldBench 6, this PC is perfectly adequate for general use.

Yusmart isn't a monitor brand we're familiar with, and the Chillblast Fusion Horizon's 20in display didn't blow us away; yet it's the only screen here to offer a 1,680x1,050 resolution. This should please Excel fans. Gamers will be put off by the system's relatively poor graphics, however, and we noted that this display isn't particularly good at scaling different image resolutions up to full-screen.

An ATI Radeon HD 4730 powers the Chillblast Fusion Horizon's graphics. This is considerably faster than the Radeon HD 4670 favoured by Palicomp and Arbico, but it's still a far cry from what you could get if you shopped around.

Housed in a relatively compact and sober-looking case - save for a decorative ring of LEDs circling the power switch - is the same ASRock G31M-S motherboard as found in the Palicomp and Arbico. Like the Palicomp, the Chillblast Fusion Horizon has both memory slots filled with the 4GB of RAM and comes with a 500GB hard drive, although it's missing the additional pair of USB ports.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (Nov 09 issue)

  1. Mesh Matrix II 550BE PCA
  2. Palicomp Excalibur Ballistix E85-4670-19
  3. Arbico CD 8570 XL
  4. Eclipse Pearl i84R483
  5. Chillblast Fusion Horizon

>> NEXT PAGE: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice at this price, although slower processors such as the E8400 will still be fast enough for most users. Low-cost alternatives, such as Intel's E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed. AMD's latest offerings, such as the Phenom II X2 550BE, offer excellent performance and good value for money.

Memory: In the age of Windows Vista, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority 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. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Expect 500GB at this price, but you can never have too much storage space. Digital media content will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive. Hard-drive space is easy to add later, however.

If you're planning to upgrade hard drives internally, ensure that you've got spare drive bays inside your PC's 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 to one disc, 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: It's the component you'll be spending all your time looking at, but PC makers often compromise on the monitor.

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 good 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.

If display size or quality is of critical importance to you, you may be able to get a 22in 1,080p flat-panel if you're willing to cut costs elsewhere.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. You'll want a PC that can produce at least 50fps for gaming.

ATI does well in this price bracket and, thanks to recent price reductions, we're seeing HD 4670 cards appearing once again. The HD 4770 and HD 4870 provide very good budget gaming performance.

For nVidia and ATI cards, always look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version if possible. If you don't play games at all, consider purchasing a machine that relies on the integrated graphics of its motherboard - you'll save a packet.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. Without power-hungry components installed, there's simply no need for a more powerful supply. If you plan to upgrade your system - and in particular the graphics card - then your PSU must be able to deliver enough juice to power your new components. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point. 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). Separate stereo speakers are rare in systems costing less than £500, however.


>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Chillblast Fusion Horizon: Specs

  • 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • CiT 450W PSU
  • 20in Yusmart JT209RP (0.26mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4730 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 51/17fps
  • Fear = 123fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 119
  • 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock G31M-S motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • CiT 450W PSU
  • 20in Yusmart JT209RP (0.26mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4730 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 51/17fps
  • Fear = 123fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662 sound
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 119

OUR VERDICT

Offering solid, if average, performance and a typical specification for the money, the Chillblast Fusion Horizon is hard to fault, but it fails to stand out. It’s a perfectly serviceable system, but falls short of the Mesh Matrix II in terms of value for money. It is, however, a better gaming system than either the Palicomp or Arbico, the monitor is a respectable model with a high resolution and there’s a two-year collect-and-return warranty.

Find the best price