Intel's Core 2 Duo E8600 chip forms the basis of some very powerful, yet affordable PCs. The fastest of these this month is Chillblast's Fusion Meteor, which scores an excellent 130 points in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test.

The Chillblast Fusion Meteor is also good for gaming and, thanks to AMD's recent price cuts, we now find the Radeon HD 4870 graphics card available where we would previously have seen the 4850. This gives a significant boost to framerates of around 35 percent.

Other specs, such as a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM, are fairly standard. But the Chillblast Fusion Meteor's 450W PSU is the least powerful here and would need replacing if you plan to upgrade your graphics card. Not that there's not much room for internal expansion, with the motherboard and sound card leaving little more than a pair of memory slots available.

A set of Gigabyte stereo speakers is supplied, providing a step up from the internal monitor speakers you'll be stuck with if you buy the Eclipse or CyberPower machines. However, the Chillblast Fusion Meteor's audio still lacks the oomph you'd get from a subwoofer - as provided by the Arbico and our other Chillblast PC.

The system case is functional, although we're not convinced by its looks - the silver strip across the Chillblast Fusion Meteor's front is slightly tacky.

Chart ranking: Budget desktop PCs (August issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Meteor
  2. Eclipse Matrix i86A487
  3. CyberPower Gamer Ultra HD II
  4. Arbico CD8850 XL
  5. Chillblast Fusion Isis


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Buying advice: Budget desktop PCs (August issue)

Processor: Intel's Core 2 Duo range offers almost unbeatable performance for the price. The 3.33GHz E8600 now supersedes the E8500 as the CPU of choice, appearing in the vast majority of desktop PCs in this price category.

Alternatively, go for one of Intel's latest quad-core chips, such as the Q9300 or Q9400. These processors perform well with newer applications and games.

AMD's Phenom II X4 920 and 940 also offer excellent value for money and quad-core performance, the latter being designed for easy overclocking.

Memory: If fast processors speed up your PC, a large bank of memory stops it from slowing down. Get the most out of your CPU by including at least 4GB of RAM. You can get by with 2GB, but your PC will run more smoothly with 4GB.

Storage: Digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive; buy the biggest you can afford. A 500GB drive is a good investment. Consider using a pair of smaller drives rather than one large drive - a terabyte (1TB) is a huge amount of information to lose in one go.

Your DVD drive should write to the -R/+R formats at 18-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good; if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for fast DVD-/+R dual-layer drives. Drives that can read Blu-ray are becoming affordable, but they're still quite rare at this price.

Display: Many PC manufacturers make sacrifices here to keep costs down. But a poor monitor can ruin your computing experience - try it out before buying.

Be aware that 19in screens offer a lower resolution than 20in and 22in monitors; 22in models display larger icons. Newer 22in flat-panels in the 16:9 format are capable of displaying full-HD content at a screen resolution of 1,080p.

A DVI or HDMI connector will provide a considerably better image than a VGA port, so look for a display with a digital input; if you want to connect additional devices you'll need at least two. Finally, look for a good response rate: 8ms or below should be fast enough for games.

Graphics cards: Truly hardcore gamers are unlikely to be happy with a sub-£750 PC, but you should be able to find a decent graphics card at this price.

We test PCs on the three-year-old game Fear, and Crysis, a far more demanding title. Although 50fps is enough to make a game playable, you can set your sights higher in this category - look for 80-100fps for decent gameplay.

Current pricing will limit you in this area, but ATI's Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards deliver great performance and value for money, making even cutting-edge games playable if you drop the resolution and settings a notch. If you're not into gaming, cutting back on graphics won't harm general performance.

Power supply: A large PSU is less vital at this price point, but look for a model with a full set of SATA and PCI Express connectors to make later upgrades easier.

Sound card and speakers: You may find a budget sound card at this price, but most motherboards depend on a decent built-in audio chip that can handle six-channel sound. To get surround sound you'll need a 5.1-channel system (five speakers and a subwoofer). A 2.1-channel stereo system will be good enough for most users. A monitor's built-in speakers seldom offer a satisfying audio experience.

Chillblast Fusion Meteor: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or 64bit Vista at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock 775 4Core 1600-GLAN motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 450W Colours IT PSU
  • 22in AMW X2210WPS flat-panel monitor (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 62/26fps
  • Fear = 228fps)
  • Creative Audigy SE 7.1 sound card
  • 2 x Gigabyte speakers
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • AVG Free
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 130
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or 64bit Vista at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock 775 4Core 1600-GLAN motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 450W Colours IT PSU
  • 22in AMW X2210WPS flat-panel monitor (0.29mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 62/26fps
  • Fear = 228fps)
  • Creative Audigy SE 7.1 sound card
  • 2 x Gigabyte speakers
  • max DVD speeds: 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • AVG Free
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 130

OUR VERDICT

The Chillblast Fusion Meteor has its flaws, but remains an outstanding performer for the money. And the two-year collect-and-return warranty means you won’t get caught out by shipping charges if something goes wrong.

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