With £500 to spend, it’s hard to beat the Chillblast Fusion Neutron budget desktop PC. Its specification is similar to many of the PCs in this group: it runs Intel’s Core i5-2500K processor, is supplied with AOC’s 21.5in F22+ full-HD monitor, and fitted with Asus’ P8H61-M LE/USB3 motherboard. A few differences mark out the Chillblast as the best deal, however.

The Chillblast Fusion Neutron has 8GB of RAM, which is double that of three of its rivals and enough to make a noticeable difference in our performance tests. The Chillblast topped our WorldBench 6 results table with 161 points, a respectable score.

None of the PCs here can match the graphics power of CyberPower’s AMD CPU for gaming, but the Chillblast Fusion Neutron puts in a good effort. It notched up the fastest framerates among the machines running Intel solutions. This is no gaming PC, but the Chillblast displayed consistent performance and can display smooth HD video.

We were impressed by the Chillblast Fusion Neutron's EZCool A200D system case, which offers better build quality than most budget models at this price. Its design isn’t overtly gamer-bling, but it has red LED-illuminated fans, plus tool-free and perpendicular drive bays.

The motherboard uses Intel’s budget H61 chipset. It isn’t as sophisticated as the Palicomp’s Z68 version, but perfectly adequate at this price. Arguably, the Z68 chipset is wasted on a budget PC that lacks a solid-state drive (SSD) and dedicated graphics card anyhow.

A set of external speakers adds value, while the Chillblast Fusion Neutron's generous two-year collect-and-return warranty is the best in the chart.

Budget PC chart ranking

  1. 1. Chillblast Fusion Neutron
    2. CyberPower Ultra Triton
    3. Palicomp Phoenix i5 Sonar Extreme
    4. Eclipse Voyager i525H61
    5. Arbico eXcel i5-2533LE

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Budget PC buying advice

Processor: Intel’s second-generation Core i5 chips have the budget category sewn up. The 3.3GHz Core i5-2500K delivers superb performance and its integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics are more than adequate for HD multimedia and low-level gaming. The non-overclockable i5-2500 is slightly cheaper and delivers the same application performance, but it features less powerful Intel HD 2000 graphics.

‘K’ versions of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors support overclocking, but you’ll need a pricey Z68- or P67-chipset-based motherboard (the latter also requires a discrete graphics card). A Z68 chipset provides additional support for SSD caching and auto-switching graphics.

Sandy Bridge chips also provide accelerated graphics encoding, plus VGA and HDMI outputs. While integrated graphics aren’t fast enough for a true gaming PC, some titles remain playable if you lower the quality settings.

If you really want to play games, AMD’s A6 CPUs are slower in desktop applications but feature faster integrated graphics. They also support DirectX 11.0.

Memory: Expect 4GB at this price and don’t settle for less than 2GB. Most CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while older ones can also use DDR2. Check your motherboard has free slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Falling prices mean that 1TB is well within the reach of even a budget PC. You can never have too much storage space, and digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized 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.

Get a drive that can write to the DVD+/-R formats at 16-speed or better.

If you want to get 8.5GB on to one disc, get a drive that can write to dual-layer discs at 12- and eight-speed respectively.

Flat-panel: It’s the component you’ll be spending all your time looking at, but PC makers often compromise on the monitor.

Good-quality full-HD monitors are available even iat this price. Expect to find a 21.5in model, although these are often marketed as 22in screens. It’s best to get one with dual inputs and a digital connection (DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort), letting you get the best image quality available and hook up additional devices.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. However, decent graphics cards get cheaper all the time, and budget PCs can now handle games that were unthinkable a few months ago.

Intel’s Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with integrated graphics processors that deliver better performance than older Intel integrated solutions. The new Sandy Bridge chips are even faster and offer features such as dual-monitor outputs. They also support HD video without the need for a separate graphics card. AMD’s A6 chips offer even faster graphics.

The ATI Radeon HD 5450 is a popular choice for a budget PC. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it offers support for DirectX 11.0. Many graphics cards can also drive multiple monitors.

If you really want to play games, nVidia’s GeForce GT 240 will provide some extra speed. Be prepared to lower your graphics settings, however.

Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.

Chillblast Fusion Neutron: Specs

  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H61-M LE/USB3 motherboard
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 3000 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 19fps, Crysis [Low] = 14fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Chillblast speakers
  • 24x DVD-R/24x +R/12x -R DL/16x +R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -ROM
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 161
  • 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-2500K
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H61-M LE/USB3 motherboard
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 3000 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 19fps, Crysis [Low] = 14fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Chillblast speakers
  • 24x DVD-R/24x +R/12x -R DL/16x +R DL/6x -RW/8x +RW/12x -RAM/16x -ROM
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 161

OUR VERDICT

A strong overall specification and the fastest application performance in our chart make Chillblast's Fusion Neutron budget desktop PC hard to beat at £500.

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