Chillblast's Fusion Skyline Sandy Bridge PC offers performance that would have topped our power PCs chart a couple of months ago - and it costs just £500.

Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors have redefined performance expectations across all our PC charts, including this budget category. Chillblast’s £500 Fusion Skyline is fitted with a 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-2400 chip that offers much faster performance than we’ve seen previously at this price. It scored 149 points in WorldBench 6, which would have topped our £1,001+ PC charts a couple of months ago.

The new chip includes an updated graphics processor, making the decision not to splash out on a dedicated graphics card all the more easier. Our Fear gaming test doesn’t highlight this improvement, with the Chillblast Fusion Skyline desktop PC averaging 17fps, but intensive games such as Crysis will be transformed from a jerky, unplayable mess to something more usable – provided that you keep the quality settings down, of course.

If you want a basic machine that’ll chomp its way through multimedia encoding tasks and whizz through spreadsheets, the Chillblast Fusion Skyline is near-unbeatable. Only Eclipse’s Solar comes close to it in this regard, although that PC uses a slower processor. Sacrificing a little performance here leaves room in the budget for better components elsewhere, however.

Like the other systems on test, the Chillblast Fusion Skyline desktop PC comes with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, but it has only 500GB of storage – the competition, bar one, offer one-terabyte (1TB) drives. More pleasingly, the Skyline is supplied with a pair of external speakers, and its 21.5in full-HD monitor offers a digital input.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Chillblast Fusion Skyline
  2. Eclipse Solar i523P67
  3. Arbico i3 5600 XL
  4. Dino PC Plutosaur 650
  5. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3

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Next page: Buying advice

Chillblast's Fusion Skyline Sandy Bridge PC offers performance that would have topped our power PCs chart a couple of months ago - and it costs just £500.

Budget PCs buying advice

Processor: Until recently, Intel’s Core i3 processor had the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. While you’ll still find good value in systems based on this architecture, Intel’s brand-new Sandy Bridge chips outclass them in performance.

Sandy Bridge chips also offer an improved version of Intel’s integrated graphics, providing accelerated graphics encoding and VGA and HDMI outputs.

Memory: In the post-Vista era, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.

Some CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while others can use either this or DDR2. DDR3 memory is getting cheaper and bodes well for performance. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage: Falling prices mean that 1TB is well within the budget 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 eight-speed.

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. Good-quality full-HD monitors are now available even in sub-£500 systems. 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 around double the performance of older Intel integrated solutions.

Sandy Bridge chips are even faster and offer features such as dual-monitor outputs. These machines support HD video and Windows’ Aero effects without the need for a separate graphics card.

AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 5450 is a popular choice for a budget machine. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it adds support for DirectX 11.0. Many graphics cards can also drive multiple monitors, so you can hook up your TV and display at the same time.

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

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. 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 can handle six-channel sound.

Next page: Specification and our expert verdict

Chillblast Fusion Skyline: Specs

  • 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-2400
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H67-M LE motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (Games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 17fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Chillblast speakers
  • 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: 149
  • 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-2400
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • Asus P8H67-M LE motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (Games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 17fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Chillblast speakers
  • 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: 149

OUR VERDICT

The Chillblast Fusion Skyline delivers incredible performance and high value at £500. If ultimate speed isn’t your priority, consider opting for a slower CPU but a larger monitor and higher-capacity hard drive.

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