Chillblast’s Fusion Summit desktop PC holds a performance and storage disadvantage in this chart, with a 3.1GHz Core i5-2400 processor and 500GB hard drive under the bonnet. However, it offers the best motherboard of the group.

Its Asus P8H67-M Pro is an H67-chipset-based motherboard. It offers SATA 6Gbps and Intel Rapid Storage Technology support, a pair of PCI Express x16 slots (one is limited to x4-speed), two PCI slots, 14 internal USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0. Importantly for tinkerers, the Chillblast Fusion Summit PC offers four RAM slots, allowing cheaper memory upgrades than our chart-toppers. There’s also legacy Pata support for copying across data from an old hard drive.

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The Chillblast Fusion Summit's two-tone silver-and-black EZCool case is reasonably attractive, but not as appealing as the Arbico eXcel i5250 MX's compact chassis. A small door at the bottom conceals USB and audio jacks, which aren’t easily accessible when stored on the floor.

AOC’s 21.5in F22+ monitor makes its third appearance in our chart, with its full-HD image nicely complemented with a pair of external stereo speakers. As with the Arbico, however, no subwoofer is supplied with the Chillblast Fusion Summit PC.

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While it isn’t as fast as the Core i5-2400, the i5-2400 powered the Chillblast Fusion Summit PC to a very respectable score of 152 points in WorldBench 6. This will be adequate for anyone in the sub-£500 market.

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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, second-generation Core i5 ‘Sandy Bridge’ chips blow them away in performance terms. Identify these chips by their four-digit model number.

‘K’ versions of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors support overclocking, but you’ll need a pricey P67-chipset-based motherboard, which itself requires a discrete graphics card. If you use a ‘K’ chip without a P67 motherboard, you won’t be able to overclock it but will be able to take advantage of its improved graphics processor over standard chips (which are themselves improved over first-gen Core processors).

Neither option should be considered fast enough for a true gaming PC, but some titles are playable. Intel lists games optimised to run on its integrated technology at tinyurl.com/b4vppc.

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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 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 12- and eight-speed respectively.

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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 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, 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. The new 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 PC. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it offers support for DirectX 11.0. Many 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.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a sound card at this price point.

Chillblast Fusion Summit: 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 Pro motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (Fear: 16fps)
  • 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: 152
  • 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 Pro motherboard
  • 500W EZCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch, 1920x1080)
  • Intel GMA HD 2000 (Fear: 16fps)
  • 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: 152

OUR VERDICT

Chillblast’s Fusion Summit has bags of upgrade potential, but the extra features provided by the motherboard won’t be as useful as a faster CPU or more storage space.

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