The Chillblast Fusion Tempest is a swift Windows 7 desktop PC, with an AMD chip.

It's a close battle between the top three systems this month, all of which use an AMD Phenom II X2 550 processor. The Chillblast Fusion Tempest is almost identical to the Best Buy Mesh internally, sharing the same Asus motherboard and using a similar graphics card.

However, the Chillblast Fusion Tempest uses a less expensive 512MB version of the HD 4870. The disadvantages of this aren't apparent from our test framerates, but be warned that in games such as Grand Theft Auto IV you'll lose out on bells and whistles that boost graphical quality by making use of the extra memory.

On the other hand, the Chillblast Fusion Tempest performs better in WorldBench 6, with a 115-point score for overall speed. It also comes with a slightly faster DVD burner.

The 750W PSU is impressive, although it seems a little wasted. The Chillblast Fusion Tempest has no socket for a second graphics card, so its usefulness is largely limited to extreme overclocking.

In common with the Mesh, the Chillblast Fusion Tempest doesn't allow for memory expansion beyond its supplied 4GB. This should, however, be adequate for a fair while yet.

The Chillblast Fusion Tempest's system case is reasonably smart, but the 19in monitor is far more attractive, with a tidy finish and slim bezel. Image quality is also rather good for a model that lacks a digital connection.

Chart ranking (issue 174)

  1. Mesh Matrix II 550BE PCA
  2. Chillblast Fusion Tempest
  3. Eclipse Solar a55R487
  4. Arbico CD8567 Pro
  5. RL Supplies Modula 9010

>>NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

Buying advice

Processor: AMD's Phenom II X2 550BE is a great choice of CPU for a budget PC. It's a little slower than an Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 but is priced low enough to leave you with enough money left over to spend on a decent graphics card.

The Core 2 Duo E8500 is still a good choice if you have no interest in gaming and want to spend your money on fast general-purpose performance. Low-cost alternatives, such as Intel's E7000- and E4000-series chips, offer weaker performance at any clock speed.

Memory: In the era of Vista and Windows 7, 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 up to 500GB at this price; you can never have too much storage space. Digital media content 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.

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 - and you're willing to cut costs elsewhere - you may be able to get a 22in 1080p flat-panel.

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.

Thanks to recent price reductions, we're seeing powerful Radeon HD 4870 cards appearing in budget gaming PCs.

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 integrated graphics.

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).

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Chillblast Fusion Tempest: Specs

  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 64bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-VM motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 750W CiC PSU
  • 19in Acer V193W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4870 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 54/26fps
  • Fear = 223fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 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: 115
  • 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 64bit or XP at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus M2N68-VM motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 750W CiC PSU
  • 19in Acer V193W (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4870 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 54/26fps
  • Fear = 223fps)
  • onboard sound
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 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: 115

OUR VERDICT

The Chillblast Fusion Tempest is an excellent PC and would have taken first place had it come with a 1GB graphics card.

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