Like Arbico's chart-topping Elite 8595, the Chillblast Javelin is based on a 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor. And the similarities don’t end there. It also comes with a generous 4GB of DDR2 RAM, a 320GB hard drive, a 22-speed DVD burner and the popular 19in Hannspree New York monitor.

As an added extra, a set of Logitech 2.1-channel speakers (two speakers and a subwoofer) provide the Chillblast Javelin a boost in audio quality.

The reason the Chillblast Javelin is in second place is simply a question of raw speed: its WorldBench 6 score is a clear 10 points behind the Arbico Elite 8595. It’s not in the same class as the Best Buy when it comes to general performance.

Gamers, however, shouldn’t worry about the WorldBench 6 score. They’ll focus on the Chillblast Javelin’s XpertVision GeForce 9800 GT graphics card, which is much, much faster than the Arbico Elite 8595's 9500 GT. At this price point nothing can touch the Chillblast Javelin for gaming performance – its framerates were roughly triple those delivered by the Arbico and Mesh systems. It can even handle advanced titles such as Crysis, albeit at the lower end of the quality settings.

The Chillblast Javelin doesn’t look as slick as the Arbico, but the case has loads of room for expansion and comes with a set of front-facing USB ports (omitted from the latter). Inside, the ASRock Wolfdale 1333-GLAN motherboard is quite basic: there are only two memory slots and the 400W power supply may well need upgrading if you’re planning any major upgrades.

Budget desktop PCs: chart ranking (Nov 08 issue)

  1. Arbico Elite 8595
  2. Chillblast Javelin
  3. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 850
  4. Mesh Pulse 8600 GT
  5. Dell Inspiron 530/2583

>> Next page: Budget desktop PCs buying advice

Budget desktop PCs: buying advice (Nov 08 issue)

Processor: Even at this price, you can find some extremely fast processors. Among the excellent, affordable chips available, Intel’s superb Core 2 Duo E8500 is a popular choice – two of the systems in this chart feature it. Prices should drop now that the E8600 has become available.

Lower-cost alternatives include the E7000 and E4000 series of chips, although these offer weaker performance at any given clock speed.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB of RAM is almost a requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn’t recommend it. The bulk 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. And check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.

Storage:
You can never have too much storage space. Digital media content such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 320GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add later. If you’re planning to upgrade hard drives internally, make sure you’ve got enough free drive bays in your system 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 at once, get a drive that can write to DVD-R DL and +R DL at 12- and eight-speed respectively. Keep an eye out for some of the new 22-speed models.

Flat-panel: PC manufacturers have to make compromises to squeeze machines into this category and often start with the monitor. But you don’t want to spend all of your computing time looking at a poor-quality display.

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 enough at this price. Look for a monitor with a digital DVI or HDMI connector to ensure the best picture quality. Make sure the PC has one too.

Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for £300 or £400, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. Nonetheless, the best machines in this category come with decent cards.

You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps if you’re going to be playing games – 70fps or 80fps is better still. The fastest chip in this price range is the GeForce 9800 GT, but including one may require compromises elsewhere.

The GeForce 9600s are a good alternative. They can support DirectX 10.0, but they’re unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow’s DirectX 10.0 games. They’ve got plenty of pace to tackle today’s games.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price. Most motherboards have decent 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), but most people will be happy with stereo two-channel audio. You won’t necessarily get separate speakers or a sub at all.

Chillblast Javelin: Specs

  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • ASRock Wolfdale 1333-GLAN 2.0
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.238mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 9800 GT (games scores: Crysis = 51fps
  • Fear = 138fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG Free
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 112
  • 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320GB SATA
  • ASRock Wolfdale 1333-GLAN 2.0
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 19in Hannspree XM New York (0.238mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900)
  • 512MB PCI Express XpertVision nVidia GeForce 9800 GT (games scores: Crysis = 51fps
  • Fear = 138fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC662
  • 2 x Logitech S220
  • subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG Free
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 112

OUR VERDICT

Despite some minor performance issues, the Chillblast Javelin is a superb budget gaming system that’ll run rings around the competition.

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