The Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC's 3.06GHz Core i3 540 processor is only slightly faster than the Recommended Chillblast's 2.93GHz 530, but the difference between these two dual-core machines is a full 10 points in our WorldBench 6 speed test.

The Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC's 3.06GHz Core i3 540 processor is only slightly faster than the Recommended Chillblast's 2.93GHz 530, but the difference between these two dual-core machines is a full 10 points in our WorldBench 6 speed test.

Without adding to the price tag, Palicomp has also managed to squeeze an ATI Radeon HD 5450 graphics card with 512MB of video memory into the Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC's spec, meaning it doesn't need to rely on the Core i3 chip's integrated graphics processor. The HD 5450 is a very slow card, producing only around double the framerates of the Core i3's graphics chip and unable to play modern 3D games at their best. However, it brings with it DirectX 11.0 and triple-monitor support. It's also passively cooled, so it won't add noise to the system.

The Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC's ASRock motherboard is very similar to the Chillblast's Asus model. Two PCI Express slots are supplied, with one running at the full x16 speed and the other at x4. A second graphics card can be added in CrossFireX mode.

Unlike the Chillblast, however, the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC has only two memory slots and both are filled with the machine's 4GB allocation of DDR3 RAM. You'll need to replace rather than add to the existing modules if you plan to upgrade.

The Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC also comes with a smaller 18.5in monitor that offers a rather unimpressive 1366x768 resolution. More pleasingly, a set of stereo speakers and a subwoofer means you won't have to rely on the tinny models built into the display.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19
  2. Chillblast Fusion Vortex
  3. Eclipse Quantum a55r575
  4. CyberPower Ultra Athenna XT
  5. Arbico Phenom 5524 GT

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

The Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC's 3.06GHz Core i3 540 processor is only slightly faster than the Recommended Chillblast's 2.93GHz 530, but the difference between these two dual-core machines is a full 10 points in our WorldBench 6 speed test.

Buying advice

Processor: AMD's Phenom II X2 550 is a great choice of CPU for a budget PC. You can also now find quad-core CPUs in this price range from both AMD and Intel. The AMD Athlon X4 630 and Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 are good examples.

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 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 now, and bodes well for performance. 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 KR 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 (+/-R DL) 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.

All the PCs in our chart come with flat-panels. The most common size is 18.5in - 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.

ATI's HD 5670 is a popular choice for a budget PC, but if you shop around you may be able to find an HD 5850. This will give you better performance, but may require compromises elsewhere.

For nVidia and ATI cards, look for a 1GB rather than 512MB version. And if you don't play games, consider a PC that relies on integrated graphics.

Intel's Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with graphics processors that deliver around double the performance of older integrated solutions. Such a PC won't be up to most games, but it will support HD video and Windows 7's Aero effects.

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: Specifications and our expert verdict

Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-19: Specs

  • 3.06GHz Intel core i3 540
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock H55M motherboard
  • 650W Eye-T PSU
  • 12 x USB 2.0
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 512MB ATI Radeon HD 5450 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 13/4fps
  • Fear = 28fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 123
  • 3.06GHz Intel core i3 540
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • ASRock H55M motherboard
  • 650W Eye-T PSU
  • 12 x USB 2.0
  • 18.5in AOC 931SWL (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1366x768)
  • 512MB ATI Radeon HD 5450 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 13/4fps
  • Fear = 28fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 123

OUR VERDICT

Palicomp's Core i3 Blast 540-19 desktop PC offers the best overall performance for the non-gamer, despite having a low-resolution display.

Find the best price