Palicomp's great value Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC will make an excellent choice for non-gamers who want a powerful, upgradable machine.

Palicomp's Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC uses an Intel Core i3-540 processor running at 3.06GHz. This is a popular CPU at this price, with its integrated graphics letting you build a competent PC without splashing out on a discrete graphics card.

However, Palicomp has supplemented the Core i3’s graphics capabilities with an HD 5450. This doesn’t improve things much on the gaming front – CyberPower’s integrated setup is able to match the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC’s 19fps in our Fear test – but adds multiple outputs and support for DirectX 11.0.

Inside, an ASRock motherboard allows one of the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC’s 15 USB ports to run at the high-speed USB 3.0 specification. This port will be ideal for a compatible external hard drive, although a terabyte (1TB) of storage is generously provided as standard.

The motherboard is more open to upgrades than the models we usually see in this category. As such, the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC will house two graphics cards, four sticks of RAM and a handful of add-on cards.

Housed in a Cooler Master Elite 331 case that’s often used with PCs costing two or three times this amount, the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC is smart and tidy-looking. The well-made case offers plenty of space and doesn’t have the flimsy feel of other budget units.

Palicomp supplies a stylish 21.5in AOC monitor with the Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC, while a set of stereo speakers complement this full-HD display.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3
  2. Chillblast Fusion Assassin
  3. Eclipse Solar i54r567
  4. Arbico i3-5445 XL
  5. CyberPower Infinity i3 Apollo XT

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

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Palicomp's great value Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC will make an excellent choice for non-gamers who want a powerful, upgradable machine.

Budget PCs buying advice

Processor: Intel’s Core i3 processor has the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. This issue we have examples ranging from the 2.93GHz Core i3-530 to the 3.2GHz Core i3-550. These chips have integrated graphics processors, which let vendors build a capable system at lower cost by omitting a discrete graphics card.

AMD’s Phenom II X2 550 is another good choice of CPU for a budget PC, while quad-core processors can be found from both Intel and AMD at this price point. The AMD Athlon X4 630 and Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 are good examples.

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: Expect up to 500GB at this price point, although 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.

Get a 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 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.

ATI’s HD 5670 is a popular choice for a budget PC, but you may be able to find an HD 5850 if you shop around. 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. These PCs support HD video and Windows 7’s Aero effects.

Lower-spec cards such as the HD 5450 don’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel integrated graphics, but do offer DirectX 11.0 support. Many can also drive multiple monitors, so you can hook up your TV and display at the same time.

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

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Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3: Specs

  • 3.06GHz Intel Core i3-540
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 14 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x USB 3.0
  • ASRock P55PRO/USB3 motherboard
  • 650W PowerCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 512MB Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 5450 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 19fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 126
  • 3.06GHz Intel Core i3-540
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit (choose Windows 7 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • 14 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x USB 3.0
  • ASRock P55PRO/USB3 motherboard
  • 650W PowerCool PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 512MB Powercolor ATI Radeon HD 5450 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 19fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 24x/24x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • two-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 126

OUR VERDICT

Combining a generous amount of storage with USB 3.0 technology, a discrete graphics card, a full-HD monitor and stereo speakers, the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3 budget desktop PC offers great value for non-gamers who want a powerful, upgradable PC.

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