Palicomp's Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3 desktop PC offers discrete graphics and plenty of upgrade potential.

A tweaked version of Palicomp’s Core i3 Blast 540-22 USB3, this PC upgrades its predecessor’s 3.06GHz Core i3-540 processor to a 3.33GHz Core i3-560. Despite the on-paper speed boost, however, this tweak hasn’t translated into any real increase in overall performance for the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3.

Whereas the older Palicomp scored 123 points in WorldBench 6, the newer model managed 124. This disappointing result sees the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3 desktop PC tot up 25 points fewer than the chart-leading Chillblast.

More pleasing is Palicomp’s unique addition of a dedicated graphics card, the Radeon HD 5450. Although this card does little for gaming framerates – the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3 PC logged 19fps in comparison to the competition’s 17fps in Fear – it offers silent, fanless operation and adds multiple simultaneous outputs and support for DirectX 11.0. Of course, Sandy Bridge processors can do most of this internally.

The ASRock motherboard offers USB 3.0 support, with one of the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3's 15 ports able to drive the latest peripherals at greatly increased speeds. This is ideal for use with external hard drives, although the PC’s 1TB of internal storage means you’ll probably be using such devices only for backup.

The Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3 PC's expansion options are plentiful, with room for dual graphics cards, four sticks of RAM – memory can be added to rather than replaced – and a handful of add-in cards.

We’ve seen the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3's tidy Cooler Master Elite 330 case housing PCs costing £1,000-plus. It’s well-made, offers plenty of internal space and doesn’t have the flimsy feel associated with budget cases.

Also supplied with the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3 desktop PC is a 21.5in AOC F22+ monitor, a stylish display that’s capable of full-HD (1080p) playback.

Budget PCs chart ranking

  1. Chillblast Fusion Skyline
  2. Eclipse Solar i523P67
  3. Arbico i3 5600 XL
  4. Dino PC Plutosaur 650
  5. Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3

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Next page: Buying advice

Palicomp's Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3 desktop PC offers discrete graphics and plenty of upgrade potential.

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, Intel’s brand-new Sandy Bridge chips outclass them in performance.

Sandy Bridge chips also offer an improved version of Intel’s integrated graphics, providing accelerated graphics encoding and VGA and HDMI outputs.

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: 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 eight-speed.

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. Good-quality full-HD monitors are now 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 (DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort), 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.

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 machine. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it adds support for DirectX 11.0. Many graphics cards can also drive multiple monitors, so you can hook up your TV and display at the same time.

If you really want to play games, nVidia’s GeForce GT 240 will provide some extra speed. Be prepared to lower your graphics settings to achieve smooth gameplay, however.

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

Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3: Specs

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core i3-560
  • 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 P55 Pro/USB3 motherboard
  • 450W WinPower PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 512MB XFX ATI Radeon HD 5450 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 19fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • 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: 124
  • 3.33GHz Intel Core i3-560
  • 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 P55 Pro/USB3 motherboard
  • 450W WinPower PSU
  • 21.5in AOC F22+ (0.25mm pixel pitch
  • 1920x1080)
  • 512MB XFX ATI Radeon HD 5450 (games scores: Fear [1024x768] = 19fps)
  • onboard sound
  • 2 x Logitech S220 speakers and subwoofer
  • 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: 124

OUR VERDICT

It’s slower than every other PC here and uses what’s now considered an older-generation processor, but the Palicomp Core i3 Blast 560-22 USB3 costs some £30 less and offers discrete graphics and plenty of upgrade potential.

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