With all five PCs in this month's chart using the same combination of processor and graphics card, you might not expect much difference between them. But you'd be wrong.

Demonstrating superb, class-leading performance, the Chillblast Fusion Apex effortlessly stands out from the crowd. This PC, based like the rest on Intel's 2.66GHz Core i7 920, achieved a convincing lead in our WorldBench 6 real-world speed test.

The Chillblast Fusion Apex's two 500GB hard drives are combined in a Raid 0 configuration. This setup provides a speed boost, but doesn't provide as much data protection as Raid 1.


A fairly standard 6GB allocation of DDR3 RAM is also supplied with the Chillblast Fusion Apex. This is matched by three of the four other machines here.

ATI's Radeon HD 4890 graphics card lets the Chillblast Fusion Apex play most 3D games at a decent resolution and with ‘High Quality' settings.

The Chillblast Fusion Apex's Acer V223WB display comes with both analogue and digital inputs and has a sleek black bezel with minimal styling. It produces good image quality and is a step up from other budget monitors.

Also finished in black, the Chillblast Fusion Apex's Cooler Master Elite 334 system case has a mesh front panel and offers a pair of front-facing USB ports. It's not as impressive-looking as the CyberPower's case, nor does it have the soundproofing of the Mesh, but it does the job without looking over the top.

This is the only system here to add a 5.1-channel (five speakers and a subwoofer) surround-sound speaker system and a Blu-ray Disc drive, making the Chillblast Fusion Apex a great choice for multimedia.


Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs (Nov 09 issue)

  1. Chillblast Fusion Apex
  2. Arbico HD 7090 Pro
  3. Mesh Elite Ice7 920 PCA
  4. Palicomp Core i7 Blitz 920-T24-4890
  5. CyberPower Gamer Infinity i7 Hercules

>> NEXT PAGE: Power desktop PCs buying advice

Power desktop PCs buying advice (Nov 09 issue)


Processor: Intel's Core i7 chip is taking this price bracket by storm. It's a match for the best dual-core systems and will outpace any previous-generation quad-core machine. However, Core i7 chips require more expensive DDR3 memory and a new motherboard design, so expect to make sacrifices elsewhere.

Dual-core CPUs are still popular at this price point, offering good performance and considerably lower system costs. Intel's E8600 offers the best performance.

Quad-core processors, such as the Q9400, are another option. These chips use the same memory and motherboard as dual-core machines and can offer huge speed advantages if you run multithreaded applications such as video encoding.

Memory: Consider 4GB as a minimum, particularly if you're running Windows Vista. If you're buying a Core i7-based system, however, expect 3GB or 6GB of RAM (such machines install memory chips in threes). A 64bit operating system will take full advantage of your RAM - but check that your software and drivers will be supported.

If you opt for more than 4GB, a 64bit operating system is essential.

Storage: Anything less than 500GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. Many users will get by with 320GB but, with prices falling, it isn't impossible to find a terabyte at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to a dual-layer format if you want to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc. Look for a minimum of eight-speed DVD+R DL; DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Try to get eight-speed DVD+RW.

At this price you should be able to find a drive that reads Blu-ray discs - note that it won't burn to Blu-ray, and DVD burning speeds will be slower.

Display: 22in flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply budget screens in order to leave more cash in the pot for other components, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video.

A screen with a response time of 8ms or less will minimise blur on fast-moving images. For image editing, contrast ratio and colour fidelity are more important.

A digital input can preserve picture quality, so think twice about displays that provide analogue inputs only.

If you're a movie fan, look for one of the new 16:9 format 22in-plus displays that offer full-HD playback. You may even be able to find a 24in example.

Graphics card: At this price point, the ATI Radeon HD 4890 is an excellent choice for gamers. You'll also find good deals on nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 (or even 280). Look for souped-up versions with faster clock speeds or additional memory. All of our Top 5 machines go for the HD 4890.

The GTX 260 and HD 4890 can be used in dual-card setups later but, to take advantage of this, your motherboard and power supply must be compatible. Ready-made dual-card solutions are available but can work out more expensive.

Power supply: The level of power you require will depend largely on the type of graphics card you expect to use. Look for at least a 500W unit at this price point, but consider 750W upwards if you have any thoughts of moving up to a dual card solution later. Overclocking will also demand a high-quality power supply.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound is no match for a sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 or X-Fi range.


>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Chillblast Fusion Apex: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit (choose XP or Vista 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 6GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0)
  • Asus P6T SE motherboard
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • WinPower 750W PSU
  • 22in Acer V223WBBD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1GB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4890 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 73/30fps
  • Fear = 263fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200 sound
  • 5 x Trust speakers
  • subwoofer
  • max disc speeds: 6x/2x/ (BD-R/-RE), 3x (HD DVD), 16x/16x (DVD-R/+R)
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 138
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit (choose XP or Vista 32bit at no extra cost)
  • 6GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0)
  • Asus P6T SE motherboard
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • WinPower 750W PSU
  • 22in Acer V223WBBD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1GB PCI Express Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 4890 (games scores: Crysis [High/Very High] = 73/30fps
  • Fear = 263fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200 sound
  • 5 x Trust speakers
  • subwoofer
  • max disc speeds: 6x/2x/ (BD-R/-RE), 3x (HD DVD), 16x/16x (DVD-R/+R)
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 138

OUR VERDICT

Chillblast's Fusion Apex demonstrates class-leading performance and will make an excellent multimedia machine.

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