The Chillblast Fusion Centaur - another quad-core PC - has a great many good points but, ultimately, we felt that the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA was marginally the better prospect for the future.

The Chillblast Fusion Centaur's performance in our WorldBench 6 speed suite was pretty much what we'd expect from a machine packing a Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor and 2GB of DDR RAM - a steady 106 points. But you could actually squeeze a little more grunt out of this system.

As it does with most of its PCs, Chillblast has built the Fusion Centaur so that the chip can be overclocked without damaging the PC. At PC Advisor, we prefer to test machines at the settings laid down by the component manufacturers, but if you want to push the performance of the Chillblast Fusion Centaur, its score could safely be boosted by a few WorldBench points.

And the Chillblast Fusion Centaur has another sparkling component up its sleeve - the 640MB version of the GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card. Nippier than its 320MB sibling, this version of the 8800 GTS flew through our gaming tests, marking out the Chillblast Fusion Centaur as a fast gaming PC. We also liked the 19in HannsG flat-panel, although a few users will prefer the extra 3in of viewing area offered by the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA's rather fine Mirai.

There are a few features that irked us - it's possible that these could have made the difference between first and second place. The Chillblast Fusion Centaur has a high-quality sound card, but its speakers aren't in the same class as the 5.1 sets offered with the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA and Arbico CD-8870GS PCs. Neither is the software bundle as impressive as those bundled with those other PCs, while the warranty isn't up to the standard laid down by the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA.

Verdict

We reckon the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA will make slightly better use of its Quad Q6600 chip in the future, but we'd quite understand if you opted for the Chillblast Fusion Centaur instead - particularly if you like the potential for overclocking.

Chart ranking: power PCs September 07 issue

1st place: Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA
2nd place: Chillblast Fusion Centaur
3rd place: Arbico CD-8870GS
4th place: Evesham Solar
5th place: CyberPower Infinity 860 (last month 4th place)

Buying advice: power PCs as of July 07

Processor: We may finally be reaching the tipping point in the balance of power between dual- and quad-core - or, more specifically, between Intel's Core 2 Duo chips and its Core 2 Quad stunners. If you want a PC that'll fly through next year's software library, the Quad Q6600 is an excellent chip to opt for. You may have to sacrifice a small amount of speed on today's applications and games but, in the long run, the gains should far outweigh the pains. Having said that, don't dismiss the E6700 just yet. This remains the fastest processor in today's environment and buying such a chip guarantees you plenty of power for the foreseeable future.

Memory: The age of the 2GB PC is upon us. If you skimp on memory now, you might find yourself having to administer a critical upgrade later on. Given the power and juggling space required by 2007's software titles, 1GB PCs won't cut it at the top level in the Vista era. Indeed, some PC makers are starting to offer 4GB. No one needs that much at the moment, but in the future, who knows?

Storage: Anything less than 250GB is now considered a small amount of storage space - as much as 400GB is available at this price. Make sure you get serial ATA cabling for rapid transfer rates. Cover backup with a multi-format DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities are a must, allowing you to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc. Make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL with a minimum of eight-speed. DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also, look for good eight-speed or 10-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats include DVD-RAM.

Display: Flat-panels vary wildly in quality - look for a 19in screen with a DVI (digital visual interface) that supports a resolution of 1,280x1,024 or more. You may even find a good 20in screen, but be careful if you're offered a 22in model at this price - the quality of image is likely to be patchy. You'll probably have to stare at the screen for long periods, so ensure that the picture quality is up to scratch. Try to get a display with a response time of 8ms or less so that the screen doesn't blur on fast-moving images.

Graphics cards: At this price point, you should be able to get something rather startling. The nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS is making great waves in its 640MB incarnation, packing in some excellent graphics features, wonderful visual quality and DirectX 10.0 support. It remains to be seen whether this card is actually powerful enough to handle the demands of DirectX 10, but this remains an excellent card for the price. The 320MB version of the 8800 GTS is also pretty decent, although you'll have to sacrifice a bit of detail.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard or integrated sound has come on in leaps and bounds, with support for 7.1 channel sound - but it's no match for a decent sound card. Hunt around and you should be able to get a card from Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want 2.1-channel speakers, make sure they're high-quality models. Most manufacturers are bundling 5.1-channel speakers. If you want audio excellence, you may be able to get a set of 7.1-channel speakers at this price.

Chillblast Fusion Centaur: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Quad Core Q6600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 320GB Sata
  • Asus P5K motherboard
  • 12 USB ports
  • 19in HannsG HW191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 640MB nVidia GeForce 8800GTS PCI Express graphics
  • Creative X-Fi XtremeAudio sound card
  • 2 x Logitech S200 speakers
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/6x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG AntiVirus
  • WorldBench 6: 106 points
  • 2.4GHz Intel Quad Core Q6600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 320GB Sata
  • Asus P5K motherboard
  • 12 USB ports
  • 19in HannsG HW191DP flat-panel (0.283mm, 1,440x900)
  • 640MB nVidia GeForce 8800GTS PCI Express graphics
  • Creative X-Fi XtremeAudio sound card
  • 2 x Logitech S200 speakers
  • subwoofer
  • DVD speeds 16x/18x/18x/6x/8x/8x/8x/12x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM)
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG AntiVirus
  • WorldBench 6: 106 points

OUR VERDICT

We reckon the Mesh Elite Quad Express-PCA will make slightly better use of its Quad Q6600 chip in the future, but we'd quite understand if you opted for the Chillblast Fusion Centaur instead - particularly if you like the potential for overclocking.

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