The decidedly retro appearance of the Chillblast Fusion Excalibur sets it apart from the competition. Its round power and reset switches are somewhat reminiscent of an old push-button TV set, and the large silver bezel of the 22in Digimate monitor continues this trend. It's a cohesive look, but may not suit all tastes.

Another system based on Intel's Core i7 920, the Chillblast Fusion Excalibur whizzed through WorldBench 6 with 120 points. This is a good result, even if our Best Buy machine left it in the dust with a 13-point lead.

The Chillblast Fusion Excalibur's gaming performance depends on an nVidia GeForce 9800 GTX+ graphics card. This card is less powerful than the GTX 260 found in the Palicomp and Eclipse, but it's conversely considerably faster than the CyberPower's HD 4850.

A 3GB allocation of DDR3 RAM is fairly standard for entry-level Core i7-based systems; three slots remain free for future upgrades, should you need them. This is one advantage the Chillblast Fusion Excalibur holds over the Best Buy Arbico, which offers only four memory slots. The Excalibur's 600W PSU is also more than adequate, given the lower power requirements of its graphics card.

Of all the PCs in this price category, the Chillblast Fusion Excalibur is alone in offering a set of 5.1-channel surround-sound speakers - that's five speakers and a subwoofer. You don't get the Blu-ray drive provided with the Palicomp Phoenix, however.

Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs

  1. Arbico Elite i748 XL
  2. Eclipse Galaxy X58n260
  3. Palicomp Phoenix E86C-22
  4. CyberPower Gamer Ultra HD II
  5. Chillblast Fusion Excalibur

>> NEXT PAGE: Power desktop PCs buying advice

Buying advice: Power desktop PCs (May 09 issue)

Processor: Taking this price bracket by storm is Intel's new Core i7 chip. This is a match for the best dual-core systems and will outpace any previous-gen 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 very popular at this price point, offering good performance and considerably lower overall system costs. Intel's competitively priced E8600 offers the best performance.

Quad-core processors, such as the Q9400, are also available at this price. These chips use the same memory and motherboard as dual-core PCs and can offer huge speed advantages if you run multithreaded applications.

Memory: Generally speaking, you should consider 4GB as a minimum, particularly if you're running Vista. But if you're buying a Core i7-based PC, expect 3GB. These install memory chips in threes.

A 64bit operating system (OS) 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 OS is essential.

Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. Many users will get by with 320GB but, with prices continuing to fall, it isn't impossible to find a terabyte of storage 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. Also 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, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video. Try before you buy to ensure you can put up with the quality.

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.

Graphics card: At this price point, it's a pitched battle between nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 and the ATI Radeon HD 4870. If you can find a GTX 280, that's even better. When buying a GTX 260, make sure it's the newer 216-core type.

The GTX 260 and HD 4870 can be used in dual-card setups later on. But to take advantage of this, your motherboard and PSU will need to be compatible with this mode of operation.

It's possible to go for a ready-made dual-card setup, but this can work out more expensive in the long run.

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 PSU 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 powerful, high-quality PSU.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound is no match for a decent sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want a 2.1-channel setup, make sure they're high-quality models.

Chillblast Fusion Excalibur: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 3GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • Asus P6T
  • 600W Thermaltake W0103RU PSU
  • 22in Digimate L-2231WD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sparkle nVidia GeForce 9800 GTX+ (game scores: Crysis = 67fps (High), 21fps (Very High)
  • Fear = 172fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • 5 x Trust speakers and subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • AVG Free
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 120
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit (choose XP or Vista 64bit at no extra cost)
  • 3GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • Asus P6T
  • 600W Thermaltake W0103RU PSU
  • 22in Digimate L-2231WD (0.28mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 512MB PCI Express Sparkle nVidia GeForce 9800 GTX+ (game scores: Crysis = 67fps (High), 21fps (Very High)
  • Fear = 172fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888/1200
  • 5 x Trust speakers and subwoofer
  • 22x/22x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Nero
  • AVG Free
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 120

OUR VERDICT

The Chillblast Fusion Excalibur is a decent system overall, although we feel that someone willing to splash out on a Core i7 PC will want a more powerful graphics card than the one provided here.

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