Currently topping two of our four PC charts, Chillblast is making a real name for itself as a manufacturer of quality trail-blazers. Not that it had an easy job of it this time around. A hair's width split the Chillblast Fusion Tomcat and the Arbico 880 GTX that topped this chart last month, but the Chillblast Fusion Tomcat's fresher component line-up wins it the Best Buy award.

This closeness shouldn't detract from a machine that's a very worthy winner. It's marginally slower than the Arbico 880 GTX, notching up 115 points in our WorldBench tests compared with the Arbico 880 GTX's 116. But the Chillblast Fusion Tomcat was slightly faster in games tests - despite both machines sharing the same graphics card. The Chillblast Fusion Tomcat's sturdy component array matches an Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 with 2GB of DDR RAM. Using high-calibre Geil PC2-6400 memory the Chillblast Fusion Tomcat can hit some strong performance figures, although the future-minded might prefer double the memory allocation.

The Chillblast Fusion Tomcat's 500GB hard drive is capacious and the 22in Acer AL2216W offers solid image quality. In contrast to the £501-£750 PCs category, the £1,000 budget of these PCs leaves plenty of room for a good graphics card. The Chillblast Fusion Tomcat's GeForce 8800 GTX is one of the best there is (the 8800 Ultra is faster, but supplies are thin on the ground).

We might hope for a better sound card, and it's something of a surprise that you get to the fourth PC in the chart before you find one with a half-decent audio device. Only the fifth-placed Evesham Oxegen RD1500 actually has a good sound card. The Chillblast Fusion Tomcat's Gony speakers aren't well-known to us, but they are of considerable quality. The Samsung DVD writer is a first-rate model, adding quite stunning 12-speed and 16-speed DVD+R DL and DVD-R DL capabilities.

Chart ranking: £751-£1,000 power PCs, January 08 issue


  1. Chillblast Fusion Tomcat
  2. Arbico 880 GTX (last month 1)
  3. Eclipse Genesis SLI i685n88GTX
  4. Arbico QC2900 XT
  5. Evesham Oxegen RD1500

Verdict

The Fusion Tomcat is another polished system from Chillblast. It's not the most perfect blend of components - we'd love to see a Best Buy PC in the £751-£1,000 PCs chart that comes with an impressive sound system - but, for the time being, this is pretty much as good as it gets for computers at this price point.

Buying advice: power PCs as of January 08 issue

Processor: We may finally be reaching the tipping point in the delicate balance of power between Intel's Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad chips. If you want a PC that'll fly through next year's software library, the 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.

That said, the dual-core chips continue to rise in performance and, for today's programs, the E6850 and E6750 are the superior processors. Even in the age of the quad-core, you should get plenty of performance from these dual-core chips.

Memory: Make no mistake about it. The age of the 2GB PC as standard is here. If you skimp on memory now, you might find yourself having to administer a critical upgrade later on. Indeed, a growing number of PCs are starting to make a case for stuffing 4GB under the lid. It's too early to be specifying such an amount as standard, but the future of computing may well thrive on this extra complement of memory.

Storage: Anything less than 400GB is now considered a small amount of storage space; most manufacturers opt for 400GB or 500GB. Many users can get along very comfortably with considerably less than this, but those intending to store lots of media files should stock up.

Cover backup with a multiformat DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities are a must and you should make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL with a minimum of eight-speed. DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also, you should look out for good eight-speed or 10-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats include DVD-RAM.

Display: Flat-panels can vary wildly in quality. The safe bet here is a good 20in screen. However, there's an increasing chance you'll be offered a 22in flat-panel at this price. Bear in mind you'll probably stare at this screen for long periods so, if you're buying a relatively inexpensive 22in model, ensure you like the quality of the picture. Try to get a screen with a response time of 8ms or less so the screen doesn't blur on moving images.

Graphics card: At this price point, you should be able to get something rather startling. The ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT is excellent value for money, although you should be able to get better. Watch out for the GeForce 8800 GTX. This is the fastest graphics card bar the expensive and difficult to buy Ultras, and offers excellent graphics features and wonderful visuals, and enough firepower to make short work of DirectX 10.0. There aren't any real DirectX 10.0 titles around yet, but if anything will be able to handle the demands of DirectX 10.0, you can expect it to be an 8800 GTX or Ultra.

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 still no match for a decent sound card. You should be able to get a PC with a card from Creative's Audigy 4 family or the excellent X-Fi range. If you want only 2.1-channel speakers then you should ensure they're high-quality models - but most manufacturers these days are bundling 5.1-channel speakers.

Chillblast Fusion Tomcat: Specs

  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6850
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 500GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5K
  • 8 x USB ports
  • 22in Acer AL2216W (0.282mm pixel pitch, 1,680x1,050 max resolution @ 75Hz)
  • 768MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GTX (PCI Express)
  • onboard Realtek
  • 5 x Gony S6123
  • subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 20x/20x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG AntiVirus
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 115
  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6850
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 500GB serial ATA
  • Asus P5K
  • 8 x USB ports
  • 22in Acer AL2216W (0.282mm pixel pitch, 1,680x1,050 max resolution @ 75Hz)
  • 768MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GTX (PCI Express)
  • onboard Realtek
  • 5 x Gony S6123
  • subwoofer
  • max DVD speeds: 20x/20x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • OpenOffice
  • Ahead Nero
  • AVG AntiVirus
  • two-year collect-and-return warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 115

OUR VERDICT

The Fusion Tomcat is another polished system from Chillblast. It's not the most perfect blend of components - we'd love to see a Best Buy PC in the £751-£1,000 PCs chart that comes with an impressive sound system - but, for the time being, this is pretty much as good as it gets for computers at this price point.

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