Another impressive machine from Chillblast, only the Fusion Zodiac's comparatively high price tag keeps it locked out of the top two in our current £1,001+ desktop PCs chart. It does have its strengths though and, for pure gaming speed, the Fusion Zodiac actually surpasses the Arbico Elite 8500GTS.

Adopting the view that two cards are better than one, the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac uses its pair of 8800 GTs to conjure up some sizzling framerates. However, it’s only at a resolution of 1,920 that this PC really leaves the Arbico in the dust.

There is the small fact of the £111 premium attached to the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac. But there is a feast of components that takes in 4GB of DDR2-800 RAM and a 500GB hard drive along the way. The slightly inferior E8400 chip lags slightly behind the Arbico, but performance is still very decent.

The Chillblast Fusion Zodiac's Samsung flat-panel is searing, as is the sound system. Add the two-year warranty and clean layout, and this is a first-class system. Only the sheer value for money of the top two prevents further progress.

Our first look at the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac

Perennial chart-topper Chillblast scoops up yet another award. The Arbico Elite 8500GTS keeps the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac from the Best Buy award, but it keeps things close with a strong showing.

For pure gaming speed, the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac actually surpasses the Arbico Elite 8500GTS. Adopting the view that two cards are better than one, the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac uses a pair of 8800 GTs to conjure up some sizzling framerates. However, it’s only at a resolution of 1,920 that this PC really leaves the Arbico Elite 8500GTS in the dust.

The Chillblast Fusion Zodiac costs £111 more than the Best Buy but, at £1,160, it’s still the second-cheapest machine here. And you get plenty for your money. Both machines offer 4GB of DDR2-800 RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The Chillblast Fusion Zodiac doesn’t match the Arbico Elite 8500GTS’s E8500 processor, but manages another in the new Penryn range – the slightly inferior E8400 chip. As expected, the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac falls a little behind in our processing-speed tests.

Like Arbico, Chillblast has bundled a searing Samsung flat-panel. This time it’s the gorgeous (both in terms of looks and image quality) SM2232BW, which makes an indelible impression. The Chillblast Fusion Zodiac's sound system is startling as well, with the X-Fi XtremeAudio and Inspire T7900 speakers a match made in Creative heaven.

Chuck in a two-year warranty and clean layout and you get a first-class system. Only the sheer value for money offered by theArbico Elite 8500GTS prevents the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac from climbing to the summit of the £1,001+ PCs table.

Verdict

With a two-year warranty and clean layout, the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac is a first-class system. Only the sheer value for money of its rivals prevents further progress.

See also:

Power PCs buying advice

Buying advice: £1,001+ desktop PCs

Processor: The once all-conquering E6850 processor seems to be on its way out, overmatched by the new Penryn E8500 chip. The E8500 will register the same performance scores as the E6850 with just half the RAM.

The E8500 remains a more expensive option, however. It’ll be worth watching out for bargains on E6850 machines as manufacturers look to offload supplies.

If you’ve got one eye on the future, you might also want to consider a Core 2 Quad chip. You’ll sacrifice a little speed for the money in the short term, but you could see a serious performance boost when multithreaded software applications start hitting the stores.

Memory: No sooner had the age of the 2GB PC been ushered in than PC makers started deluging us with 4GB machines. Virtually all models over £1,000 come with such a configuration. If you want a PC that’ll be able to cope easily with programs in 2008 and beyond, 4GB of RAM is the key. For the best performance, look for high-quality memory from a reputable maker such as Corsair.

Storage: It’s hard to believe, but anything less than 500GB is now considered a small amount of storage space – most manufacturers supply somewhere between 500GB and 1 terabyte (TB). Unless you pursue a particularly gigabyte-hungry pastime such as video editing, however, you’re unlikely to need more than 400GB or 500GB. Get serial ATA cabling for rapid transfer rates.

Cover backup with a multiformat DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities (allowing you to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc) are a must, and make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL at eight-speed or more. Eight-speed DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Also, look for good eight-speed DVD+RW facilities. Other optional formats include DVD-RAM.

Display: You might think a £1,001-plus PC would be guaranteed to come with a superior flat-panel display – but you’d be mistaken. The PCs in our chart all come with high-quality 22in displays, but there are some 24in screens to be had – and these are of less consistent quality. Some of the 24in monitors out there suffer from poor colours and fuzzy images, which can be a serious problem for those with sensitive eyes. It’s a safer bet to go for a 22in screen, provided you don’t mind inferior resolution support.

Graphics card: At this price point, you should be able to get something rather startling. Of the single cards, the GeForce 8800 Ultra is the most prized acquisition. Its support for DirectX 10.x means Vista users can look forward to some impressive games titles in the future.

The Ultra also has bags of performance and a slew of sizzling features. Stocks of the Ultra are running low, however, and many manufacturers are supplying one or two 8800 GT or 8800 GTS 512 cards. These aren’t actually very far behind the Ultra (and the impressive 8800 GTX) on performance. A pair of 8800 GTs is an excellent choice for high-level gaming speed.

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 find a PC with a Creative Audigy card or, better still, one from the excellent X-Fi range. If you only want 2.1-channel speakers then make sure they’re high-quality models; most firms are bundling 5.1 speakers. If you want audio excellence you’d be best off holding out for a set of 7.1 speakers, which are becoming less common.

See also:

Chillblast Fusion Zodiac: expert review

Chillblast Fusion Zodiac: Specs

  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 4GB DDR2-800 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus P5N-E SLI
  • 6 x USB
  • 22in Samsung SM2232BW (0.282mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050 maximum resolution @75Hz)
  • 2 x 512MB PCI Express MSI nVidia GeForce 8800 GT
  • Creative SB X-Fi XtremeAudio
  • 7 x Creative Inspire T7900
  • subwoofer
  • 20x/20x/12x/12x/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: 121
  • 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 4GB DDR2-800 RAM
  • 500GB SATA
  • Asus P5N-E SLI
  • 6 x USB
  • 22in Samsung SM2232BW (0.282mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050 maximum resolution @75Hz)
  • 2 x 512MB PCI Express MSI nVidia GeForce 8800 GT
  • Creative SB X-Fi XtremeAudio
  • 7 x Creative Inspire T7900
  • subwoofer
  • 20x/20x/12x/12x/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: 121

OUR VERDICT

With a two-year warranty and clean layout, the Chillblast Fusion Zodiac is a first-class system. Only the sheer value for money of its rivals prevents further progress.

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