Palicomp Core i3 Blast 530OC44 review

30 Aug 2010

Astonishing performance that redefines what we've come to expect from a budget PC

Price when reviewed: 
499(£500 inc VAT)
5

Intel's Core i3 processor has single-handedly raised expectations for budget PC performance to a level unrecognisable just a year ago. Having become the go-to chip for manufacturers, we're seeing more and more effort being put into overclocking as a way of adding value, culminating in this: the £425 exc VAT Palicomp's Core i3 Blast 530OC44, a PC that grabs that level, straps a rocket to it and fires it into the stratosphere.

Out of the box the Core i3-530 runs at a respectable 2.93GHz, but Palicomp has overclocked it to a mighty 4.4GHz. To do so, the stock Intel cooler just wouldn't do; instead Palicomp has used a Thermaltake ISGC-400 cooler and replaced the fan with a PWM-equipped model. This change helps keeps the CPU cool - it peaked at a safe 79 degrees C - and also helps keep the system down to a quiet hum.

But most importantly, it makes the Palicomp insanely fast. It effortlessly outclassed the A-Listed PC Specialist Aurea i3-530 Pro, which scored 1.66 with the same CPU at standard clock speeds, and went far enough to threaten far dearer PCs. An overall benchmark score of 2.56 isn't quite the fastest we've seen, but it's higher than anything else currently on the A List - even narrowly beating the £1,260 Chillblast Fusion Photo OC III, the fastest PC currently in the Enthusiast PC category.

Palicomp Core i3 Blast 530OC44

That score on a £425 PC is almost enough to open wallets on its own, but with a fair chunk of that budget swallowed up by the processor, cutbacks elsewhere are understandable. The Radeon HD 5450, for instance, is the weakest card in ATI's current range, and not really intended for gaming at all. It managed only 27fps in our Low-quality, 1,366 x 768 Crysis benchmark, but throw a 1080p video at it and it will cope just fine. It's also passively cooled which, when added to the custom CPU cooler, makes the Palicomp nice and quiet, particularly when compared to most high-powered PCs.

It all sits inside a Cooler Master Elite 330 chassis, which isn't particularly exciting or complex, but Palicomp has made the best of it. For starters, it's tidy: the PSU isn't modular and there's no separate motherboard tray, but cables are tucked neatly away behind the optical drive cages and only emerge when they're needed. Palicomp has taken care to tie various wires down, with SATA cables lashed to the side of the unpainted interior and the front panel connectors secured to the bottom.

There's plenty of room to grow, too. The ASRock P55 Pro/USB 3 motherboard provides a second PCI-Express x16 slot running at x4 speed alongside pairs of PCI Express x1 and PCI slots, and both spare DIMM sockets are easily accessible despite the large Thermaltake CPU cooler. Five SATA/300 sockets lie free, with one perpendicular to the board, and the handful of empty hard disk and optical drive bays offer tool-less entry. The backplate is good, too, with a single USB 3 port, seven more USB 2 ports, eSATA and a pair of PS/2 sockets.

Elsewhere, the specification is decent enough: 4GB of DDR3 RAM is more than enough to keep Windows 7 Home Premium ticking over, and the 1TB hard disk is large enough to cope with sizeable media collections. A DVD writer is included, too.

It's quiet, tidy and versatile, then, but the real feather in the Palicomp's cap is its combination of price and performance. Although it won't have you gaming, the Core i3 Blast 530OC44 delivers the kind of raw application power that can't be matched by systems costing three times as much. It goes straight onto the A List, and it will be hard to topple.

Details

Price ex VAT £425
Price inc VAT £499
Overall rating 5
Performance 5
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 6

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Basic specifications

Total hard disk capacity 1,000
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Screen size N/A

Processor

CPU family Intel Core i3
CPU nominal frequency 2.93GHz
CPU overclocked frequency 4.40GHz
Processor socket LGA 1156
HSF (heatsink-fan) ThermaltakeISGC-400

Motherboard

Motherboard ASRock P55 Pro/USB3
Motherboard chipset Intel P55
Conventional PCI slots free 2
Conventional PCI slots total 2
PCI-E x16 slots free 1
PCI-E x16 slots total 2
PCI-E x8 slots free 0
PCI-E x8 slots total 0
PCI-E x4 slots free 0
PCI-E x4 slots total 0
PCI-E x1 slots free 2
PCI-E x1 slots total 2
Internal SATA connectors 6
Internal SAS connectors 1
Internal PATA connectors 1
Internal floppy connectors 1
Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec

Memory

Memory type DDR3
Memory sockets free 2
Memory sockets total 4

Graphics card

Graphics card ATI Radeon HD 5450
Multiple SLI/CrossFire cards? no
3D performance setting Low
Graphics chipset ATI Radeon HD 5450
Graphics card RAM 512MB
DVI-I outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
DisplayPort outputs 0
Number of graphics cards 1

Hard disk

Hard disk Samsung SpinPoint F1
Capacity 1.00TB
Hard disk usable capacity 931GB
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Spindle speed 7,200RPM
Cache size 32MB
Hard disk 2 make and model N/A
Hard disk 2 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 formatted capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 spindle speed N/A
Hard disk 2 cache size N/A
Hard disk 3 make and model N/A
Hard disk 3 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 4 make and model N/A
Hard disk 4 nominal capacity N/A

Drives

Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical disk 2 make and model N/A
Optical disk 3 make and model N/A

Monitor

Monitor make and model N/A
Resolution screen horizontal N/A
Resolution screen vertical N/A
Resolution N/A x N/A
Pixel response time N/A
Contrast ratio N/A
Screen brightness N/A
DVI inputs N/A
HDMI inputs N/A
VGA inputs N/A
DisplayPort inputs N/A

Additional Peripherals

Speakers N/A
Speaker type N/A
Sound card N/A
Peripherals N/A

Case

Chassis Cooler Master Elite 330
Case format Full tower
Dimensions 189 x 485 x 425mm (WDH)

Free drive bays

Free front panel 5.25in bays 3

Rear ports

USB ports (downstream) 10
eSATA ports 1
PS/2 mouse port yes
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 1
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Modem no
3.5mm audio jacks 6

Front ports

Front panel USB ports 3
Front panel memory card reader yes

Mouse & Keyboard

Mouse and keyboard N/A

Operating system and software

OS family Windows 7

Noise and power

Idle power consumption 74W
Peak power consumption 105W

Performance tests

Overall application benchmark score 2.56
Office application benchmark score 2.35
2D graphics application benchmark score 2.59
Encoding application benchmark score 2.26
Multitasking application benchmark score 3.06
3D performance (crysis) low settings 27fps
3D performance setting Low