Chillblast Fusion Thunderbird review
The chassis may put off some with its outlandish design, but this is an extremely impressive all-round system that delivers great performance throughout
Review Date: 15 Aug 2012
Reviewed By: Mike Jennings
Price when reviewed: £832 (£998 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
We’ll get the sticking point out of the way first: the Zalman Z11 Plus case Chillblast has used for its Fusion Thunderbird is an acquired taste. Its jutting, angular side-pods and pointed fins result in a chassis that’s every bit as over the top as you'd expect from a high-end gaming system, and the blue lights make it almost as bright. We can understand if you’ve made your decision based on looks alone, but we’d urge you to keep reading, since the Zalman chassis has much to recommend it.
For starters, build quality is excellent. The metal side panels and plastic accoutrements feel strong and well built, with the flimsy plastic fins at the top the only weakness. The interior is finished with the same matte-black paint as the outside, and the Fusion Thunderbird is very tidy.
The Akasa Nero 3 heatsink is large, but doesn’t impede the two free DIMMs, and although the free hard disk bays aren’t tool-less, they have sturdy side-facing caddies. The Asus P8Z77-V motherboard has two free PCI Express x16 slots, although the third slot runs at only x4 speed.
It’s all powered by a Core i5-3570K, and Chillblast has managed to eke out 4.8GHz from the silicon - the same overclock achieved by Wired2Fire in its Hellspawn Predator. The Chillblast takes the performance crown here, though, managing to best its rival in our benchmarks: the Fusion Thunderbird scored 1.18, and the Wired2Fire managed just 1.15.
Gamers will be familiar with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 670, which lines up against the AMD Radeon HD 7950 selected by Wired2Fire. In our Very High quality Crysis test its 66fps average was 3fps ahead of the Hellspawn Predator. There's not much in it when it comes to gaming performance, then, but the Chillblast is marginally quicker - a key factor when it comes to playing the latest games.
The choice of a 240GB Mushkin SSD works well, too. Its large-file write speed of 491.5MB/sec isn't far behind the 507.4MB/s we've recorded from the fastest drives, and its small-file write and read speeds of 209MB/sec and 44.2MB/sec are, again, among the best results we've seen. The accompanying 2TB Seagate Barracuda hard disk also performed well, and the rest of the specification extends to 8GB of RAM, again from Mushkin, and a Blu-ray reader.
There’s little to worry about when it comes to thermal performance or noise, either. The processor’s peak temperature of 88°C is well within Ivy Bridge’s limits, and the graphics card was even cooler, hitting a top temperature of 71°C. A maximum power draw of 306W is reasonable, and even under stress testing the Fusion Thunderbird emitted only a low hum on similar levels to the Wired2Fire.
Despite the looks, it really is a fine PC. It offers excellent performance across applications, games and storage, it’s well built and it runs quietly - and, crucially, it's £999 inc VAT price is more palatable than the Wired2Fire's £1,162 cost.
If the case isn't to your taste then the Wired2Fire is a superb if more expensive alternative but, if not, then the Chillblast Fusion Thunderbird is our new base unit of choice.
Author: Mike Jennings
Easy enough to specify another case
Chillblast offer a huge range of cases so if you don't want something that looks like a transformer under the desk it's not a big problem. Nice review (as always), Mike.
By SirRoderickSpode on 15 Aug 2012
Thanks to yet another excellent review of products, I was convinced enough to take a closer look at the Chillblast website and this machine (plus others on offer by them). I spent some days looking at all the available options and did my own comparison with computers on offer by other manufacturers. I kept coming back to the Chillblast Thunderbird, the specs were extremely good and the variety of options on offer for almost every part of this build was impressive.
When I had completed my selections, I emailed the entire thing to Chillblast, together with details of how I use my computer to give them a better idea of what the machine will be used for. A reply came a few hours later with a suggestion to change just one of my choices.
I placed my order on Thursday morning 23rd August 2012 and received instant confirmation of payment (and there are several payment options to choose from) and confirmation of my exact order.
I now await delivery after the machine has been built, expected between 7 - 10 days, and will come back with a hands-on review when I have it.
So far - impressed with the Chillblast website, the options and the upgrades available for each model (most at only a small cost), and impressed with their speedy and accurate responses.
By eliotnpt on 25 Aug 2012
User Review Following Delivery
User reviews are more subjective than magazine reviews, we like to know what the components are and what to expect from them but the main issue for users is, I believe, how does the machine work when it is installed at home? Additionally, it is also vital that the company we deal with, especially when it is beyond easy travelling distance, is reliable and trustworthy. For this latter, especially, only user comments count.
I mentioned in my earlier post that the PCPro review of this machine convinced me to look more closely at the Chillblast website. It is user-friendly and packed with information. I also read other reviews of the Fusion Thunderbird and was convinced this should be my next pc. Chillblast estimates 7-10 working days for build and delivery. There was also a two-day delay with their builds but I was notified of this by email and, as far as I am concerned, around two weeks from date of order to day of delivery for a full build and test is not too long to wait. Chillblast therefore scores highly on its excellent website and its communication with customers. I was even telephoned on the morning my machine was finished and being packed to agree a suitable delivery day (I first assumed the call was from a telesales office trying to convince me I should reclaim PPI, good job Chillblast staff have a sense of humour). More scores in favour of Chillblast here. Additionally, I was emailed with tracking details and the delivery company emailed me early on the morning of delivery to give me a one hour time slot when they would arrive (they arrived 5 minutes early). This period, from parting with a large amount of money to receiving the goods ordered is always frantic for customers, I cannot fault the service from Chillblast and it is clear they definitely deserve their new awards from PCPro.
The box was unexpectedly large and very heavy - be warned, it really needs more than one person to move it. Inside, everything was neatly (and tightly) packed, and included the motherboard box containing manuals and extras (the adapter for the monitor was not included, in spite of a leaflet saying it should be present, but no big deal, I already had one), plus the graphics card box (the graphics card was already fitted inside the pc, not delivered separately). For the last - I have no idea how many years, I have owned and used computers for the best part of 30 years - so let's say that, until I took delivery of this Chillblast-made pc, I have only ever been using "toy" computers. The Fusion Thunderbird makes everything I have owned in the past an embarrassment to mention. Build quality is exceptional, take the side off and everything is neat and tidy with only one cable left on display (coming from the main cooling system). To upgrade or add components later will be easier to do than on any other pc tower I have owned, although one point I did notice - the main cooling system is so large that it overlaps the RAM slots. I selected 8 gigs in two RAM sticks, had I chosen 4 sticks I wonder if there would have been room to add the fourth underneath the cooling system. Indeed, if ever want to add more RAM, I will need to have the cooling system removed first.
I paid a little extra for Chillblast to set the machine up for me, including all Windows updates, and so once the machine had been switched on (okay, yes, I did forget there was an on/off button on the top of the case as well as a power toggle switch on the back and it took many minutes of hair-pulling before I realised why it was not powering up) it really was ready to go. I had already backed up all my documents onto an external hard drive so the transfer was quick and painless (incredibly quick, I should add), and thanks to Windows Easy Transfer, which I used for the first time, I even retained important settings (such as for the Office suite). A few tweaks here and there and I was all set.
There was nothing wrong at all with the Thunderbird set-up as sent out to reviewers but the case really did annoy me, it looks awful and would never fit comfortably inside an office environment nor home office. Everything about the external design is so wrong, and those lights! This is a great shame because people will look at the case and make a decision solely based on that. I think a far more "traditional" default case should have been offered. Since I had already made my mind up to buy the Thunderbird, it was no major problem to change the case during the ordering process online - I selected the Cooler Master CM-690 II Lite Dominator, which turned out to be a excellent and with the option to turn off the blue lights. I do not play games often and so have no need for overclocking (I could specify this during the ordering process and it saved money by my not having to consider extra fans). I also upgraded to the Akasa Venom Voodoo Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler, the Asus P8Z77-V Pro Motherboard, 8GB of Corsair RAM, the Corsair CX 750W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified PSU, the Sound Blaster Audigy SE PCI, and added a 4 port USB card. I had already decided to pay for Chillblast's Windows optimisation service since I expected it to save me time on the day of delivery (and it sure did). The base Thunderbird Fusion is priced at £999 (inc VAT) plus £24.99 postage and packing (exc VAT). With the few upgrades I selected, the total cost, including postage and packing, came to £1280.53 (inc VAT). To be able to change some items and select upgrades, and it still only costia small amount extra, I was pleased with the total. There are also options during the selection process to reduce the total price of the base model by selecting alternative components.
And now for the crunch, what does a user experience from the Thunderbird? Almost total silence from the machine is the first thing, with the only sound so far coming from the graphics card fans during intense 3D work, and even that is quiet. The Thunderbird lives up to my expectations and PCPro were not exaggerating during their review. This machine is blisteringly fast, software opens before you have time to take a sip of coffee, files copy in an eyeblink, and it means we will spend far less time sitting doing nothing as we wait for the machine to do its job. The addition of USB 3 ports as well as USB 2 is an advantage and I found a hefty difference in response time between USB 2 and 3. The 2TB secondary HDD really will store an enormous amount of data (and I think I should have partitioned it first, but not to worry), and the SSD (my first experience of one) exceeded my expectations and, at 240GB, it makes a perfect C drive. As for gaming, I don't have the time to get involved but I did take this machine into the virtual world of Second Life knowing, from experience, that it will suck the guts out of a computer and give lag like you have never experienced. My other computer, with reasonable components for an off-the-shelf model and a nice graphics card and RAM that I added myself, handled SL at around 24 frames per second which most find very satisfactory and it makes the game playable. The Thunderbird, however, was stunning, giving over 140 fps with around 105 fps in busy areas, let down only on one simulator with only 40 fps (testing that sim with my other computer gave me just 2 fps!). Jumping from 24 fps to 140 fps? That speaks for itself and clearly the benchmarks given by PCPro can be taken as accurate for the user experience. The rest now remains in the hands of the future. I am used to off-the-shelf pc's lasting me 24-30 months before they die a sudden death. I am hoping that this Chillblast machine, costing rather more than I would normally spend for my computers, will give me many more years of service beyond the basic 2 year return to base warranty.
The PCPro review here concludes by saying the Thunderbird is their new base unit of choice. After using the machine for a few days, I agree. And, having an aesthetically pleasing case sitting beside my desk, the Thunderbird is a joy to own. I would recommend this machine, either as the base model reviewed or with upgrades that you may specify yourself. I wish only that Chillblast could change the default case and send out new pictures to magazines because, I am sure, only the external appearance will prevent customers who are in the market for a £1,000 machine from buying this - and many may not be aware they can specify changes during the order process. First appearances do count, and the first appearance of the Thunderbird is not positive.
Thank you PCPro for another excellent and honest review. And thank you Chillblast, I have already recommended your products and website to a number of friends and you can be assured they will be making future purchases from you.
By eliotnpt on 13 Sep 2012
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