Chillblast Fusion NightHawk 8800GTX review

£1799
Price when reviewed

If overclocking were a colour, it would be the new black. Hot on the heels of the pre-overclocked Vadim Cepheus G80 (see issue 148, p66) and the Labs-winning Chillblast Fusion Pro 6300 OC 2.56GHz (see issue 147, p100) is Chillblast’s latest super-powerful PC with an overclocked 3GHz Core 2 Duo and an Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card.

Those two components alone should get any gamer’s heart racing, and they crushed our standard high-end tests with 60fps in Call of Duty 2 and 96fps in Far Cry using 4x AA and 8x AF at 1,600 x 1,200. The same settings saw The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion race along at 69fps – quite amazing. But, comparing that to the scores we’ve seen from GeForce 8800s (see issue 148, p90) – our test rig is essentially the same as the NightHawk except for the overclocked CPU – the scores are near-identical: 60fps for Call of Duty 2, 96fps for Far Cry and 67fps in Oblivion. So the overclocked Core 2 Duo E6700 is actually of little benefit to high-end gaming when compared to one running at stock speeds.

Where it comes into its own is in more standard Windows-based applications. Comparing the scores from the NightHawk to those from our recent CPU Labs (see issue 146, p96), we saw the overall score leap 18% from 1.56 to 1.74. With all categories rising by roughly that amount, the overclock is justified, especially since our gruelling benchmarks (which stress a PC for a good few hours) returned test completion times that were all within the usual 0.5% tolerance. There’s no flakiness or unreliability here, even though Chillblast uses the stock Intel CPU heatsink.

Despite the fact that the Core 2 Duo E6700 is running at Pentium 4-like speeds, its heatsink fan doesn’t need to run at Pentium 4 tornado-like volumes. In fact, the NightHawk remains decidedly calm, even under the heaviest duress. This is largely due to the use of the imposing Cooler Master Stacker 830 case, with its meshed side panels and front to allow copious airflow. We’re pleased with its look too, which reminds us of the Batmobile from Batman Begins; it’s all chunky lines in matte black. There are two conveniently placed USB ports and a FireWire port near to the power button, although the two below it can’t be used as the media card reader (handling all but xD cards) steals the motherboard’s second USB header.

We suspect the motherboard was chosen for its overclocking abilities rather than features. Finding headers and devices on the board is made even trickier thanks to all that silver cabling. Adding extra RAM would be fiddly if you ever needed more than the 2GB provided, while using the free PCI or PCI Express 1x slots is only possible after a bit of patience and cable re-routing. The second PCI Express 16x slot is slightly misleading in this configuration too, as SLI isn’t supported by the Intel P965 chipset, but it could house a 4x or 1x non-graphics card. Round the back you’ll find eSATA, optical and coaxial S/PDIF, dual Gigabit Ethernet, four more USB ports and a second FireWire port.

We’re glad to see plenty of storage on board, in the form of a 10,000rpm 76GB Western Digital Raptor that acts as your system drive and a 320GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 with 16MB of cache. There’s a Serial ATA Samsung SH-S183A Super-Multi DVD writer too.

We’re also happy with the reassuring two-year warranty. But we haven’t talked about price yet, and it’s here that the NightHawk becomes a little unstuck. The A-Listed Mesh, which has a quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX6700, the same gaming performance, a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme sound card and a decent 22in TFT, costs around another £400. In this light, that’s an absolute bargain. While the NightHawk is impressive, we’d still opt for the Mesh if you can afford it, as it simply represents much better value for money.

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