Well looking at the Merida spec, the components are pretty low spec for the price.
I'm sure you could get something a little better for the money.
Look out for at least Shimano Deore/XT components Or Sram X7
Also if its only for on road use then consider no suspension as the forks do add a fair bit of weight.
Another good brand out there is Giant. Before the brand snobs start, I trialled a few bikes before buying my Reign custom & it was for me a better, more stable downhill bike than a Mongoose, Trek, & Specialized equivalent.
I also have a Kona Stuff hard tail which i got for 500 reduced from 800 at the time & again i tried it up against a Specialized & the Kona felt better.
They do tend to be heavy bikes & components are on the lower end of the scale compared to others, but the frame is rock solid!
I think the best bet is also to go for a pre season bike or get one around September as thats when the new models start coming in.
The best bet is to go & try out a few & see what suits you best.
Hope this helps