What difference does £50 make? That's the question posed by this PC from Zoostorm. Ringing the tills at just £449, the Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC offers an even more appetising price tag than many of its budget-friendly rivals. But be warned: you'll have to make even bigger compromises if you want to save that cash. For some, it could be a cut too far.

The Core 2 Duo E2160 processor is aimed at the truly low-cost PC maker and, as such, you shouldn't expect too much from its performance levels. It would also have helped if Zoostorm had included more than 1GB of DDR RAM in the Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC - the bare minimum at this price point - but only the Best Buy Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT stretched to 2GB of the £500 PCs we've seen this month. Unsurprisingly, the Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC struggled to a rather poor score of 62 in our WorldBench speed tests. The Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT managed 27 points more.

The Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC's 8500 GT graphics card is a popular choice with budget PC manufacturers, although its slightly sluggish performance is likely to render its DirectX 10.0 capabilities academic. Even on the top games today, you may struggle to get close to 30fps (frames per second) without dropping detail levels.

Lastly, the Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC's 19in GNR display is solid.


The Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC is a very economical PC, but we'd splash out the extra £51 for the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT.

Chart ranking: budget PCs September 07 issue

1st place: Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT
2nd place: Arbico CD7460GT
3rd place: CyberPower £500 PCA Machine
4th place: Arbico CD6320XL (last month 1st place)
5th place: Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC

Buying advice: budget PCs as of July 07

Processor: You're not going to get the fastest processors at this price point, but many cheaper chips are powerful enough to make light work of everyday applications. The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ has only appeared in one sub-£500 PC so far, but it's made quite an impression. Otherwise, the Intel Core 2 Duo range offers plenty of speed for the money, with the E6420 proving particularly adept. The older Intel Pentium D CPUs lack performance, although they do have dual-core facilities. The 3.2GHz version isn't at all bad.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 1GB of memory is a must. You can buy more at a later date, but having at least this much is only going to become more important as applications designed for Vista appear. Check you're getting the full benefit of your memory capacity - some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will ultimately slow your PC down.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media - such as video and music files - will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can: 250GB to 320GB drives are a good investment. It helps to keep large files archived on DVD, so make sure your PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at rates of at least 16-speed. Rewrite speeds of eight-speed are good, and if you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for a drive with DVD-R DL or DVD+R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you should look for an absolute minimum of six-speed on one of the formats. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Display: To keep the price of a PC down, compromises have to be made - and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC that you're going to be spending most of your time looking at. All PCs now come with flat-panels. As for size, 19in models are the most common. Don't go for a larger screen - price constraints mean the quality simply won't be good enough. We aren't seeing any CRTs, but they're still a pretty good deal if you can find them - provided you can put up with the bulky casing, the colour depth tends to be better than on flat-panels.

Graphics cards: Given that the best graphics cards can retail for £300 or £400, fervent gamers are unlikely to be best served by a sub-£500 PC. Nonetheless, the best machines in this category generally manage to include a decent graphics card. You should be looking for PCs that can produce at least 50fps (frames per second) if you're going to be playing games regularly - 70fps or 80fps is preferable. Today's chips of choice come from the nVidia GeForce 7900 range, although the 7600 (either the GT or GS) will also do reasonably well. If you're primarily looking for a PC for work or general internet use, you can afford to compromise in this area.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it's an area in which vendors are likely to cut costs. Most motherboards have decent built-in audio chips that can handle six-channel sound, but to get the best out of them you'll need a 5.1 speaker system. Unfortunately, there's a good chance you won't get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category - indeed, you won't necessarily get a subwoofer at all.


The Zoostorm 2-3305 Versatile PC is a very economical PC, but we'd splash out the extra £51 for the Eclipse Ultimate A60N86GT.