In an otherwise dependable but slightly dull PC from Zoostorm, the 4-2353's Samsung DVD writer may just tip the scales if you need the fastest write speeds.

It’s not simply the 20-speed DVD-R/+R facilities that impress on this drive; you’ll also be amazed by the stunning 16-speed DVD+R DL capabilities, which allow you to store up to 8.5GB of data in next to no time. Of course, the media isn’t fast enough to get the most out of this drive yet, but the Zoostorm 4-2353’s Samsung DVD writer is undoubtedly a product for the future.

Otherwise, the Zoostorm 4-2353 chugs happily along. It’s not disastrous in any area, although it’s not eye-catching either. The Zoostorm 4-2353's Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 is a very solid chip at this price point and the WorldBench score of 90 is just the right side of acceptable. A RAM allocation of 2GB is welcome – even if it’s matched by all of the other PCs in the chart.

We quite like the Zoostorm 4-2353's steady 19in AMW flat-panel, although the GeForce 8500 GT is the slowest graphics card in this chart. Admittedly, those shopping around for a £500 PC can hardly have the very latest games in mind – a good gaming card by itself will cost more than half the price of this entire system – but, even so, an 8500 rather than an 8600 is disappointing.

Chart ranking: Sub-£500 budget PCs, January 08 issue


  1. Arbico CD6750 XL
  2. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 550
  3. Zoostorm 4-2353
  4. Eclipse Matrix SLI A60n86GT
  5. PC Specialist Apollo Home GT (last month 4)

Verdict

The Zoostorm 4-2353 is a reliable PC that will be a tempting purchase if your priority is DVD writing.

Buying advice: budget PCs as of January 08 issue

Processor: You're not going to get the fastest processors at this price, but many of today's chips are powerful enough to make light work of standard applications. We've seem some amazing chips - the Core 2 Duo E6750 being a stand-out - but you're far more likely to see E6450 or E6550 chips. The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is also a decent option.

Don't be fooled into buying an older Intel Pentium D. They've got dual-core facilities but their performance is a long way behind today's Core 2 Duo range.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age 1GB has become a must-have. If you can get it then by all means go for more - all the PCs here are equipped with 2GB - but make sure you're not being stung by compromises elsewhere. Check you're getting the full benefit of the memory - some onboard graphics controllers need to use system memory, which will ultimately slow the system 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. Drives with a capacity of 250GB are a good investment.

Make sure the PC has a DVD burner. Look for a drive that can write to the -R/+R formats at 16-speed or better. Eight-speed rewriting is good. If you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for DVD-R DL or DVD+R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you need to 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 you're going to be spending most of your time looking at. All PCs now come with flat-panels - 19in models have become the most common size. Be very careful when going above this. The quality is unlikely to be good enough given the price constraints. We don't see many CRTs now, but they're still a pretty good deal if you can find them. 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 cream of the crop do tend to come with decent graphics cards. You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50fps (frames per second) if you're going to be playing games - 70fps or 80fps is better still.

Today's chips of choice come from the nVidia GeForce 8600 range. These cards can support DirectX 10.0 (although they're unlikely to be powerful enough to show tomorrow's DirectX 10.0 games titles in all their finery). More to the point, they have plenty of pace with which to tackle today's games.

The ATI Radeon HD 2600 cards are just as good, however, and we expect to see more of these making an appearance in the coming months.

Sound card and speakers: You're unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point, as it's an area where 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-channel system in this category - indeed, you won't necessarily get a subwoofer or speakers at all.

Zoostorm 4-2353: Specs

  • 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6550
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • ECS G33T-M2
  • 7 x USB ports
  • 19in AMW X1910WDS (0.285mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 max resolution @75Hz)
  • 256MB Inno3D nVidia GeForce 8500 GT (PCI Express)
  • onboard Realtek
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • max DVD speeds 20x/20x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6.0 score: 90
  • 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6550
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB serial ATA
  • ECS G33T-M2
  • 7 x USB ports
  • 19in AMW X1910WDS (0.285mm pixel pitch, 1,440x900 max resolution @75Hz)
  • 256MB Inno3D nVidia GeForce 8500 GT (PCI Express)
  • onboard Realtek
  • speakers built into flat-panel
  • max DVD speeds 20x/20x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year return-to-base warranty
  • WorldBench 6.0 score: 90

OUR VERDICT

The Zoostorm 4-2353 is a reliable PC that will be a tempting purchase if your priority is DVD writing.

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