The Zoostorm 4-2354 is the first sub-£500 quad-core PC to break into Budget PCs category. Current software doesn’t take full advantage of quad-core systems’ power, and the Zoostorm’s WorldBench 6 processing-speed score is some distance behind the leading dual-core systems. However, 105 points is still very creditable and, in the future, applications and games will take better advantage of multicore technology.

It’s also worth mentioning that in two sections of the WorldBench test, Autodesk 3DS Max 8.0 rendering and Nero 7.0 Ultra, the Zoostorm 4-2354 outperformed all of the competition in the Budget PCs category, and even beat all five of this month's Power PCs. In some areas quad-core technology already offers significant benefits.

Avid gamers need not apply, however. With graphics powered by an onboard Intel G33, most modern games will be pretty much unplayable. Audio is also handled by an onboard chipset. This leaves all the Zoostorm 4-2354's internal slots free for upgrades – although, with only a 350W power supply, it would be unwise to load up the system with anything too demanding. The case is also rather small.

Budget PCs chart ranking (May issue)


  1. Arbico CD8400 XL
  2. CyberPower Gamer Infinity 750
  3. Eclipse Matrix A64N88GS
  4. Zoostorm 4-2354
  5. Arbico CD6570 SX

Verdict

The Zoostorm 4-2354 isn’t for everyone. Depending on your requirements it’s either terrible (for games), average (for general office work) or superb (for multithreaded applications).

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Budget PCs buying advice (May 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 – and there are some excellent, affordable processors around if you can find them.

Intel’s Core 2 Duo E8400 is a stand-out component. For the first time we’ve seen a quad-core CPU in this price range: the Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600. The Athlon 64 X2 6400+ is also an option, although it currently can’t match the Intel processors on general performance.

Don’t be fooled into buying an Intel Pentium D. They have dual-core capabilities, but their performance is a long way behind the Core 2 Duo range.

Memory: In this Vista-dominated age, 2GB has almost become a requirement. You may be able to make do with 1GB, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Check you’re getting the full benefit of the memory – some onboard graphics controllers use system memory, which will ultimately slow down your system.

Storage: You can never have too much storage space. Digital media content such as video and music files will quickly fill a reasonably sized hard drive, so buy the biggest you can. A 250GB drive is a good investment, although hard-drive space is relatively easy to add at a later date.

Look for a DVD burner that can write to the –R/+R formats at 16-speed or more. If you want to copy up to 8.5GB at once, look for DVD-R DL or +R DL. Write speeds on these tend to be lower, but you should look for an absolute minimum of six-speed. Realistically, you ought to be aiming for eight-speed.

Flat-panel: Compromises have to be made to keep the price of a PC down, and the monitor is often where the sacrifices start. Just remember that this is the part of the PC you’re going to be spending most of your time looking at.

All the PCs in our charts now come with flat-panels. The most common size is 19in – be very careful when considering going above this size, because the quality is unlikely to be good enough under these price constraints. We don’t see many CRTs now, 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 on these displays tends to be better than you get 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 generally come with decent cards.

You should be looking for PCs that can produce 50 frames per second (fps) if you’re going to be playing games – 70fps or 80fps is better still. Currently, the fastest chip in this price range is the GeForce 8800GS, but including one may require compromises elsewhere.

The GeForce 8600s are a good alternative. They can support DirectX 10.0, although they’re unlikely to be powerful enough to make the most of tomorrow’s DirectX 10.x games. They have plenty of pace for today’s games.

Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price. 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, you may not be able to get anything better than a 2.1 system in this category – you won’t necessarily get a subwoofer or speakers at all.

See also:

Zoostorm 4-2354: expert review

Budget PCs chart ranking

Zoostorm 4-2354: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ECS G33T-M 1.0
  • 6 x USB
  • 19in Cibox C-1905 (0.285mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900 max resolution @75Hz)
  • onboard Intel G33 graphics
  • onboard Realtek ALC883
  • Genius SP-Q06S 2.0
  • max DVD speeds: 20x/20x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/+R DL/-ROM)
  • BullGuard Antivirus trial
  • Microsoft Office trial
  • three-year limited warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 105
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 2GB DDR RAM
  • 250GB SATA
  • ECS G33T-M 1.0
  • 6 x USB
  • 19in Cibox C-1905 (0.285mm pixel pitch
  • 1,440x900 max resolution @75Hz)
  • onboard Intel G33 graphics
  • onboard Realtek ALC883
  • Genius SP-Q06S 2.0
  • max DVD speeds: 20x/20x/12x/16x (DVD-R/+R/+R DL/-ROM)
  • BullGuard Antivirus trial
  • Microsoft Office trial
  • three-year limited warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 105

OUR VERDICT

The Zoostorm 4-2354 isn’t for everyone. Depending on your requirements it’s either terrible (for games), average (for general office work) or superb (for multithreaded applications).

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