It’s now a previous-generation chip, but the Zoostorm 64-6503’s 2.83GHz Core 2 Quad Q9550 processor is still an excellent performer. And this desktop PC costs considerably less than the i7s.

Scoring 127 points in WorldBench 6, the Zoostorm 64-6503 is capable of running most current applications at breakneck speed, with the added advantage of being able to race ahead of the dual-core systems in CPU-intensive multithreaded tasks such as encoding video.

Powered by nVidia’s flagship GeForce GTX 280 graphics card, the Zoostorm 64-6503 is capable of strong gaming performance; you should be able to play any current title, provided you don’t crank the settings too high. The HD 4870 X2 is a close rival, however, and may perform better on certain games.

The Zoostorm 64-6503’s standard case incorporates three 5.25in drive bays and a vertical sliding panel that reveals a multiformat card reader and a pair of USB connectors.

The MSI motherboard is capable of scaleable link interface (SLI) operation should you wish to add a second graphics card, and the Zoostorm 64-6503 is fitted with a high-quality 880W PSU providing ample power to the rather hungry graphics processor.

When you consider that the Zoostorm 64-6503 is one of the cheaper systems here, it’s really quite impressive. You even get a DVD burner that can read Blu-ray and HD DVD.

Unfortunately, costs have to be cut somewhere. In this case it’s the inclusion of a 22in rather than 24in monitor that lets the Zoostorm 64-6503 down. While the AMW X2210WDS is perfectly capable and offers dual inputs, it’s not exactly stylish – and most importantly, its 1,680x1,050 resolution means it won’t be able to play those Blu-ray movies at their full 1,080p resolution.

Nor will you be able to immerse yourself in their multichannel soundtracks, because only 2.1-channel speakers are provided with the Zoostorm 64-6503.

Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs (Feb 09 issue)

  1. CyberPower Gamer Infinity i7 Galaxy
  2. Mesh i7 920 HD
  3. Arbico Elite 8630 Pro
  4. Chillblast Fusion Medusa
  5. Zoostorm 64-6503

>> NEXT PAGE: Power desktop PCs buying advice

It’s now a previous-generation chip, but the Zoostorm 64-6503’s 2.83GHz Core 2 Quad Q9550 processor is still an excellent performer. And this desktop PC costs considerably less than the i7s.

Buying advice: Power desktop PCs (Feb 09 issue)

Processor: Until recently, Intel Core 2 Duo chips were your best bet. Today, quad-core processors such as the Q9550 have begun to match their performance on standard desktop applications. Systems running on four cores can deliver excellent performance at the same price as dual-core machines.

If you demand the ultimate in performance, go for one of Intel's new Core i7 CPUs. These offer a number of speed boosts, including the ability to run eight threads simultaneously, but require far more expensive motherboards and memory than previous-generation chips.

Memory: If you're spending more than £1,000 on a PC, it should come with at least 4GB of RAM. Any less will prevent a Vista PC reaching its full potential. To plan for the future, get 4GB in two modules to allow room for expansion.

A 64bit operating system will ensure you take full advantage of your memory, especially if you're using dual graphics cards - these sap RAM on 32bit systems. If you're going for an i7-based PC, you'll need to buy your chips in threes to take advantage of the triple-channel architecture. You'll also need to splash out on DDR3 rather than DDR2 chips.

Storage: Expect at least 750GB. Look for a pair of drives rather than a single larger unit; it will boost performance and prevent you losing lots of data if a drive fails. Raid setups are also an option. Consider mirroring for added security.

Cover backup with a multiformat DVD writer. Dual-layer capabilities (allowing you to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc) are useful. Make sure the drive supports DVD+R DL at eight-speed or above - some more recent drives offer twice this speed. You should also be able to get eight-speed DVD+RW.

If you want Blu-ray playback, be prepared to compromise on DVD speeds. Alternatively, buy a second DVD burner for backup.

Display: We're seeing increasing numbers of 24in displays. This is currently the magic size at which full 1,080p HD playback becomes available, so these make ideal partners for Blu-ray drives.

If this doesn't appeal, 22in displays are excellent value. Make sure you get a digital input for the best image quality and additional inputs if you want to attach other devices. An HDMI is useful for connecting to a games console.

Graphics card: For a thrilling gaming experience choose between an nVidia GeForce GTX 280 and ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2. Also look out for pre-overclocked graphics cards, which can deliver excellent value for money and are approved by chip manufacturers.

Buying a single-card solution keeps your options open for adding a second card later. It also leaves more space in your PC for sound cards or TV tuners.

Sound card and speakers: There have been improvements in onboard sound, but it's still no match for a decent sound card. You should be able to get a Creative Audigy or one of the excellent X-Fi cards.

If you only want 2.1-channel sound (two speakers and a subwoofer), make sure they're high-quality models. Most firms are bundling 5.1-channel speakers.

>> NEXT PAGE: Specifications and our expert verdict

Zoostorm 64-6503: Specs

  • 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • MSI P7N SLI Platinum
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 22in AMW X2210WDS (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1GB PCI Express Inno3D nVidia GeForce GTX 280 (games scores: Crysis [High] = 67
  • Fear = 238)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 2 x Edifier M3200
  • subwoofer
  • 6x BD-ROM
  • 3x HD DVD
  • 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • Nero
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 127
  • 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32bit
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • 1TB SATA
  • MSI P7N SLI Platinum
  • 8 x USB 2.0
  • 22in AMW X2210WDS (0.27mm pixel pitch
  • 1,680x1,050)
  • 1GB PCI Express Inno3D nVidia GeForce GTX 280 (games scores: Crysis [High] = 67
  • Fear = 238)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • 2 x Edifier M3200
  • subwoofer
  • 6x BD-ROM
  • 3x HD DVD
  • 16x/16x/4x/4x/6x/8x/16x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-ROM)
  • Nero
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 127

OUR VERDICT

The Zoostorm 64-6503 is a decent PC that will perform well with multithreaded applications. However, some corners have evidently been cut to keep the price low.

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