Zoostorm 2-3411 Versatile PC review

£436
Price when reviewed

It’s easy to feel like you need to spend a four-figure sum to get a decent level of performance these days, but there’s still plenty of power in the cheapest PCs. And this particular one is a timely reminder that you can get a perfectly capable system on a budget.

Zoostorm 2-3411 Versatile PC review

As with the Philips media-centre combo, the Zoostorm is based around one of Intel’s new low-cost Pentium Dual-Core processors, in this case the 1.8GHz E2160, with just 1MB of L2 cache to keep it affordable. The new family is the first Pentium to be based on the Core micro-architecture and, at just £58, we suspect we’ll be seeing a good deal of it in budget systems.

With two 512MB sticks of RAM occupying the only two slots on the microATX motherboard, future upgrades will require you to replace rather than add to it, but for now it’s enough for most needs. Together, they helped the Zoostorm to a perfectly respectable score of 0.86 in our benchmarks.

It’s enough to have Vista Home Premium ticking over nicely, with the Aero interface aided by the presence of another new part: Nvidia’s GeForce 8500 GT graphics card. This is DirectX 10-capable and has 256MB of onboard memory, but it isn’t really a gaming card, even struggling to beat the 3D scores of the much older 7600 GT: we measured an average of 14fps at our low settings in Call of Duty 2, and changing to the TFT’s native resolution dropped that by another 2-3fps. You’ll get playable frame rates on older games at lower settings, but gaming on this PC will inevitably be basic.

But we can appreciate many of the Zoostorm’s other strengths, such as the roomy 250GB Western Digital hard disk and the media card reader, which will handle all major formats. There’s an 18x DVD writer in the front, along with a couple of USB ports placed at a 45-degree angle on the chassis top to be easily accessible whether the PC is down on the floor or up on a desk.

And while you may expect a PC at this price to scrimp on the monitor, there’s a 19in widescreen TFT from GNR with a native resolution of 1,440 x 900. It’s harsh to compare it to our A-List models – some of them would eat up the £371 cost of the Zoostorm in one bite – so instead we’re happy to view it in context and say it’s an adequate but a slightly flawed display.

Greyscale and colour gradients were smooth in our tests, and the overall tone of the monitor was warm. But we had reservations about the backlight in our sample, as the black test screen showed light bleeding at the bottom and the white screen displayed a slight yellow fog across the top edge. It’s only noticeable in these conditions, though, so if you can live with the imperfections the GNR TS902W is adequate in everyday use.

Elsewhere, three spare SATA ports and plenty of empty drive bays provide room to grow. The 300W power supply should be enough to handle at least a few more components, too, and there’s a PCI-E 1x slot and a couple of traditional PCI slots for extras such as TV tuners. If you do have problems with the Zoostorm, the one-year on-site warranty isn’t exactly luxurious, but it’s as good as you can get at this price.

We like the diminutive size of the Zoostorm 2-3411 Versatile PC, and the case itself is solid (with the exception of the retractable flap over the card slots). It’s a little noisier than we’d like, but at this price it’s easy to forgive. The older Zoostorm 2-3305 (web ID: 107313) has dropped in price to £382, but, with a 19in widescreen TFT and plenty of everyday power, we like the Zoostorm 2-3411 that little bit more.

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