PC Specialist Apollo Q660GTS review
No-holds-barred PCs used to be the reserve of the wealthy. But the Zoostorm 4-4423 PC stars the fastest dual-core processor and graphics card combo money can buy, and the PC Specialist Apollo Q660GTS offers a similarly racy performance for less than £1,000.
In terms of absolute speed, the Zoostorm’s 3GHz Core 2 Duo beats the Apollo’s 2.4GHz processor. But the Apollo’s Core 2 Quad Q6600 is a quad-core part, and twice the number of cores means a much better system when it comes to real-world use. Our benchmarks underline the difference – not only does the PC Specialist outperform the Zoostorm overall, but the multitasking score of 1.67 is much better than the Zoostorm’s 1.31. PC Specialist has installed 4GB of RAM and gives the option of specifying the 64-bit version of Vista for no extra charge. The more powerful processor and extra RAM told in our overall benchmark result of 1.44.
While the Zoostorm comes with few extras, the Apollo has squeezed in a dual DVB-T tuner in one of the PCI-E 1x slots. You also get a Media Center remote and, while the Apollo will never pass as an attractive or practical living-room PC, it’s a capable hub for serving media. The 500GB hard disk is a further enticement to home-entertainment buffs.
Gamers are similarly well served. The Apollo lacks the lightning-fast CPU clock speeds and top-end graphics card of the of the Zoostorm, but its 8800 GTS 320MB card is hardly old hat. It will cope with any modern game you can name: Call of Duty 2 ran at 36fps at its highest detail settings, at 1,600 x 1,200, and even Call of Juarez ran at 25fps at 1,024 x 768 and its lowest detail settings.
Everything is connected to the Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard. It’s the same model featured in the Mesh Tempest Quad Pro and, unlike the Zoostorm’s Foxconn motherboard, it’s compatible with SLI, so you won’t have to bin a perfectly good graphics card if you want to upgrade to a dual-GPU system. Even with an extra double-height card, a spare PCI slot remains accessible.
There are plenty of options when it comes to upgrading the storage. There are three spare SATA ports. There’s also an eSATA port on the backplane. There are also two internal 3.5in hard disk bays and one more with a removable faceplate for installing another 3.5in device. The rest of the system is reasonably well put together. Things aren’t as tidy as they are in the Mesh, but there are no problems with regard to airflow.
The 22in Video7 widescreen display is an excellent choice. The 1,680 x 1,050 resolution gives Windows applications plenty of room and, unlike the Zoostorm’s AOC panel, it has a DVI input. In our display tests, backlighting was evenly distributed and there were no major problems with viewing angles. Photographers are rewarded with bright, vibrant colours, and games look stunning.
The monitor includes a set of stereo speakers beneath the TFT itself, which is sufficient for Windows sounds. But the Apollo also includes a set of 5.1 Creative T6100 speakers, which add substantially to the value of the system. They’re effective at filling a spare room or office with sound, although audiophiles will quickly find their limitations.
The Apollo Q660GTS is a well- balanced system, with an excellent range of powerful components. If you’re after the last word in value, this is it. But the Mesh Tempest Quad Pro is more tempting. You’ll pay an extra £150, but the monitor is two inches larger and has a higher resolution as well. Crucially, for just under £1,000, Mesh offers longer after-sales care, going for two years’ on-site treatment where PC Specialist offers just 12 months return to base. The Apollo is a great performer, and the difference between the two is marginal, but the Mesh wins by a nose.