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American Research ARC ZPC review: American Research ARC ZPC

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The Good Exceedingly small case; plenty of external expansion options.

The Bad Uses older Intel chipset; integrated graphics with no option to upgrade; slow 4,200rpm notebook hard drive.

The Bottom Line Small enough to fit in a desk drawer, the small-form-factor ZPC goes where other desktops cannot.

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7.5 Overall

Review summary

ARC (American Research Corporation) may call its ZPC a desktop, but its tiny 6.5-by-10.6-by-2.4-inch (W, D, H) case could just as easily fit into a drawer (ventilation permitting) or get lost among the hardbacks on your shelf. Further distancing it from the desktop crowd are the notebook components that ARC uses to pack a fully functional PC into the minuscule case. From retail kiosks to cluttered dorm rooms to crowded home offices, the ZPC will fit where space is at a premium.

The ZPC is small enough to hide away, but the case's attractive design--available in either black or silver--merits a visible perch. And because the ZPC is loaded with ports for external expansion, you'll want to keep it within reach of your digital devices. On the front are two USB 2.0, two FireWire, and two audio ports. Around back, there are two more USB 2.0 ports, two additional audio jacks, and two PS/2 connectors, along with Ethernet, VGA, and serial ports.

Both the 2.5-inch, 30GB hard drive and the slim DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive are notebook-style units. Both are slow, too--the hard drive spins at a poky 4,200rpm and the optical drive burns CD-Rs at a max of 8X. The ZPC uses a desktop processor and a full complement of relatively fast 333MHz DDR memory. Our $999 test system was based on a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of DDR SDRAM. There clearly isn't enough room for a dedicated graphics card inside the ZPC's tiny case, so it uses integrated Intel Extreme Graphics on the 845GV chipset.

The ZPC turned in respectable SysMark2002 benchmark scores, comparable to those of the similarly configured Dimension 2400, Dell's latest entry in its budget desktop line. The ZPC's score of 205 trailed that of the Dimension 2400 by less than 2 percent. Both PCs had nearly identical 3D graphics scores, too. The ZPC's 31.9 frames per second on Quake III reinforces the obvious: with no dedicated graphics card, it's not a gaming system.

In addition to offering a few customization options, ARC sells peripherals to go with the ZPC, including monitors, speakers, keyboards, and mice. We can't imagine anchoring the wee ZPC to a CRT, so we suggest you choose from the dozen LCDs ARC offers. Our test system didn't include peripherals, but it did come with software that supports the combo DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive: PowerDVD for playing DVDs and Nero Express for burning CDs.

ARC backs the ZPC with its standard one-year-parts, three-year-labor warranty. Onsite service is not included, nor is it an upgrade option. Calls to tech support are toll-free and available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT for as long as you own the system. The illustrated user manual is helpful, and that's good because ARC's Web site offers little beyond an e-mail address.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark2002 office-productivity rating  
Dell Dimension 2400 (2.4GHz Intel P4, 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
ARC ZPC (2.4GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
Sony VAIO PCV-RS100 (2GHz Pentium 4, 256MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
HP Pavilion 734n (2GHz Athlon XP 2400+, 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz)
eMachines T2625 (2.12GHz Athlon XP 2600+, 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz)

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
HP Pavilion 734n (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 420)
Dell Dimension 2400 (2.4GHz Intel P4, 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
ARC ZPC (2.4GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
Sony VAIO PCV-RS100 (Intel 845G/GL)
eMachines T2625 (S3 ProSavage DDR)

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.

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