ZT Group's Home Office Desktop A5003 is a full-featured midrange PC, touting a fast 1.8GHz Athlon XP 2500+ processor, a 4X DVD-RW drive, and Logitech's excellent midrange Z-640 speakers. It performs adequately for home and office computing, although serious gamers won't find salvation in the budget-minded Nvidia FX 5200 Ultra graphics card. We're a bit disappointed with the system's appearance, as well; when did PC vendors decide that every system had to be decked out with bright lights and transparent cases? Flashy cases such as this are fine for kids looking to impress their friends, but they make less sense for a PC that's more likely to end up in your home office. Nevertheless, we doubt that you'll find a better-outfitted system for the price.
It may look calm now, but hit the power button, and a neon, blinking circus comes to town.
Thankfully, you'll find more to like when you look inside the system (after removing two thumbscrews from the side panel). Blue, rubberized cables keep the interior tidy, and excess wiring is relegated to a free 3.5-inch bay, giving you plenty of elbowroom for serious work with the two remaining 3.5-inch bays, two open 5.25-inch bays, three free PCI slots, and two free memory slots. But unless you're looking for a standalone CD-RW drive, you probably won't want to add much to the system: it already includes a 4X DVD-RW drive that can also burn CD-RWs, albeit slowly, and a 16X DVD drive.
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|The inside is well organized and gives you room to expand.|
While digital devotees will appreciate the system's six USB 2.0 ports (two are conveniently front mounted), our evaluation system didn't ship with a FireWire port. But fear not, digital-video enthusiasts: ZT Group says that it will offer a FireWire-enabled version of the Nforce-2-based Epox motherboard that came with our unit, for the same price, when the system starts shipping. As expected, the back of the system serves up an Ethernet jack in addition to all of the standard connectors.
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|Our test system was FireWire free, but ZT Group tells us that shipping versions will include such ports. It does offer two front-mounted USB 2.0 ports.|
Neovo LCDs are just cool.
Equaling the internals is an outstanding mix of peripherals. In our tests, the 15-inch AG Neovo F-15 LCD showcased great-looking text, graphics, and DVDs, and Logitech's Z-640 speakers filled the CNET Labs with powerful, clear sound and strong bass. Our only complaint is that this 15-inch LCD is less impressive than the amazing 17-inch AG Neovo monitor that ZT Group supplied us with on its Gamer Desktop Z1129.
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|Logitech's midrange Z-640 speakers offer high-end sound.|
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|Logitech's keyboard and mouse will get the job done.|
Topping off the externals, the Home Office Desktop comes with a Logitech keyboard/mouse set that, although not the most remarkable input devices we've used, are certainly good enough for day-to-day work. If you're feeling extravagant, consider investing in a wireless keyboard/mouse combination, which will untether you from your desk.
In true workhorse fashion, ZT Group also bundles the system with Windows XP Professional, Microsoft Office 2002, CyberLink's PowerDVD, and Roxio's EasyCD Creator. And for a bit of after-hours fun, ZT Group throws in a copy of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon game.
The ZT Group Home Office Desktop A5003 is the first system we've tested with an Athlon XP 2500+ processor, which is based on AMD's new Barton core. With 512K of L2 cache--double that of Thoroughbred-based Athlon CPUs--the 2500+ was able to deliver performance results consistent with AMD's True Performance Initiative (TPI). TPI is AMD's claim that you can't judge a processor's performance merely by its clock speed.
CNET Labs wholeheartedly agrees with this basic concept: there is a lot more to a CPU than just megahertz. The 2500+ in the processor's name implies that it should be capable of performance equal to that of a 2.5GHz Pentium 4, even though the 2500+ actually runs at 1.83GHz. The ZT Group Home Office Desktop's SysMark score of 225 supports this claim, which is within one percentage point of a 2.53GHz and 2.66GHz P4-based systems. The ZT Group Home Office Desktop has the power to ably handle any office task.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
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 and gaming performance
The ZT Group Home Office Desktop A5003 also gave us our first look at Nvidia's new GeForce FX 5200 Ultra, the low-end, budget card of the new GeForce FX line. It replaces the popular GeForce4 MX series, and it delivered roughly twice the performance on 3DMark than that of an MX 440 card. Its Quake III score was even more impressive, with about 2.5 times the frame rate of an MX 440. In fact, its Quake III frame rate of 207 places it in the same class as that of Nvidia's midrange Ti 4200 card. Keep in mind that Quake III is an older game; serious gamers looking to play today's latest games and those of tomorrow will want a high-end card, such as the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra or ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
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.
3D gaming performance in fps (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
AMComps PC Typhon
Windows XP Home; 1.83GHz AMD Athlon XP 2500+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB; Maxtor 6Y080L0 80GB 7,200rpm
MPC Millennia 910a Pro
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz AMD Athlon XP 2400+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB; Segate ST380021A 80GB 7,200rpm
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum
Windows XP Home; 2.53GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; Western Digital WD600BB-00CAA1 60GB 7,200rpm
Systemax Venture LP
Windows XP Professional; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Samsung SP8004H 80GB 7,200rpm
ZT Group Home Office Desktop A5003
Windows XP Professional; 1.83GHz AMD Athlon XP 2500+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra 128MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
Given how well ZT Group configures the Home Office Desktop A5003, its warranty and tech support come as a bit of a disappointment. True, the Home Office Desktop ships with an above-average, three-year parts-and-labor warranty, but phone support is limited to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday (at least it's a toll-free call), and onsite support isn't an option.
The system's dearth of documentation might also cause some problems. In the box, there are just motherboard and graphics card manuals but no system-specific documentation. Similarly, online support is fairly sparse. ZT Group's knowledge base is generic, and the FAQ page wasn't live at the time of this writing. The driver download page, however, offers useful links to a variety of device manufacturers.