ZT Group Pro A7055
The ZT Group Pro A7055 strives to excel in a few key areas--speed and storage--rather than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. At the expense of multimedia power, it trades a low-end graphics card and an underwhelming speaker system for gobs of storage and solid performance. That should please business users more concerned with work than play. Better still, ZT Group backs the PC with a three-year warranty, giving it an edge over many of the other $999 systems we've reviewed.
The mostly black A7055 tower features attractive silver accents on its front bezel, but overall it's a fairly generic case. Two problems with it: you need a screwdriver to remove the side panel, and you can't easily access the 7-in-1 media reader when the tower sits on the floor. There's a protruding ridge just above the reader that blocks it from view. We also found the tower a bit noisy, owing to its two large cooling fans, though the hum is much less noticeable when you put the system under a desk.
Inside the case, you'll find neatly bundled cables and plenty of room to tinker. The ZT Group Pro A7055 provides ample expansion space: four PCI slots, three open drive bays, and one SDRAM socket. Outside the case, you'll find the usual USB 2.0 assortment: four ports in back, two in front. However, the A7055 lacks FireWire ports, so don't plan on capturing video from a camcorder without extra equipment.
If you do end up with the means to offload video, you'll have plenty of space to store it--or anything else. ZT Group supplies a generous 200GB hard drive, the largest we've seen in a $999 system. Equally generous, the A7055 comes with a pair of optical drives: aand a Sony DVD-ROM. None of our five comparison PCs came with two optical drives.
The 17-inch Cisnet CL7510 LCD monitor produced decent results, though it's certainly not the best flat-panel we've seen. Images looked a bit grainy, and the default contrast setting resulted in a dim overall appearance. However, the display improved when we manually raised the contrast, and text looked surprisingly sharp for an analog LCD. Plus, the monitor's 16ms response time means it can handle games and movies without ghosting or other distracting effects.
Speaking of games, don't expect to run Doom 3 or any other graphics-intensive titles. The Nvidia MX 4000 video card is a weak link in the A7055 chain, delivering low-end performance (although not as low as integrated graphics subsystems such as the one on the Gateway 5310S). It's an acceptable card for everyday applications, but insufficient for demanding games, video, and other multimedia. The A7055 has an AGP slot rather than the more modern PCI Express input, meaning your video-card upgrade options will be limited. ZT Group also serves up a lightweight sound system: Logitech's X-230. Although it consists of a subwoofer and two satellites, they're low-wattage, weak-sounding components--fine for basic PC audio, but definitely below the bar for music and movies.