Zoostorm Stormforce 442 review: a powerful yet inflexible VR-ready gaming PC
Today we’re looking at the Zoostorm Stormforce 442, aka the 7240-5233A. This high-end gaming PC boasts a Core i7 6700 processor, a GTX 980 graphics card and an M.2 SSD, all neatly packed into an NZXT Source H440 case for £1200. Let’s see how it performs!
Summary and score
Right now, this Zoostorm gaming PC is easily capable of running the latest games at 1080p / 60fps, and can stretch to 1440p or even 4K gaming without requiring a substantial drop in detail settings. It meets VR requirements handily too.
However, the system’s inability to overclock removes a useful future-proofing tool, while the budget motherboard prevents meaningful upgrades.
This is a sensibly constructed system that will perform well now, but I’d personally recommend spending a little more to regain some flexibility and extend your gaming PC’s useful life.
Design & components
Part and parcel of choosing a pre-made system is losing some control over which components are included. Ideally your PC maker will make the best choices for you, giving you a well-balanced and future-proof system for a competitive price, but this doesn’t always work out.
With this PC, Zoostorm have selected an Intel Core i7 6700 processor (£250) cooled by an Akasa Nero 3 cooler (£30) and a Nvidia GTX 980 graphics card made by MSI (£410). These components are fairly well balanced for one another; most games are bound by your GPU so it makes sense to spend more on it, and the sizeable CPU cooler should be more than enough for the 6700. Looking at the indispensable Logical Increments, we can see the build straddles the gap between ‘Outstanding’ and ‘Excellent’.
One potential issue is the selection of a 6700 CPU instead of the more popular 6700K (£280). The missing K means that this processor can’t be overclocked; it removes a bit of potential risk and costs £30 less, but it also means you miss out on a lot of performance. This is particularly grating years down the line, where you would otherwise be able to overclock a processor (potentially upgrading its cooling before doing so) in order to remain competitive against newer CPUs and run more demanding games. However, it does allow for cheaper components to be selected elsewhere, as we’ll see below.
The motherboard used is an MSI B150 PC Mate (£70), an uncommon budget model that has attracted middling to good reviews on most online retailers (Amazon, Newegg). The motherboard’s B150 chipset doesn’t support overclocking, so it fits with 6700 processor. Oddly, the motherboard supports Crossfire, but not SLI, which makes it a poor choice for a Nvidia-based system as it removes the possibility of a later upgrade by picking up a second GPU. The motherboard also isn’t listed as supporting quad-channel RAM or frequencies higher than 2133MHz, both of which would be nice to have for future upgrades.
When it comes to RAM, we have two sticks of 8GB Crucial DDR4-2133 RAM (£50). These sticks are bare, without heatsinks, and operate at the lowest DDR4 speed. They do match the motherboard’s capabilities, but it’s weird to see unadorned green sticks of RAM in a system full of gaming-stylish red and black components. The RAM was also installed incorrectly in the system, meaning it was operating in single-channel mode. Removing one stick and reinserting it a slot further down solved this issue, but it’s disappointing to see what is a fairly elementary assembly error.
For storage, we have a Sandisk Z400 M.2 240GB solid state drive (£60) and a 3TB Western Digital Blue hard drive (£100). The M.2 SSD is bolted directly to the motherboard, a nice space-saving feature, and operates at competitive speeds (as we’ll see later).
I’ve personally found the Western Digital Blue HDD quite reliable, but it lacks speed at 5400RPM.
All of this is powered by an FSP 500W 85+ power supply (£60). This is a lesser-known brand among consumers, but it’s attracted a good reputation and is ranked by RealhardTechX as the fifth-largest PSU maker in the world. The components on the board should produce about 300~350W, so a 500W PSU is sensible.
The case used is the NZXT H440 — specifically the second revision, the H442 (£100). This is a modern full-size tower that includes a lot of nice features including top-mounted USB and audio ports, good ventilation and built in noise insulation. It’s easy to remove each side of the PC, in order to change components or clear out dust, and it’s not too heavy either. I’ve long been a fan of NZXT cases (e.g. the Phantom 530), and the H440 does nothing to shake my belief in the company.
Totalled, the components used here cost approximately £1,050 on Amazon. The system has a retail price of £1200, so you’re only paying about 15% for assembly and support, which seems quite reasonable.
We’ll use the normal suite of benchmarks here, encapsulating in-game benchmarks as well as more general purpose tests for things like CPU performance and storage speed.
The Stormforce 442 records the highest 3DMark score we’ve ever seen, and by a sizeable margin. You can see the strength of the GTX 980 GPU in the results, which almost put the more expensive G6-710 to shame. Given how well 3DMark models a gaming workload, we can expect similarly strong performance in GPU-bound titles. This is a definite confirmation that spending big on your GPU is a good strategy at the moment.
The Stormforce 442 scores a reasonably high result here, coming in after the 6700K-toting XMG U506 and Acer G6-710. Still, these are still broadly positive results that you’d expect from a gaming PC of this price range.
The Zoostorm is eclipsed by its better equipped rivals in the memory-and-CPU-dependent GeekBench test. The Zoostorm still puts up a good fight, but it can’t stand up against 6700K processors in the G6 and U506. I’d be interested to see how well a 6700K-equipped machine performs in the same test; could it be competitive against the 6700K once overclocked a bit?
The Zoostorm machine’s biggest weakness so far is definitely storage speed. The Sandisk M.2 SSD performed far below my expectations for both read and write speed, in fact recording one of our worst scores for an SSD-equipped machine. If you get the Stormforce 442 in this configuration, this should be the first thing you upgrade.
Settings: Ultra 1080p
Our first game test is Tom Clancy’s The Division, a recently released cover shooter MMO set in the frozen wastes of post-viral-outbreak NYC. The Ultra / 1080p settings are incredibly demanding, but the Stormforce 442 posts an awesome score of 57.6 fps. The difference between the 970-equipped Acer G6 and the 980-equipped Stormforce 442 is plain to see here, with the higher-grade card providing a big boost to fps. Even 1440p gaming should be possible at high detail settings, although 4K will still require detail setting sacrifices.
Settings: High 1080p
Bioshock Infinite represents the easiest workload for our test machines, but it’s still important given just how many games use the same Unreal Engine. The Zoostorm machine hits a new record of 192 fps, allowing for comfortable 4K performance at high detail settings if desired.
Metro: Last Light
Settings: High 1080p, AF 4x, normal motion blur, no SSAA, DirectX 11 tessellation or advanced PhysX
The Zoostorm Stormforce 442 performs well in the demanding Metro: Last Light benchmark, showing a comfortable ~90 fps result even at high settings. Expect 45-60 fps for 1440p or Ultra settings.
Company of Heroes 2
Settings: Medium 1080p, no unit occlusion, v-sync or anti-aliasing
The single-GPU setup of the Stormforce 442 is well suited for the Company of Heroes 2 benchmark, offering a strong result of 64 fps. That’s still a little below the Acer G6 and the XMG U506, both of which come with faster processors (and admittedly cost much more).
Total War: Rome 2
Settings: Ultra 1080p
We conclude with a look at performance in a large-scale RTS, Total War: Rome 2. The Zoostorm desktop comes incredibly close to our test rig, which at the time of the test was running a GTX 980 graphics card as well. This illustrates the weakness of the 6700 processor, which is being outperformed by a modestly overclocked 2600 that was released five years earlier. Still, both are easily comfortable scores.
I booted up Dark Souls III to tests the Zoostorm PC’s performance, and forgot to check the graphics settings. Several hours later, I noticed that I was running at 4K resolution at high settings and still getting an easily playable framerate. I didn’t experience any of the crashes that dogged other Nvidia users, either.
I was also impressed with performance in other titles, from Fallout 4 to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The powerful GTX 980 graphics card made quick work of these games, and proved noticeably faster than our current GTX-970 test rig. (We may be laughing down the road after Pascal launches, but for now the GTX 980 represents a pretty sizeable leap in performance.)
Outside of raw performance, there’s little else to report about the Zoostorm during games. It has enough ports for me to connect all my peripherals, everything ran smoothly, and I faced no issues in my brief one week review period. The computer was even relatively quiet, with the sound dampening case apparently working wonders.
I had some doubts about the effectiveness of the 6700 CPU in daily use, but I was impressed by its capabilities in quickly processing Photoshop batch tasks and other CPU-intensive applications.
In terms of connectivity the machine is also strong, with plenty of USB ports to use and a convenient front panel cluster. Wireless connectivity of any kind is not included, but that’s to be expected a B150 motherboard. If you feel that Bluetooth or Wi-Fi is necessary, then you can easily install a PCI-e or USB card at minimal expense.
The largest performance issue when it came to work was the limited drive speed. The solid state drive was the slowest SSD we’ve ever tested, and that made loading up large Photoshop files take a little too long. It’s still faster than a mechanical hard drive, but with so many machines boasting technologies like PCI-e drives and RAID, it was disappointing to see such low results.
Packaging & assembly quality
The Zoostorm PC came in a large box, well protected with foam inserts. The box contained all of the driver CDs and manuals that were presumably provided with the components used, which was nice.
A foam insert was in place around the GPU, preventing damage during shipping.
Overall the build quality was top notch, barring the rookie single-channel RAM error mentioned above. Cables were tidied away to the back of the PC, but there was still plenty of space left to add your own components if desired. Barring the green RAM sticks, the case and its internals looked pretty good too, with a consistent red and black colour scheme.
The addition of a support number in Windows and on the side of the case is also a helpful inclusion.
The Stormforce 442 is a strong gaming PC with limited upgrade potential. Its £1200 price point is largely reasonable, and it should make a fine PC for anyone that is looked for good performance without the risk or hassle of overclocking.