While most get by fine on 300GB or less of data storage, there are those for whom adding new hard drives to the array is a constant process. These are the BitTorrenters, the media-hoarders; and with the advent of HD content, many such people are going to find their storage requirements rising exponentially.
Enter the 7-7401 Downloader's Dream, a machine badged under PC Nextday's Zoostorm house brand. With the neat use of a RAID 0 array, this PC connects four 320GB SATA drives into a single 1.2TB drive.
That's a truly colossal amount of storage, even for the ultimate media-hoarder: it's equivalent to over 150 DVDs, 600 hours of TV-quality PVR recording, or 21,000 hours of 128Kbps MP3s - or nearly two-and-a- half years of listening time. Hard drives may have a tendency to fill up no matter how big they are, but at least with this you can run the machine for a while before getting 'out of space' messages.
There are plenty more features that demonstrate just how capable and versatile this machine is. First, it runs Windows Media Center Edition and comes with a Phillips IR remote, which makes it an excellent living-room box.
With the Dream hooked up to your wireless network via its Edimax 802.11g card, IPTV is a very real possibility - as is standard digital TV: you'll find a TwinHan DVB-TV card nestling snugly next to the wireless receiver in the PCI area.
The bassy Phillips 5.1 speakers add punch to the experience, as does the Nvidia 7600GT graphics card, which offers good performance for a budget component, and broadens the remit of the Downloader's Dream to include gaming as well as media.
The inclusion of the XA7-19i display from Xerox, hardly the highest-profile monitor manufacturer around, is a surprising yet pleasing move. There's virtually no ghosting when the frame rates rise, and the panel offers crisp, sharp and colourful images.
Journey to the core
There's no skimping on the important bits. Nestling at the heart of the system is a dual-core Pentium D 940: 3.2GHz CPU with a pair of 2MB level 2 caches isn't to be sniffed at, and makes this machine a true multi-tasker. Factor in a fairly huge 2GB of 533MHz DDR2 RAM and an overall FSB speed of 800MHz, and you're looking at a well-above-average machine in the performance stakes.
The only real hardware letdown is the plasticky Genius mouse and keyboard. If you're using the Dream as a media centre, these won't bother you - you'll be controlling things with the remote for the most part - but on a desktop system, you'll want something a bit more substantial, such as a Logitech desktop set. The inclusion of bargainbox peripherals seems a bit out of place.
However, there's no denying that the machine is a good looker. The Cooler Master Cavalier 3 chassis is a pleasure to behold, and the sturdy construction and aluminium sheen ooze power and class. It's a reasonably quiet system too, so if it's right next to your TV, you won't be bothered with the murmur of the fans.
Only one question remains: what do you really want to do with the Downloader's Dream? Is it a desktop machine that excels at media storage and offers some poke in the games department? The inclusion of a decent 3D card and 19in monitor certainly make it happy in such a role.
Or do you slot it in next to your living-room electronics to form the heart of your media centre? The colossal storage, wireless networking, 5.1 system and MCE/IR remote combination make it equally at home in this situation.
The truth is that this machine has pretty much everything you need to do any task. A cracking CPU, stacks of RAM, the current high-end of the budget 3D cards, and more storage than an Eddie Stobart 40-footer make it a real powerhouse - and, ultimately, a versatile one. If you want a machine that requires no upgrades, this is it. Al Bickham