Realization of practical multi-kilowatt Nd:garnet lasers will require the scale-up of crystal dimensions as well as more powerful pumping sources. A high average power zigzag slab crystal amplifier testing facility has been established at LLNL which employs two 100 kWe vortex stabilized arc lamps, cooled reflectors and a cooled, spectrally filtered, crystal slab mounting fixture. The operational characteristics of the first crystal laser to be tested in this setup, a Nd:GGG zigzag oscillator, are presented. A Nd:GGG crystal of dimensions 18x7x0.5 cm3, doped at 2x1020 cm-3 Nd3+ atomic density, was pumped by up to 40 kW of filtered argon line emission. A small-signal single pass gain (losses excluded) of 1.09 was measured with a probe laser when the DC input to the lamps was 43 kWe. Our power supply was then modified to operate in a pulsed mode and provided one to three milliseconds pulses at 120 Hz. An average optical output power of 490 watts was obtained at a lamp input power of 93 kWe in an unoptimized resonator. The laser output power declined after a few tens of seconds since the slab tips were not properly cooled. A birdhouse specular lamp reflector and a contoured diffuse reflector were tested; in both cases the pump illuminated crystal surface was smaller than the total crystal face area. Fluorescence imaging of the zigzag amplifier's output aperture registered a smoother, more uniform pumping profile when the diffuse reflector was used. Uniformity of pumping results in decreased resonator loss and yields higher laser output power. Thermo-optic distortions observed in these preliminary tests are analyzed with the aid of computer simulations of the thermal fields, stresses, and surface displacements of our crystal slab.