You'd be hard pressed to beat the overclocked monoliths that dominate the Performance charts -- but power doesn't come cheap
HP Pavilion Elite HPE-390t
Pavilion Elite HPE-390t Review, by Nate Ralph August 6, 2010
Strong general performance
Plethora of media-connectivity options
Bottom Line: HP's Pavilion Elite HPE-390t delivers great performance in a humble, media-focused shell. Just be sure to bring your own peripherals.
The HP Pavilion Elite HPE-390t, which sits atop the company's performance PC lineup, delivers commanding speed and functionality without breaking the bank. It might not unseat the performance category's leaders, but priced at a respectable $2050 (as of August 6, 2010), it brings six-core power and robust media functionality to the average user.
The HPE-390t is outfitted with Intel's flagship performance CPU, the 3.33GHz Core i7-980X Extreme Edition processor. Storage space is a healthy 1.5TB, about average for the category. Those components, teamed up with 9GB of DDR3 RAM, helped the HPE-390t earn a fairly impressive WorldBench 6 score of 160.
Other machines have fared better in our tests. The Maingear Shift ($7000) delivered a score of 181, the Polywell X5800A3 ($4500) offered up a mark of 175, and the CyberPower Black Pearl ($4200) reached a score of 171. Though a machine's price tag isn't a factor in our reviews process, it's worth noting that HP's desktop system packs a $1000 processor for far less than these three competitors, and it doesn't cut too many corners.
Of course, there's quite a bit more to a machine than just raw performance. CyberPower's Black Pearl might cost twice as much, but it compensates for that by bundling three ATI Radeon HD5870 graphics cards, as compared to the HPE-390t's single ATI Radeon 5770 board. The results speak for themselves: On our Unreal Tournament 3 graphics benchmark, the Black Pearl delivered 193.9 frames per second (at 2560-by-1600-pixel resolution, highest quality). The HPE-390t achieved 67 fps--an impressive score in its own right, but one of the clearest signs of what that extra $2000 buys you.
The Black Pearl also sports a spacious, modular chassis. Boutique vendors using off-the-shelf parts typically choose cases with plenty of room to maneuver. Ideally offering tool-free access, these (generally large) enclosures have intricate cable-management systems, and lots of space for their owners to add drives and components over the life of the PC.
The stock HP Pavilion chassis isn't nearly as generous. It's smaller than that of a standard performance machine, which is sure to please buyers intimidated by hulking towers. The trade-off is having less space inside to tinker. The pricier performance desktops we review are generally upgrade-friendly, with cavernous interiors and a bevy of bays for components, or reservoirs for liquid-cooling apparatuses. The HPE-390t has room enough for you to upgrade your RAM or add an extra hard drive and optical drive, but the internal wiring and close quarters make any work uncomfortable at best.
Upgrade concerns aside, the HPE-390t will make a formidable complement to any demanding user's workspace, owing to its strong general performance. But HP has also outfitted the machine with a full array of media-centric connectors, making the midsize-tower system a suitable living-room PC.
On the front you'll find a multiformat card reader, plus a pair of USB ports. The PC also has a dock for HP's Pocket Media Drive. Hidden behind a panel are a third USB port, a FireWire port, composite and S-Video ports, and the microphone and headphone jacks.
The rear of the unit provides four USB ports (for a total of seven), another FireWire port, a pair of eSATA ports, and optical and analog audio inputs. The ATI Radeon 5770 GPU has a pair of DVI ports, an HDMI port, and a DisplayPort connector. You also get an infrared input port for the included remote control, and a pair of infrared output ports.
Rounding out the media functionality are composite ports, a coaxial antenna connector, and an S-Video port, courtesy of a TV-tuner card. Present as well is the requisite gigabit ethernet port, along with 802.11n Wi-Fi--a curious but welcome addition, if you're averse to cable clutter.
Media-center PCs are generally small; quiet, compact PCs and space-saving all-in-ones fit the bill, and won't intrude upon your preferred viewing space. The HPE-390t's midsize-tower chassis seems a bit bulky by comparison, but it puts its horsepower to good use.
Media playback, as expected, was flawless in our tests. The HPE-390t's Radeon 5770 had no problem churning through any of our 1080p material on our test living room's 46-inch plasma display. More important, though, the machine is fairly quiet: Fans and components whirr audibly as the system is creeping to life, but once Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) is up and running, the PC is all but undectectable.
The bundled keyboard and mouse are wireless, a feature that's always appreciated. Their implementation was a bit awkward, however. In lieu of a dongle, you get a puck-shaped receiver on a cable. The connectivity range was fine, but a dongle (or built-in Bluetooth connectivity, as we've seen on some media-centric all-in-ones) would have cut down on some of the cable clutter. Another concern: The devices consistently needed a bit of time to reconnect after entering a battery-saving standby mode. Though they were never unresponsive for more than a few seconds, it was still an annoyance.
The media remote bundled with the PC was also a little disappointing. Its IR receiver requires a fair degree of precision--stray too far from the ideal pointing angle, and it fails to register. You can imagine how bothersome that might be when you're parked on the couch.
Nitpicks aside, HP's Pavilion Elite HPE-390t is a great option for anyone who wants raw power but finds the performance category's pricey behemoths off-putting. It managed to eke out strong general and gaming scores in our tests, and it's nestled at a comfortable (for the category) price point. It may not top the charts, but at just over $2000 in a class whose leaders cost at least double that amount, it doesn't really need to.
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