Top budget desktop PCs
Aimed at the value-conscious, these budget desktops will tackle your computing needs without breaking the bank
HP Pavilion p6540f Review, by Armando Rodriguez September 23, 2010
Spacious hard drive
Great general performance
Bottom Line: HP's p6540f is a great PC for the everyday user--but if you're looking to upgrade or play games, look elsewhere.
With a price tag of $780 (as of September 3, 2010), the HP Pavilion p6540f sits at the upper threshold of the budget PC category. Offering ample performance and storage, the p6540f is a strong candidate for shoppers who want the muscle of a quad-core PC, but don't want to spend a bundle.
The HP Pavilion p6540f is configured with a 2.8GHz Phenom II 830 quad-core processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a massive 1TB hard drive. It earned a score of 115 on our WorldBench 6 test suite, bested (but only slightly) by the Gateway SX2840-01 (118) and HP's own Pavilion p6330f (118).
If you were planning on using this desktop for gaming, however, you're out of luck. The ATI Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics processor was unable to eke out playable frame rates on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark, at any resolution or setting. This is par for the course with the category, however, as even the top budget machines fail to impress on games.
Clad in HP's stock chassis, the p6540f is a bit boring--not exactly unattractive, but simply more of what we've already seen from the company. The front of the case has a pair of USB ports and the headphone and microphone jacks, hidden under a sliding panel. You'll also find an easy-access multiformat card reader on the upper rim of the machine. The power button's placement is a bit awkward: It's right on the top of the machine, and I actually managed to shut the machine off accidentally with my clipboard. That being said, I grew to appreciate its placement once the desktop was down on the floor.
On the rear are six more USB ports (for a grand total of eight). The machine also has a DVI port, a VGA port, digital-audio and 7.1-channel surround-sound inputs, and a gigabit ethernet port. The p6540f offers Wi-Fi connectivity, too, by way of an add-in 802.11n PCI card. I found its implementation a bit lacking, however: The antenna is a tepee-shaped object attached by a cord, and finding a space for it on my desk that was out of the way proved annoying.
You'll need to grab a screwdriver if you're hoping to get inside the case. Once there, though, you'll discover that there really isn't much point to digging around. As is generally the case with budget desktops, the p6540f doesn't have a lot of room in the chassis or on the motherboard for future upgrades. The jumbled wiring doesn't help matters. Since the Wi-Fi card takes up a bit of room, you'll likely have trouble squeezing in a larger graphics card, too. And you'd still have to contend with the limits of the paltry 250W power supply.
The PC does have three open PCI Express x1 slots and room for an additional hard drive. Unfortunately, the power supply blocks the media expansion bays; adding a second 5.25-inch drive would be difficult without first removing the power supply (or the front of the chassis).
Bundled with the p6540f is a standard HP two-button mouse with a scrollwheel, as well as a keyboard with playback and volume-control buttons. Personally, I find HP's stock keyboards and mice comfortable and perfect for everyday use. The package has little in the way of included software, besides the requisite cluster of trial editions. Documentation is limited to a warranty guide and an oversize quick-start guide with setup instructions.
The HP Pavilion p6540f boasts generous amounts of RAM and hard-drive space, making it great for a casual user with a lot of files. The limited upgradability is a shame, but expected from the category--ditto for the lackluster gaming performance. All told, the p6540f is a bit pricier than some of its rivals, but the multicore processor gives it a leg up over the competition, something to keep in mind if you convert plenty of videos or dabble in photo editing.