HP Compaq X09 Gaming PC review: HP Compaq X09 Gaming PC

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Strong gaming, graphics, and application performance; stylish and functional aluminum Cooler Master case; ear-pleasing audiophile-quality speakers; excellent 17-inch LCD.

The Bad Not yet configurable; includes only standard HP warranty; onsite repair available only via resellers.

The Bottom Line Entering uncharted territory for HP, the Compaq X09 both looks and acts the part of an impressive high-end gaming system.

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7.9 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Service and support 7.0

Not content to sit back and watch competitors Dell and Gateway go after gamers' dollars, HP has launched the Compaq X09 Gaming PC. With its functional and attractive Cooler Master case, our nearly $4,000 test system looks like a high-end gaming PC. It acts like one, too, thanks to the strong performance of its 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor and GeForce FX 5950 graphics card. The only component that might give gamers pause is the bundled 17-inch LCD, though it performed well in testing. Price will be a barrier, however, since the X09 is no cheaper than Falcon and Voodoo PCs, and these companies add years of experience and unparalleled support to the equation. Though this is a strong first step for HP in the high-end gaming space, we can't recommend the X09 as a top pick until we see a price advantage over systems from the luxury boutique shops.

Editors' note: Only &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ecompusa%2Ecom" target="_blank">CompUSA will sell the first version of the machine (a second model, the X07, will be sold at Best Buy). If this pilot program meets with success, HP will begin selling the machine at hpshopping.com.

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On top of it: Instead of mounting USB and FireWire ports on the front, the Wave Master case gives them to you on top of the box.

In choosing a case for its first-ever gaming PC, HP went one step further than Dell and two steps beyond Gateway. Whereas Gateway simply borrowed its standard 700 series case for its 700X Gaming PC and Dell created an uninspired plastic case for its Dimension XPS, HP called on Cooler Master for the Compaq X09 Gaming PC. The new, brushed-aluminum Wave Master case offers touches that power users and gamers are sure to appreciate, including a removable motherboard tray and a windowed side panel, plus the effort HP made to neatly tie the wires and route them out of your way.

On the exterior, a sculpted-aluminum front cover hides access to the system's drive bays, and an innovative hatch on the top of the case hides two USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire port. In lieu of a floppy drive, we were happy to see a much more useful 7-in-1 media card reader.

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Small price to pay: You sacrifice a PCI slot for the gigantic and powerful 5950 graphics card.

The usual legacy connections adorn the back panel, along with an additional four USB 2.0 and two FireWire ports. The Asus P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard with its Intel 875P chipset supports both Gigabit Ethernet and six-channel audio. Both connections are available at the rear, but the integrated sound goes unused, thanks to the included Audigy 2 sound card.

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The cabling inside the case is pushed out of your way and into the empty drive bays.

Getting inside the 17-by-7.5-by-21-inch case (H, W, D) requires only the removal of two thumbscrews, but you'll need a Philips screwdriver for any drive swapping. The graphics card is the latest Nvidia has to offer, but it takes up a lot of room with its heatsink and cooling fan blocking a PCI slot. That leaves only two of the five PCI slots easily reachable for expansion (the sound card and modem card take up the other two slots). Two extra memory sockets are in the clear, but getting to the available 5.25-inch accessible bay or three free 3.5-inch internal bays will require deft arm movements--and might result in some adult language--because HP pushed the wires into the empty bays to keep them out of your way.

Just as the Cooler Master case gives the Compaq X09 Gaming PC the proper appearance, its components confirm its status as a top-notch gaming system. For starters, the X09 offers a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor and 1GB of fast 400MHz DDR memory on an Asus P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard with Intel's performance 875P chipset. The only more advanced Intel CPU is the 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, but it would easily push the price of our test system (including both flat-panel display and Klipsch speaker set) above the $4,000 mark. You can't upgrade the processor or change any of the other components because HP is not offering any configuration options during the X09's pilot program at CompUSA. What you see here is what you will get for now.

Without any way to customize the system before purchasing it, we were pleased to see that HP chose Nvidia's high-end GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card, which is more than capable of running any game you want. Equally high-end are the X09's two 120GB serial ATA hard drives in a &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ewebopedia%2Ecom%2FTERM%2FR%2FRAID%2Ehtml" target="_blank">RAID-0 configuration, which give you the storage you need for large video and graphics files. Plus, the small serial ATA cables help keep the interior of the case clean and cool. Two optical drives--a 4X DVD+RW drive and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive that writes to CD-R discs at a speedy 48X--cover all the bases. Stomp's RecordNow and InterVideo's WinDVD handle DVD burning and viewing chores, respectively.

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The Audigy 2 sound card comes equipped with a control panel that's accessible from the front panel. Above rests a 4X DVD+RW drive and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive.

Games and DVDs will sound superb, thanks to the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum sound card and Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 Ultra speakers. The sound card includes a control panel accessible via a 5.25-inch drive bay on the front panel that allows you to adjust the speaker levels of the audiophile-quality sound. The new ProMedia 5.1 Ultra speakers deliver 60 watts through each of the four satellites and center channel, while the subwoofer thumps out 170 watts of its own, which adds up to a plaster-peeling, neighbor-annoying 470 watts of outrageous audio.

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Though you might not agree, we'd happily play games on this 17-inch LCD.

While the ProMedia 5.1 Ultra speakers will tickle your ears, the included 17-inch Compaq FP7317 LCD will delight your eyes. At its native resolution of 1,280x1,024, the display is well suited for both video and gaming--yes, gaming--playback. In our tests, the screen exhibited only slight levels of the refresh lag that gamers detest, and games, such as the bundled Tomb Raider, Angel of Darkness, looked smooth with rich, accurate colors.




Application performance
The Compaq X09 Gaming PC uses the now-old Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor. Released just five months ago, the 3.2GHz P4 already has been eclipsed by the 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor (P4EE) as Intel's high-end offering. While not quite as powerful as the Extreme Edition, which adds an extra layer of cache, the "nonextreme" 3.2GHz P4 still has more than enough power. In our testing, the X09 performed right where we expected, with a SysMark 2002 score of 341. Judging by the Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition's performance, the P4EE clearly adds a boost. The chip boosts the price as well. Unless you need to have bragging rights as the fastest gamer on your block, the Compaq X09 Gaming PC has more than enough power for anything you can throw at it and at a much lower price than a system with a P4EE processor.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2002 rating  
SysMark 2002 Internet content creation   
SysMark 2002 office productivity   
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition (3.2GHz Intel P4 Extreme Edition, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
376 
511 
276 
Compaq X09 Gaming PC (3.2GHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
341 
480 
242 
Maingear F131 (3.2GHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
334 
470 
237 
Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1 (2.2GHz, AMD Athlon 64 FX-51, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
334 
420 
266 
ABS Ultimate M6 (2.2GHz, AMD Athlon 64 FX-51, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
327 
424 
252 

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics and gaming performance
At the top of Nvidia's graphics card hierarchy and inside the Compaq X09 Gaming PC is the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra. The 5950 GPU does not offer any new technology compared with the 5900 Ultra it replaces, just faster speeds: the core clock jumps from 450MHz to 475MHz and the memory speed climbs from 425MHz to 475MHz. We have seen very little difference in performance between the two cards, which is to say that either card will push any pixels you ask of it. Overall, the Compaq X09 Gaming PC will run the games of today and those of tomorrow.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark03 1,600x1,200, 4X antialiasing, 4X anisotropic filtering  
Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra)
2,346 
Maingear F131 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra)
2,193 
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
2,177 
Compaq X09 Gaming PC (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
2,117 
ABS Ultimate M6 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro XT)
2,105 

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark03 Pro, an industry-standard benchmark. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 9.0 (DX9) interface at a 32-bit color-depth setting and at a resolution of 1,600x1,200. We also enable 4X antialiasing and 4X anisotropic filtering via Windows' Display Properties settings. A system that does not have DX9 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has such support.

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