HP is not generally known for being first out of the gate with new technology, but to its credit, the company was right there on launch day with a system built around Intel's new Core 2 Duo CPU. The HP Pavilion d4600y sticks a Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU inside a system that retains many of the special features we've liked in previous Pavilion systems, including HP's Personal Media Drives for removable storage and its LightScribe DVD burner. At $2,000 (without a monitor or speakers), it's not the cheapest Core 2 Duo system we've seen, and it's far from the most expensive, putting it in the same midrange ballpark as the . While we like the XPS 410's fit and finish better, not to mention its impressive configuration options, HP's proprietary extras give the Pavilion d4600y the edge, if HP offers the parts you want. It's a good choice for mainstream users who want a name-brand, powerful system, and it will ably make the leap to Windows Vista next year.
The HP Pavilion d4600y is housed in a dull, two-tone, gray chassis that won't win any design awards; the system isn't even as nice-looking as HP's uninspired but inoffensive Pavilion Media Center systems. It's cheap-feeling, especially compared to the solidly constructed Dell, but at least it won't look painfully out of place in most home office or den setups. The front panel features twin optical drives--a DVD-ROM drive and a DVD burner--along with a multiformat media card reader, S-Video and composite-video outs, and, more interestingly, a slot for HP's Personal Media Drive.
The Personal Media Drive is a portable plug-and-play hard drive from HP that connects via the built-in, oval-shape slot common to many of HP's Pavilion systems. The drives also include a USB 2.0 connection for use with other PCs. Our review unit came with a 160GB model (a $150 upgrade); you can also find them on HP's site up at up to 400GB for $350. The only real knock we have against these drives is that they're a bit on the bulky side for our tastes. But that's the trouble with having a proprietary slot in your PCs: once you commit to the form factor, it's hard to change it down the road when consumers expect a more pocket-size device.
Inside, the Pavilion d4600y offers some room for expansion, but less than we'd like to see. There's a single x16 PCI Express slot, currently filled with a midrange 256MB ATI Radeon X1600 XT graphics card, along with four PCI slots and room for two additional optical drives and two additional hard drives in addition to the twin 250GB drives (in a RAID 0 array) the system comes with. The case can also accommodate one additional optical drive and one additional 3.5-inch front-accessible drive.
Like the Dell XPS 410, the HP Pavilion d4600y uses Intel's Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU. That's right in the middle of the Core 2 Duo pack, and the performance is likewise middle-of-the-road, falling between that of the Dell XPS 700, with a Core 2 Extreme X6800, and that of the bargain-price Velocity Micro Vector GC Campus Edition, with a low-end Core 2 Duo E6300. That being said, the Pavilion d4600y performs well, easily beating a white box system with AMD's top-of-the-line Athlon 64 FX-62 on CNET Labs' Multitasking test.
The included ATI Radeon X1600 XT is a decent choice for casual gaming, and it should be able to play any current game at decent resolutions. That's currently the best video card choice HP offers on the Pavilion d4600y; we would like to see the company offer high-end cards, such as the ATI Radeon X1900 or the GeForce 7900 as options, expensive as they may be. The Dell XPS 410 easily outclasses it with an Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS.
Our review unit includes a 160GB Personal Media Drive, along with a wired HP keyboard and optical mouse set. The operating system is Windows Media Center Edition, and a dual-tuner Hauppauge NTSC TV tuner card and Media Center remote are included. Bundled software includes Microsoft Works Suite 2006 and HP's Image Zone for editing and sharing photos. A full upgrade to Microsoft Office Basic Edition will run an extra $109.
HP's one-year standard warranty is notable for including next-business-day part replacement and toll-free, 24/7 phone support. The company's support site provides real-time chat that's also available 24/7, and it promises to answer e-mail within an hour.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)