Sold exclusively at Best Buy, the HP Pavilion Elite m9500y is a preconfigured desktop PC with a respectable array of midrange components--$839 nets you a 2.4GHz quad-core processor, 8GB of DDR2 memory, 750GB of storage space, and a competitive Nvidia GeForce graphics card with ample opportunity for expansion on the interior. Unfortunately, the HP can't hold its own against two other systems we recently tested. Gateway puts together a similar set of components and adds a faster graphics card to its LX 6810-01, and the Dell XPS 430-121B is considerably faster for multitaskers and fans of streaming media. Since both of those computers are actually less expensive, the HP Pavilion Elite m9500y needs to drop its price or add more features before it can confidently share a retail shelf with Dell and Gateway.
Physically speaking, the HP m9500 is smaller than the Dell XPS 430-121B; its footprint measures 15.5 inches high, 7 inches wide, and 16.6 inches deep, and it looks very similar to many other systems in the Pavilion Elite line. For example, the HP Pavilion Elite m9402f shares the same awkward design with a media card reader up top, followed by a dual-layer DVD below it, an empty drive bay, and two additional bays at the bottom that HP leaves open for its proprietary removable hard drives. The lower-left door opens up to reveal a FireWire port, two USB 2.0 plugs, and the standard headphone and microphone jacks.
The chassis design isn't very memorable, and we can't help but wish for the Gateway's front-loading SATA hard-drive bays and additional audio/video connectors on the faceplate. The rear is equally boring--aside from the usual audio, video, and storage ports, you also get an HDMI port on the Nvidia graphics card and a single coaxial S/PDIF output port. We're surprised to see that HP doesn't include an external eSATA plug, so if you'll need to connect your external drive through USB 2.0 or FireWire in order to get additional storage.
While the Dell and the Gateway both come with TV tuner cards, the HP skips on the cable entertainment and instead includes an 802.11a/b/g/n wireless networking card. As these are all midtower PCs, we don't particularly value Wi-Fi in them, and we've soured on the whole TV tuner experience. Thus, we can't say we'd prefer Dell or Gateway's TV tuner to the HP's Wi-Fi adapter. Your needs may call for one or the other, neither offers both.
The HP suffers from a slightly cramped interior due to its smaller chassis compared to the Dell XPS 430-121B. It does leave room for an additional hard drive, another optical drive, and you can install one of the aforementioned HP removable drives as well. HP filled each of the four memory slots with 2GB sticks of 800MHz DDR2 RAM. 8GB of memory should last you for the foreseeable future, and you can also add expansion cards in the two free PCI-E x1 slots at a later time. Dell adds an extra SATA port to the side-by-side comparison and also gives you a PCI-E x8 slot if you take out the 56k modem.
|HP Pavilion Elite m9500y||Dell XPS 430-121B|
|CPU||2.4GHz AMD Phenom 9750 X4 Quad Core||2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad CPU Q8300|
|Memory||8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||6GB 1066MHz DDR3|
|Graphics||512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9500GS graphics card||256MB ATI Radeon HD 3650 graphics card|
|Hard drives||750GB, 7,200 rpm||750GB, 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||Dual-layer DVD burner||Dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||10/100Mbps Ethernet LAN, 802.11A/B/G/N Wireless LAN||10/100Mbps Ethernet LAN|
|Video outputs||DVI, HDMI||DVI, HDMI|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
Aside from the Wi-Fi versus TV tuner debate above, the HP can only claim its 512MB Nvidia graphics card as an advantage over the 256MB ATI card in the Dell. We found the HP enjoyed a minor speed boost from that card on our tests compared with the Dell, but still not enough to outpace the less expensive Gateway and its 1GB GeForce GT 120 card. If you're not a gamer, you'll be more disappointed by the HP's performance charts, where the Dell separated itself from the other two systems by an impressive margin.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)