HP Media Center m7070n Photosmart PC
HP continues to impress with its Photosmart line of Media Center desktop systems. Priced at $1,250, the HP Media Center m7070n Photosmart PC offers powerful performance, a generous software bundle, and a boatload of features, including a couple--a removable Personal Media Drive and a LightScribe DVD burner--you won't find from other manufacturers. It's a good thing the m7070n Photosmart PC is loaded, as it's sold at retail and not customizable.
In a departure from the black-and-silver color scheme we saw on the, HP houses the m7070n Photosmart PC in an all-silver midtower chassis, with matching optical drive and accessory doors. While the midtower form factor may not match your existing rack-mount components, its stylish case design and quiet operation still make the system living room-friendly.
On the upper-front bezel sits a 9-in-1 flash card reader and below that two optical drives: a double-layer LightScribe DVD burner and a DVD-ROM drive. HP's LightScribe technology lets you burn grayscale text, photos, and preformatted CD label art directly onto specially coated CD-Rs, using one of three bundled programs (WinDVD Creator, RecordNow, or iTunes) that support LightScribe labeling. The LightScribe media costs $8.99 for a five-pack and adds a professional, if time-consuming, touch to your projects. Once we had our art set up, it took us 30 minutes to burn a disc label containing four 36K images and a small amount of text.
Below the optical drives are two hinged panels. The right contains clearly marked audio and video ports, including S-Video, composite video and stereo inputs, microphone and headphone jacks, two USB 2.0 ports, and a FireWire port. The left panel hides the Personal Media Drive bay, which accepts optional HP removable drives. Personal Media Drives--available up to 400GB--fit snugly in the HP Media Center m7070n Photosmart PC and can also connect to any PC via USB 2.0. Our review system didn't come with a Personal Media Drive, but you can add a 160GB drive for $189. The drive makes data backups a snap and, when used as a removable USB device, provides an easy way to share your music or movie collection with a friend.
Rear-mounted integrated connections include four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, an Ethernet jack, digital audio-in and -out jacks, and audio outputs supporting 7.1 surround sound, courtesy of Intel's High Definition Audio chip. The integrated sound is adequate, but it can't match the quality of a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 card. Only one of three standard PCI slots are available (the single PCI Express slot is occupied), along with two of four memory slots, limiting the system's upgrade potential. Behind a sliding panel on the top of the case is a storage area for recordable media that can also serve as a camera or dock when used with the included adapters.
The HP Media Center m7070n Photosmart PC is powered by Intel's 3.2GHz Pentium 4 640 processor and an Asus Puffer 2 motherboard based on Intel's 915 chipset. The system ships with 1GB of 400MHz DDR2 memory, a 250GB SATA 7,200rpm hard drive, a 128MB ATI Radeon X300 SE video card, and a Hauppauge WinTV TV tuner card. TV tuner cards typically can't match the image clarity produced by a set-top box, but signal noise and jitter were minimal, even if the picture could have been sharper.
Compared to its Media Center competition, the HP Media Center m7070n Photosmart PC turned in solid benchmark scores, thanks in part to its hefty Pentium 4 640 processor and 1GB of memory. On our SysMark 2004 tests, it edged the Gateway 832GM and its Pentium 4 630 processor by 6 percent, but compared to Media Center PCs from HP and Shuttle with a Pentium 4 500-series processor, the m7070n Photosmart PC outpaced them by 11 and 12 percent, respectively.
The m7070n Photosmart PC didn't fare as well on our 3D graphics and gaming performance tests, scoring 18.1 frames per second (fps) on our Half-Life 2 test at 1,024x768. Today's high-end SLI-based gaming systems typically score well above 100fps on this test. However, the m7070n Photosmart PC is a Media Center PC and uses an entry-level 3D card. Upgrading to a high-end graphics card will greatly improve the system's 3D graphics and gaming performance. Unfortunately, the system ships as is, so you'll have to make this upgrade after purchase.