HP is getting better at small-form-factor computing. We liked the original HP Pavilion Slimline s7220n and its successor, the s7320m, despite their wimpy notebook processors and lack of configuration options. Now HP tries it again, with the $830 (after a $50 mail-in rebate) HP Pavilion Slimline s7500y. The new system, which starts at a low $449 (again, after rebate) is still saddled with an outdated laptop CPU and is far from a being termed a blazing performer, but it now includes a TV tuner and specs that can be customized via the configurator on HP's Web site. While we would have preferred to see Intel's Core Duo CPUs as an option (as offered in the even smaller Shuttle XPC X100), the new Slimline will satisfy space-conscious consumers who want an attractive package at an approachable price. Given the lackluster CPU options and the limited upgrade potential, however, it's a better fit as a second PC in a room outside the office than as your primary, everyday PC.
Measuring 9.7 inches high, 4.4 inches wide, and 13.1 inches deep, the HP Pavilion Slimline s7500y is about the size of a large hardcover book or a big-city Yellow Pages. It's very close in size to an Xbox 360, and like the game console (and like small-form-factor PCs such as the Shuttle X100 and the WinBook Jiv Mini), the Slimline can stand upright or lie flat, making it easy to squeeze into tight quarters. While well designed, the Slimline is still gray and boxy, like a standard desktop that's been hit with a shrink ray. That's somewhat surprising, since HP--unlike, say, Dell--has already broken out of the midtower mold with systems such as the z500 Digital Entertainment Center series, housed in a slick, A/V-style chassis. Visually, a closer cousin to the Pavilion Slimline s7500y is the similarly thin Dell XPS 200.
A multimedia card reader is built in to the front panel, and our review unit already included the top optical drive choice, a LightScribe DVD burner. You can save between $20 and $80 by downgrading to a plain CD burner or a DVD-ROM drive.
Within the HP Pavilion Slimline 7500y's petite frame, we found 1GB of RAM and a 200GB hard drive. That's fine for average users, but if you want to record a lot of TV shows via the built-in TV tuner or store massive amounts of music, videos, or photos, the only available hard drive upgrade is to 250GB for an extra $40. (Smaller 80GB and 160GB hard drives are also available if you need less space.) A bump to 2GB of RAM--helpful for working with large video files--will cost an extra $120. Offering even limited expandability such as this is a great improvement over the previous incarnations of HP's Slimline series and can keep the system from prematurely aging. Picking the right options up front is especially important, because the Slimline is not made for aftermarket upgrades, although with a screwdriver and a little elbow grease, you can replace a hard drive or an optical drive.
If only the CPU options were as promising. Our review unit's 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M 735 processor, part of a dying breed of CPUs, is the second-fastest option offered on the Pavilion Slimline s7500y. (The AMD-based HP Pavilion Slimline s7500e model offers a similar selection of aging mobile Sempron and Turion CPUs.) Intel's Pentium M processors have been supplanted by the new dual-core Core Duo family and, more recently, by the newer Core 2 Duo processors, which are just starting to appear in standard desktops. In CNET Labs' Multimedia, Photoshop CS2, and iTunes-encoding tests, the Pavilion Slimline s7500y was an unimpressive performer, coming in even behind the ultrabudget-price eMachines T6536, which uses a woefully dated Athlon 64 3800+ CPU. Despite the lack of horsepower, the system is fine for hooking up to a TV as a Media Center or as a second computer for a den or a dorm room. For living-room tasks, we still prefer Apple's Mac Mini, which is similarly priced but with a more current CPU, a snappier design, and better software. And you'd have to be very desperate for space if you are considering the Slimline as your primary PC; you're better offer choosing a midtower budget system, such as the Cyberpower Back to School 2006, which will more ably stand the test of time.
With integrated Intel 945G graphics, gaming isn't much of an option on the Slimline, unless online Sudoku games are your idea of a hot time. For a small form factor that can handle 3D gaming, we'd look to systems from Shuttle, such as the XPC P2 2700. No graphics upgrade options are offered, and adding an aftermarket video card isn't an option because of size constraints.