Again, compare the $1,540 HP to the $3,800 Alienware, and the HP looks like a remarkable deal. Its scores on every test were either as good or better than the Alienware system. The Slimline also trounces Sony's non-HD, $1,600 VAIO TP1. It was no surprise that the Dell XPS 420 won on every test given its configuration. It's also a traditional full-tower desktop that you're more likely to use as your primary PC than the Slimline in its HD configuration. For the money, and compared to other home theater PCs, then, the Slimline is an outstanding performer. It will get you through photo editing and music file encoding with little trouble, and you might even be able to play a 3D game or two at modest settings.
The little things count, too.
For the rest of its features, the Slimline offers few surprises. The wireless RF mouse and keyboard are decidedly desktop-oriented and are fine for that purpose. We'd like to see HP offer a scaled-down keyboard, and perhaps a motion-sensitive mouse or remote for more living-room-friendly usage. Unlike other HP desktops, the Slimline's Pocket Media Drive slot sits unobtrusively on the bottom edge of the system, giving you room for removable extra storage but without cluttering up the inside of the systems. For other upgrades, you don't get a ton of room to work with. You'll have to opt for half-height expansion cards due to the size of the system, and you'll also need to replace the extant graphics and TV tuner cards. You'll also need to remove the optical drive to get at the memory and the one internal hard drive slot. Finally, we'd like to see 802.11n Wi-Fi become the de facto standard for potential living-room-based PCs, as streaming HD content over the HP's (and others') narrower 802.11a/b/g connections is less than ideal.
Software-wise, HP trumps Alienware here again with the integration of its HD player software with Windows Media Center. Simply, HP's works. Alienware's gave us all kinds of trouble, and sometimes just plain wouldn't function. The crapware icons, as usual with HP, are in full effect on the Slimline's desktop, coming in this time with eight or so offers for additional services and programs to buy. They're nothing you can't delete easily, but they're still a nuisance. There's also no equivalent of the Adobe Elements Studio like you'll find on Dell's systems these days, leaving HP without a Windows-based competitor to Apple's iLife digital-media-editing software.
HP's support is among the best in the industry, at least in depth if not length. The one-year parts-and-labor coverage and 24-7 toll-free phone support fits right in with the industry standard, no more, no less. Online, you'll find the usual raft of support help, from driver downloads, tech chat options and other features. We also like HP's TotalCare software that comes on each system and provides you with easy-to-understand system information to help you diagnose problems yourself and prevent them before they happen, both without requiring a working Web connection.
Find out more about how we test desktops.
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics card; two 1TB 7,200rpm hard drives
Apple OS X; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 120GB 5,400rpm Hitachi hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drives
HP Pavilion Slimline s3200t
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4500; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT; 500GB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel 945GM integrated graphics chip; 300GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive