HP Pavilion s7320n Slimline Desktop PC
Until recently, small-form-factor (SFF) desktop computers targeted niche buyers, such as gamers on the LAN-party circuit and city dwellers short on desk space. But with Apple's unveiling of the Mac Mini last year, the SFF computer began to migrate into the mainstream, thanks to the Mini's aggressive price point and sleek styling. HP introduced its Pavilion Slimline last year; the Pavilion s7320n Slimline reviewed here is one of two current models in the line. The $550 system, available at retail stores, delivers impressive goods in an attractive package at an approachable price, with the caveat that you can't customize or expand the system. It's about as fixed a configuration as you'll find in a desktop PC.
At 9.7 inches high, 4.4 inches wide, and 13.1 inches deep, the HP Pavilion s7320n Slimline is about the size of a large college dictionary. It's certainly larger than the diminutive Mac Mini, but the s7320n's silver finish and minimal ornamentation come somewhat near replicating the Mini's sleek, understated look. Like the Mini, the s7320n isn't designed to be opened by the end user, so HP has smartly outfitted it with a relatively robust feature set that most buyers at this price point won't outgrow too quickly. The system features 1GB of RAM, a nine-in-one flash-card reader, a spacious 200GB 7,200rpm hard drive, and a double-layer DVD burner. HP throws in LightScribe so that you can label CDs and DVDs using the company's proprietary laser technology.
The s7320n achieves its tiny size thanks in part to its use of a notebook processor, the 1.6GHz Celeron M processor 380, which runs more efficiently than a desktop chip. (Though the system uses the Windows Media Center OS, the Celeron M chip keeps the s7320n from being labeled as a Viiv PC, since it features but a single core.) The Celeron M allows the s7320n to run coolly and quietly in a compact case. Other than the CPU, however, the s7320n uses no other mobile technology--the optical drive and the motherboard, for example, are full size and as durable as those on a traditional desktop. HP has even managed to fit the power supply inside the box, so the system requires no external power brick.
The HP Pavilion s7320n Slimline is a one-size-fits-all deal. You can't up the RAM or opt for a smaller hard drive prior to purchase, which you can do with the Mac Mini. While the company does offer a slightly lower-end configuration, the $518 HP Pavilion s7310n, available only in retail stores, we'd like to see even one configurable option in the Slimline series.
Take wireless networking, for example. Priced as it is, the s7320n will surely find a market as a second PC for the home; being able to network it wirelessly to the family's main computer seems like a no-brainer. The same goes for sound and video--you can't upgrade the integrated solutions found in this budget system, which limits its appeal, despite its entry-level status. The ability to add more memory a year or two down the road would greatly extend the s7320n's life span. If you are looking not for a second PC but a basic budget box to serve as your primary (or only) PC, we suggest the $599. It's a standard midtower system, but it's expandable and more powerful than the s7320n.
In testing, the HP Pavilion s7320n Slimline kept up with budget competitors despite its mobile processor. The s7320n's score of 128 on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark trailed the score of an equally inexpensive yet roomier Celeron D 341-based Gateway DX100X by 6 percent. On the other hand, the $599 eMachines T6420 outclassed the s7320n by a considerable 24 percent.
On our multimedia tests, the HP Pavilion s7320n Slimline turned in decidedly average scores. Don't read too much into the fact that its times on CNET Labs' Photoshop and Sorenson Squeeze benchmarks were faster than those of the Mac Mini. Because universal binary apps--nonnative Mac software built for the Intel platform--have yet to be released for Photoshop and Sorenson Squeeze, the Mac Mini (when running Mac OS X) must rely on the Rosetta translation utility, which adversely affects performance.