Small form-factor desktop PCs enjoyed their greatest popularity several years ago. It was the era of the media center computer, when tech-savvy home-theater enthusiasts would hook tiny computers up to TVs to stream video or record over-the-air programs. Since then, smart TVs, Roku-style boxes and game consoles have largely taken over, and the only puck-sized desktop anyone hears much about is Apple's $500, £399, AU$619.
HP feels there's still room for a tiny Windows-powered desktop, whether hooked up in the living room or on an office desk. The company's new Pavilion Mini costs less than a Mac Mini, has a smaller footprint and offers one feature notably missing from the Mac Mini -- accessibility to the internal components if you want to add additional RAM or a new hard drive down the line.
The Pavilion Mini starts with an Intel Pentium processor, but can be configured with a faster Intel Core i3 CPU as well. The less-expensive of two fixed configurations pairs an Intel Pentium CPU with a 7,200rpm 500GB hard drive for $319 (available for £269 in the UK); while a $449 configuration (£349 in the UK) has an Intel Core i3 CPU and a 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive. Neither option is available in Australia at this time but the UK prices convert to around AU$535 or AU$690.
Both have 4GB of RAM, but can support a maximum of 16GB if you add more later. A related model, called the Stream Mini, uses the same chassis (but in blue), with an Intel Celeron CPU, 2GB of RAM and only a 32GB SSD, and is intended for media streaming or cloud-based tasks. It costs $179 in the US and is not currently listed on HP's UK or Australian online stores.
The configuration tested here is the more expensive of the two Pavilion Mini versions. At $449, it's a good match-up against the $499 Core i5 Apple Mac Mini, as well as other mini desktops such as the, which also has a Core i3 CPU in its $499 entry-level configuration, but pairs it with a custom graphics card for decent mainstream PC gaming. The competitive landscape also includes more affordable budget options like Chromebooks, "Chromebox" mini desktops and even full-fledged Windows laptops like the , all of which can be had for about $200.
For everyday surfing and basic office tasks, the HP Pavilion Mini proved adequate, but didn't especially impress. On paper, the performance is not far removed from the Mac Mini, but in hands-on testing it gave us occasional slowdown and hitches. But for pure value, it's got a good story to tell, with double the Mac Mini's onboard storage for $50 less, and with an included wireless keyboard and mouse, another feature Apple leaves out.
HP Pavilion Mini
|Price as reviewed||$449, £349|
|PC CPU||1.9GHz Intel Core i3-4025U|
|PC Memory||4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1,793MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400|
|Storage||1TB, 5,400rpm HDD|
|Networking||802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Design and features
If you didn't know it was a Windows 8 desktop, the Pavilion Mini might look like it could be any number of consumer electronics devices, from a Wi-Fi hub to an external hard drive to a micro-console for gaming. With its rounded shape, curving to a bowl-like bottom surface, it looks less utilitarian than the Mac Mini. Apple's version is severe, despite the rounded corners, and looks as it could easily be stacked into a server farm. The HP Mini has more of a friendly (if unimaginative) living room look.
At 5.7 inches (14.5cm) square, it has a much smaller desktop footprint than either the Mac Mini or Alienware Alpha. Of those three, the Mac is the slimmest, at 1.4 inches (3.6cm) tall, versus 2.1 inches (5.3cm) for the HP Mini.
While the Mac Mini comes loaded with useful software such as Pages and Keynote (as do all OS X computers), HP includes a mixed bag of links to outside services, upsell pitches and advertising links and desktop icons, from enhanced HP support to ads for Snapfish and Priceline. HP gets credit, however, for including a wireless keyboard and mouse set at no extra cost -- an add-on that Apple skips in the Mac Mini.