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Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
In our review of the Pavilion p6130y, we suggested that the $630 Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006 would be a compelling alternative to that desktop from HP at the same price. Now that we narrow our sights on the Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006, we find that while we're generally satisfied with it, its performance actually makes a more affordable, Editor's Choice-winning Gateway system seem like an even better deal than we originally thought. The Essentio CM5570-AP006 is no gaming system, but we'll give Asus credit for selling perhaps the most affordable PC we've seen yet with a discrete graphics card. But even in the $600 price range, your best bet might be Gateway's $510 SX2800-01.
The Essentio CM5570-AP006 mirrors the design of the $510 Asus Essentio CM5570-AP002 exactly. The serviceable, glossy, black, plastic face and roomy-enough midtower interior have no glaring problems. You might fail to notice the drop-down panel on the front of the case that hides a media card reader and a set of USB and analog audio jacks.
|Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006||HP Pavilion p6130y|
|CPU||2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200||2.4GHz AMD Phenom X4 9750|
|Memory||6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce G100||256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9100 integrated graphics|
|Hard drives||750GB 7,200rpm||750GB 7,200rpm|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11b/g/n wireless||10/100 Ethernet; 802.11b/g wireless|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
Next to the HP Pavilion p6130y, the Essentio also looks like a good deal. The HP has more RAM, but you'll see from our relatively aggressive consumer-level digital media benchmark tests that the Asus still outperforms the HP. Each system has the same-size hard drive, and each also boasts wireless networking, a feature not previously common in most desktops at this price. The Asus pulls away from the HP by offering a 512MB Nvidia GeForce G100 graphics card. That entry-level card doesn't make this a gaming PC, but, at the very least, it frees up some of the system memory that would otherwise be dedicated to graphics processing.
|Rendering Multi-CPU||Rendering Single CPU|
The Asus system is faster than the HP on every test, which leaves us little to discuss as far the Essentio's most obvious competitor. The Gateway SX2800-01 complicates matters. While the Asus is a midtower PC, with all the expandability that entails, the slimtower Gateway offers a decent degree of upgradability of its own, as well as occasionally better performance on a few tests. The Gateway is also $100 less than the Asus system. The only major omission for the Gateway is its lack of wireless networking, although that's easy enough to add after the fact, and you'd still likely be under the cost of the Asus. The Asus offers respectable performance, but it has few material advantages over the less expensive Gateway.
We understand if you still like the idea of an affordable midtower to use for upgrading. The Asus has two PCI slots to spare, next to occupied PCI Express graphics card and 1X slots. You only get a 300-watt power supply, which limits your 3D card upgrade options. Given that the GeForce G100 card managed only 16 frames per second on our low-end Unreal Tournament 3 test, you wouldn't lose much gaming performance by swapping it out for a more robust GPU.
Ironically, because it has a dedicated graphics card, you can't use the Asus' built-in HDMI video output, which is tied to the integrated graphics chip. You can always remove the card and reinstall the integrated Intel chip's video drivers if you really want to connect it via HDMI to an HDTV. You can also buy a DVI-to-HDMI adapter to connect to the 3D card. You get the usual array of analog and digital audio outputs, along with a handful of USB 2.0 jacks. The Asus has no advanced storage connections, though, so FireWire and eSATA are both out.
|Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006|
|Raw (annual kWh)||287.93682|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$32.68|
The Essentio CM5570-AP006 trends towards the less-efficient side of our power-testing results, which means you'll have to pay more per year in power bills to operate this PC. You'll see that our cost comparison chart highlights yet another positive for the Gateway. Not only is the Gateway SX2800-01 as fast or faster than this Asus system, but it also requires less power to provide that performance. We can't get too upset about Asus' annual operating cost, since it only breaks down to about $3 a month, but based on its performance next to the Gateway, it's clear that the Essentio is not as efficient as it could be.
We mentioned in the HP review that its only saving grace is HP's well-established customer support services, both online and via its warranty. Asus does have a warranty, which backs the Essentio for a year, but its phone support is limited to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, and only from Monday to Friday. Good luck if you have a job. And even though Asus includes links on the Windows desktop to its support page, even that only gets you as far as its woefully underdeveloped drop-down menu-based help site. HP and Gateway (along with pretty much every other PC vendor) both offer much more robust online assistance.
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Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce G100; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Dell Inspiron 545-006B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3450 integrated graphics chip; 1TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive
Dell Inspiron 545s-004B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7400; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics chip; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
HP Pavilion p6130y
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz AMD Phenom II X4 9750; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9100 integrated graphics chip; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive