At $899 (without monitor), the HP Pavilion a1250n is one of the least-expensive dual-core PCs you'll find, and it uses an AMD processor, which we favor over Intel's dual-core offerings. The a1250n is a fixed-configuration system that uses the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system, but its low price means you miss out on a couple of important Media Center standards, namely a TV tuner and a remote control. While you won't be integrating the Pavilion a1250n into your home theater without first making a few upgrades, the PC is a proven winner as an all-purpose family system, delivering performance that allows it to compete with more expensive Media Center systems.
The Pavilion a1250n is housed in a silver midtower case with glossy-white, hinged optical-drive covers that, while stylish, are flimsy and prone to snapping off with a misplaced knee or shin under your desk. Hidden behind another white sliding panel are two USB 2.0 ports, audio jacks, and a six-pin FireWire port. Rear-mounted connections include four additional USB 2.0 ports, another FireWire port, an Ethernet connection, and audio jacks for the integrated six-channel audio controller. Overall, the a1250n presents an attractive, clean appearance, but if a true living-room PC is what you're after, the slightly more expensive HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC includes a TV tuner, a remote control, and HP's handy Personal Media Drive dock. The HP z555 Digital Entertainment Center ups the ante further in terms of both price and overall design.
A double-layer DVD burner with LightScribe technology is paired with a standard 16X DVD-ROM drive. LightScribe drives can burn grayscale text and images onto specially coated CD and DVD media, although the discs are generally pricey ($5.99 for a five-pack of DVD+R discs), and the burning process is slow. The system also comes with a 9-in-1 media-card reader that accepts nearly every type of flash memory card.
The 250GB Hitachi DeskStar hard drive is more than adequate for storing digital photos and music files but will fill up quickly if you're archiving lots of large video files. Sadly, there's no room for a second hard drive. You also get 1GB of memory running at 400MHz, and you can upgrade aftermarket to 4GB of RAM.
The Pavilion a1250n is powered by AMD's entry-level dual-core CPU, the 2.0GHz Athlon 64 X2 3800+. The system boasts significant muscle for its price range in handling general home and office applications. Its score of 208 on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark bested the results from the pricier Sony VAIO RC11G, which uses a dual-core Pentium D 830 chip. It trailed the much more expensive Dell XPS 400, which features the Intel Pentium D 840 chip, by only 4 percent. In the opposite direction, the eMachines T6524 costs $300 less than the Pavilion a1250n but was 16 percent slower on SysMark.
Gaming enthusiasts will be disappointed with the a1250n's integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics solution, although it will suffice for older, less-demanding 3D games, such as Unreal Tournament 2004. The good news is that there is an empty x16 PCI Express slot, if you decide you want to boost 3D performance by adding a high-end graphics card, such as the GeForce 7800GTX.
Unfortunately, HP does not offer a TV tuner card with this system, despite the fact that it ships with XP Media Center Edition. Also missing is an IR remote and a wireless keyboard and mouse. Instead, the a1250n comes with a shiny silver multimedia keyboard and matching scroll mouse, which is of the nearly antique roller-ball variety.
If you're considering adding a TV tuner card to better integrate the a1250n into a home entertainment center, also think about investing in a high-end sound card, as the integrated controller does not provide optical outputs. There's room inside the tool-free chassis to add two PCI cards (three, if you remove the preinstalled modem card). The system does not include a monitor or speakers, which can drive the price up more than $1,000 if you're in need of one or both.
Bundled software is abundant; the Pavilion a1250n comes with HP's Image Zone Plus software, which lets you edit and organize photos, and Sonic's Digital Media Plus with LightScribe for CD and DVD burning and labeling. The system also ships with WinDVD 5 and Microsoft Works 8.
Included in the box are a quick-start guide, a generic user guide, and two manuals to get you acquainted with the Image Zone and Media Center software. A one-year parts-and-labor warranty is included in the price, but you can opt for an extended two-year plan for $99 or bump it up to three years for $150. Each plan offers round-the-clock toll-free telephone support for the life of the plan and use of HP's Total Care service, which includes real-time online-chat tech help sessions and guaranteed one-hour e-mail response to technical questions. You can also visit HP's Web site for general troubleshooting, help with setting up your system, tips on system recovery and backup, and the latest software and driver downloads.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating
|SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating
|SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell XPS 400
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium D 840; Intel 945GP chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 (PCIe); two WDC WD160JD-75HBB0 160GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801GR/GH SATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3500+; ATI Radeon RS482 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics chip using 128MB shared memory; WDC WD2000BB-22GUC0 200GB 7,200rpm EIDE
HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 830; Intel 945P chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X300 (PCIe); Seagate ST3300831AS 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
HP Pavilion a1250n
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+; ATI Radeon RS480 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics chip using 256MB shared memory; Hitachi HDT722525DLA380 250GB 7,200rpm SATA
Sony VAIO VGC-RC110G
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 830; Intel 945P chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X300 (PCIe); WDC WD2500JS-98MHB0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA