HP's Pavilion a250e is a midrange desktop designed for home and student users who want a wide range of features and capable performance. It boasts an updated appearance that will befit any desktop locale, plus a wealth of features that make it as versatile as its visage suggests. With a 4X DVD-recordable drive, a front-mounted media-card reader, and Nvidia's GeForce FX 5600 graphics card, the Pavilion a250e will appeal to digital-video enthusiasts, shutterbugs, and casual gamers. Topping off this impressive, sub-$1,600 package is an excellent, 17-inch flat-panel display. Although its application performance was a bit disappointing for a system based on an Athlon XP 3000+ processor, the a250e is still an awesome contender in its class.
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Digital-camera owners will find the front-mounted media-card reader highly useful.
Forgoing flashing lights and windowed side panels, HP designed the a250e with a minimalist approach appropriate for any living room or dorm space. Behind a sliding front door, you'll find a USB 2.0 port, a FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks, in addition to an eminently useful media-card reader that supports Smart Media, CompactFlash, and MMC/SD cards, as well as Sony's Memory Stick. Beyond the normal assortment of ports and jacks, the back panel houses four additional USB 2.0 ports, another FireWire connector, and an Ethernet jack. A modem card supplies the necessary connection for dial-up subscribers.
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The interior gives you room to grow, though you'll have to work around some cables if you plan to fill all three PCI slots.
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Drive expansion is limited to one open 3.5-inch bay.
Getting inside the box means unscrewing two captured thumbscrews and sliding away the side panel. Look inside to find a tool-free interior, as well as clasps for removing the Pavilion a250e's front cover to add and remove front-available drives. The interior is relatively tidy, although cabling blocks one of the two free PCI slots. Just one additional 3.5-inch bay is free for future expansion. If you plan to edit lots of video, you might want to add a second hard drive yourself or upgrade the system's 80GB drive to something larger.
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The default configuration is a DVD-ROM and a CD-RW drive, but our test system included CD-ROM and DVD+RW drives.
The Pavilion a250e's 2.167GHz Athlon XP 3000+ processor on an Nforce-2 chipset, 512MB of DDR memory running at 300MHz, and Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 graphics card all mean you'll get respectable, if not record-setting, performance. In our hands-on tests, our video-editing dabbling went well, and games played smoothly.
But it's the peripherals that set this midrange box apart from the competition. For starters, the 17-inch HP f1703 flat-panel display is larger than most LCDs that are offered with systems in this price class, and it looked great, with sharp text and fairly vibrant colors. Similarly, the 4X DVD+RW drive is faster than we expected for the price, and it burned our sample DVD without a hitch. Surprisingly, HP couples the DVD burner with a plain CD-ROM drive. We would have preferred a CD-RW, especially because the DVD drive burns CD-Rs at a relatively poky 16X.
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The HP f1703 flat panel matches the new Pavilion case and gives you a large, sharp display.
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You'll want to reprogram the shortcut keys along the top of the keyboard unless you need immediate access to HP's various trial offers.
The Pavilion a250e's accessories have their shortcomings. The multimedia keyboard and the optical mouse work fine, but the many multimedia keys that linked us to HP partners was more annoying than convenient. Thankfully, you can reprogram them. The two-piece Harman Kardon speaker set sounded dull and muddied. HP offers several 2.1 and 5.1 options, and we recommend upgrading.
At its core, the software bundle is useful, serving up Corel's WordPerfect 10.0; a suite of ArcSoft photo and video software; and Sonic Solution's RecordNow, a CD-RW app. But you'll also be forced to contend with a ridiculous amount of bloatware: from free trials to trial offers to HP-partner links, the desktop is brimming with useless and unnecessary desktop icons.
Using an AMD Athlon XP 3000+ with 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM, the HP Pavilion a250e performed slightly below average for a midrange system. During our anecdotal testing, however, the Pavilion a250e's performance was perfectly acceptable when handling various office tasks. Applications and menus loaded quickly, and it handled a fair amount of multitasking with aplomb.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Our HP Pavilion a250e test system featured an upgraded graphics card. With Nvidia's new midrange 128MB GeForce FX 5600 (a $140 option), the system turned in strong 3D graphics scores for this class of PC, edging out the Gateway 500X, which had ATI's midrange Radeon 9600 card, on both of our 3D graphics benchmarks. The GeForce FX 5600 is a significant step up from the previous generation's card, and it should be able to run most of today's games and those of the near future.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.