HP Pavilion a600n review: HP Pavilion a600n

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The Good Fast new AMD CPU; ample memory allotment; great online support.

The Bad Installation cluttered with promotions for other software and services; slightly slower memory may choke during excessive multitasking; $499 is a lot for an LCD with no digital input; no multimedia-editing software.

The Bottom Line Although it lacks the software we've come to expect with a multimedia-oriented PC, HP's new AMD-powered home PC will tackle all mainstream tasks with ease.

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7.4 Overall

HP's new Pavilion a650e has the multimedia power user squarely in its sights, but it manages to only nick the target. The base model starts at just more than $600, but our evaluation unit included numerous upgrades that boosted the price to $2,340 and the performance through the roof. Too bad HP didn't include the multimedia-oriented software to take full advantage of this system's potential.

The Pavilion a650e is the first system we've tested with AMD's new Athlon 64 3700+ chip. It's a midrange, 754-pin processor that has a 64-bit memory controller as opposed to the 128-bit controller found on 939-pin Athlon 64 CPUs, such as the 3800+. You aren't likely to notice this difference in memory controllers unless you're doing heavy-duty multitasking. With the 64-bit controller, you may experience a slight lag if you are, say, burning a DVD movie and editing a large image at the same time. Our Pavilion a650e test system included 1GB of PC3200 DDR memory, however, which helped alleviate some of the memory bottlenecking we might have experienced otherwise during the most intensive tasks.

The HP Pavilion a650e's SysMark 2004 score of 183 puts it in the same ballpark as systems that use Intel's high-end 3.2GHz processors, such as the HP Compaq Business Desktop dc7100 and the MPC ClientPro 545. And thanks to the powerful 256MB ATI Radeon 9800 XT, the Pavilion a650e's 3D scores prove that the system is also a viable gaming system. If you demand the fastest frame rates at the highest detail levels, you may want to consider a graphics card upgrade, although the Radeon 9800 XT is the most powerful card currently offered by HP for this system, which effectively means that you have to eat its cost. Still, only the most finicky gamers will be disappointed with the Pavilion a650e's performance.

Digital-media files require lots of storage space, which is why our review unit's hard drive was upgraded to a 250GB unit. HP will also ship the Pavilion a650e with multiple hard drives in either a RAID 0 or a RAID 1 configuration, an uncommon option for a mainstream PC. Our Pavilion a650e configuration also included both a 48X CD-RW drive and an 8X DVD+RW drive for distributing your finished products. The front of the Pavilion a650e's case has a USB 2.0 port, a FireWire port, and audio connectors, as well as a nine-in-one media-card reader.

The $499 HP F1702 17-inch LCD monitor is another upgrade from the base configuration, and it's one of the first pieces you should consider cutting if you already have a monitor and you want to lower the price of this configuration. The display played movies and games adequately enough, but we were surprised by the lack of a digital input on such a pricey monitor, especially given the graphics card's support for the higher-quality digital standard. Other upgrades include an optical mouse, Windows XP Professional, and Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003. And although HP markets the Pavilion a650e as a multimedia system, the only software nod in this direction is the Sonic RecordNow Version 7.0 CD/DVD recording application. With no media-editing software beyond the bare-bones apps included with Windows, you'll definitely be hard-pressed for ways to take full advantage of this system's capabilities. There were no speakers included with our review unit, and the sound was downgraded from a Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 card to the integrated 5.1-channel sound chip included on the motherboard. The onboard chip is an adequate alternative, but audiophiles will want to spend the extra $65 for the Creative card.

HP provides neither backup discs nor blank media, but it does include a utility that prompts you to burn your own set of restoration discs. In addition to the bundled software, the system comes with a lot of icons and programs promoting other third-party applications and services. These apps tend to clutter up the desktop work space and it'll take time to clean them up, if you decide you don't want to be bothered with them.

HP provides just a one-year parts-and-labor warranty on the system, along with 24/7 toll-free technical support for one year, with no onsite service, although HP does provide depot repair service. Its Web site has extensive information, and it's relatively easy to navigate to find drivers, troubleshooting advice, and other helpful information. HP also offers two- and three-year extended warranties at extra cost.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF  
Hypersonic Sonic Boom (Nvidia PCX GeForce 6800 GT)
Note: * Denotes system does not support this resolution

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

HP Compaq Business Desktop dc7100
Windows XP Professional; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated Intel 915G 128MB (shared memory); Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA

HP Pavilion a650e
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3700+ (Socket 754); Nvidia Nforce-3 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 256MB; WDC WD2500BB-22FTA0 250GB 7,200rpm

Hypersonic Sonic Boom
Windows XP Professional; 3.6EGHz Intel P4; Intel 925X chipset; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia PCX GeForce 6800 GT 256MB; Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA

MPC ClientPro 545
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5700 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller

Polywell Poly 880NF2-MX
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated GeForce4 MX 64MB; WDC WD800JB-00ETA0 80GB 7,200rpm

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