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HP Pavilion Elite h8xt review: HP Pavilion Elite h8xt

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We've already covered Hewlett-Packard's updated Pavilion and Pavilion Slimline designs, but the new Pavilion Elite brings the most dramatic changes of all to HP's refreshed desktops. Adopting angular design accents and a striking red highlight LED on its front, the Pavilion Elite does a good job of separating itself visually from its mainstream competition. Its configuration, represented by this $1,299 Pavilion Elite h8xt, is less interesting, but it's a fair deal for the asking price. For general PC shoppers searching for a strong all-around desktop, the Pavilion Elite h8xt is worth a look.

HP Pavilion Elite h8xt
7.2

HP Pavilion Elite h8xt

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The <b>HP Pavilion Elite h8xt</b> offers an edgier design than we're used to from mainstream desktop vendors, along with HP's unique Beats Audio software, and a fair asking price for its do-it-all features.

The Bad

You can get better gaming performance for the dollar from boutique PC vendors, and upgrading or adding hard drives to this system will be frustrating.

The Bottom Line

We'd recommend the HP Pavilion Elite h8xt to anyone in the market for a well-rounded, higher-end desktop, and for headphone users especially; the included Beats Audio software will provide a marginal boost to audio output.

HP's redesigned cases are mostly only minor shifts away from its previous look, but the new Pavilion Elite represents the biggest departure from its previous incarnation. The face of the new system is a more uniform glossy black plastic, which presents a cleaner look than the old design. More striking is thin red LED that illuminates a strip across the front of the case, not unlike a Cylon from "Battlestar Galactica." We'll guess this isn't a coincidence.

The red light signifies more than simple visual flair, in that it also seems to be a part of the Beats Audio branding scheme that HP is rolling out across its higher-end desktops and laptops, and even its new TouchPad tablets. While HP does not specify the exact technology behind Beats, it's most likely a software-based audio overlay with a user-accessible equalizer. Beats includes three presets, and also lets you save custom equalizer profiles. It doesn't appear to offer more functionality than Windows 7's own advanced audio settings, but Beats does provide a more intuitive way to tweak audio output across applications.

HP Pavilion Elite h8xt Dell XPS 8300 Velocity Micro Edge Z40
Price $1,299 $1,615 $1,199
Motherboard chipset Intel P67 Intel P67 Intel P67
CPU 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600 4.0GHz Intel Core i5-2500K (overclocked)
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti (overclocked)
Hard drives 1.5TB 7,200rpm 1.5TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD-burner combo Blu-ray/DVD-burner combo Blu-ray/DVD-burner combo
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Aside from the Beats software, the Pavilion Elite h8xt doesn't offer much that you can't find elsewhere for a similar price. The Dell XPS 8300 outlined above is a configuration that cost just over $1,600 when we reviewed it this past spring, but Dell currently offers that system with a more recent Radeon HD 6870 graphics card for about $1,350. Neither Core i7-based system is a better 3D performer than the Core i5-powered Velocity Micro Edge Z40 and its overclocked GeForce GTX 560 Ti card, though. That leaves the HP and Dell competing on their appeal as high-performing generalist systems. The Dell has the edge as a do-it-all PC with a gaming bent; the HP's appeal comes from its Beats software, and the fact that it offers USB 3.0 jacks where you have to pay extra for them on the Dell. Those are slim advantages for the HP, but the prices of the Dell and the HP are close enough that we can at least say that the Pavilion Elite h8xt offers competitive value.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

Thanks to its Core i7 chip, the HP posted strong application performance, and along with the Dell and Gateway systems, shows the benefit of a Hyper-Threaded quad-core CPU on newer applications like Photoshop CS5. Although the Velocity Micro's standard threaded quad-core Core i5 chip is overclocked, that extra speed boost to the cores only helps on older apps that tend favor single-threaded CPU power. The Pavilion Elite h8xt offers few surprises here, since it matches what we've seen from similar configurations from other vendors, but HP at least hasn't done anything to get in the way of this system's performance.

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

Metro 2033
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,560x,1,536 (DirectX 11, very high)  
1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)  

3DMark 11
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Extreme (1,920x1,080)  
Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)  
Entry-level (1,680x1,050)  
HP Pavilion Elite h8xt (Intel Core i7-2600, Summer 2011)
6 
10 
13 

The gaming front provides a bigger challenge to the HP, where the Velocity Micro and its overclocked GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics card dominate at this price point. You should be able to play most newer games on the Pavilion Elite, but you'll run into this system's performance limit sooner than you will on either the Velocity Micro or the Dell, particularly at higher resolutions and higher detail settings. Your best bet with this system will be to limit yourself to displays in the 21-inch range with resolutions lower than 1,920x1,080 pixels, especially for newer PC games.

For an extra $200 you can upgrade the graphics card on the Pavilion Elite h8xt to a GeForce GTX 580 Ti, but that will also require you to upgrade the 460-watt power supply used in our review unit to a 600-watt PSU for an extra $70. That card would likely challenge, if not surpass, the Velocity Micro's, and Velocity Micro doesn't offer a competing option for the Edge Z40. You might consider that strategy if you're in love with this HP. The price also works out similarly if you buy the Pavilion Elite with the most affordable graphics card and the 600-watt PSU with the intention of giving yourself some future upgrade room.

HP offers room for only one 3D card in the Pavilion Elite h8xt, but you can add two 1x PCI Express cards, two additional hard drives, and two more memory sticks. The inside of the case is braced with metal pieces to provide support while it's in transit, which makes accessing many of the internal components a challenge, particularly the hard-drive cage, which is locked down, and orients the drives perpendicular to the bottom of the case. The only way HP could have made it more inconvenient to add internal drives would be if it mounted the optical-drive bay or some other component in front of the drive cage. This is a peculiarity that has plagued HP's desktop designs for several years running, and the reasons for it continue to escape us.

External connectivity on the HP is better than we've seen on some lower-end desktops lately. The AMD graphics card offers DVI outs, an HDMI output, and two Mini DisplayPort outputs, covering virtually all of your display options. For audio you get analog headphone and 7.1 jacks, as well as an optical S/PDIF digital output. Data ports might seem sparse from the back panel, where you'll find only six USB 2.0 jacks, but the pair of USB 3.0 inputs on the top of the case makes up for the absence of slower FireWire or eSATA ports.

Juice box
HP Pavilion Elite h8xt Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.41
Sleep (10 percent) 2.67
Idle (25 percent) 57.35
Load (5 percent) 174.18
Raw kWh 255.27
Energy Star-compliant Yes
Annual power consumption cost $28.97

We expect that you can credit the HP's midrange graphics card for a large part of its power savings over the Dell and its higher-end card. Whether the performance drop-off is worth the lower annual energy bill is between you and your gaming ambitions.

HP includes a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the Pavilion Elite h8xt. You also get 24-7 toll-free phone support and a variety of support resources available on HP's Web site, as well as on the system itself.

Conclusion
The HP Pavilion Elite h8xt's configuration offers few surprises for its $1,299 asking price. The Beats audio software is about the only feature that differentiates this system from its competition. If you're looking for a higher-end do-it-all PC, and know you'll spend a lot of time listening with headphones, the Beats perk might be a reasonable basis for choosing this system. The h8xt also makes a decent upgrade platform. Dedicated gamers should look to boutique vendors for more 3D performance for the dollar.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Acer Aspire Predator
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7-870; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card; 1.5TB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Dell XPS 8300
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5870; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Gateway FX6850-51u Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT440 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive HP Pavilion Elite h8xt
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics card; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Velocity Micro Z40
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core i5-2500K (overclocked); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics card (overclocked); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

HP Pavilion Elite h8xt
7.2

HP Pavilion Elite h8xt

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6Support 7