HP Pavilion Elite m9040n review: HP Pavilion Elite m9040n

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MSRP: $1,189.99

The Good Updated design; fast, digital-media-oriented configuration; integrated IR receiver and wireless networking adapter eliminates external clutter.

The Bad No Bluetooth; RF receiver for wireless mouse and keyboard still external; 802.11b/g wireless, not draft N; overkill on external hard-drive bays.

The Bottom Line HP's new digital-media-oriented Pavilion Elite m9040n is fast, loaded with features, and its new looks and newly integrated receivers improve its profile. Our main issue is the redundant bays for two of HP's proprietary external hard drives. If you can get past that, there's a solid desktop here.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

HP's Pavilion Elite m9040n frustrates us because, but for a seemingly greedy design decision, we actually like it quite a bit. This $1,190 desktop comes with a quad-core chip and a cleaner profile than older HP desktops, thanks to its integrated remote-control receiver and wireless networking antenna. Our issue is that by including bays for two different types of proprietary external hard drives (sold separately, of course), HP wastes space and simultaneously tries to up-sell you on superfluous storage. If you're looking for a midtower system to record TV or edit digital media, the Pavilion Elite m9040n fits the bill quite well. We just wish we could look at the thing without wanting to brush past it like we would a street hawker.

While HP revamped the design on its SlimLine and Pavilion systems earlier this year, the Media Center TV systems received a less-significant visual update from last year's models. The front bezel and the front-side doors went from gray to glossy and matte-black, respectively, but the color change didn't impress us as much as HP's other new desktops, which received wholesale chassis revisions. The Pavilion Elite is essentially that spruced up Media Center TV. Now the whole front side gets the glossy piano black treatment, but for a silver bar running across the middle that bears a subtle-but-classy waved line image. This new look still doesn't sell us on the idea of a midtower in the living room, but it's probably as close to entertainment-center-acceptable as you can get with the traditional desktop form factor.

Specs-wise, the Elite m9040n is nearly identical to the Pavilion Media Center TV m8120n we reviewed just two months ago. The only significant difference is the graphics card.

  HP Pavilion Elite m9040n HP Pavilion Media Center TV m8120n
Price $1,190 $1,150
CPU 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Motherboard chipset Intel G33 Intel G965
Memory 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 3GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400 GS 128MB Nvidia GeForce 7350 LE
Hard drive (2) 320GB 7,200 rpm (2) 320GB 7,200 rpm
Optical drives 16x HP SuperDrive dual-layer DVD burner w/LightScribe 16x HP SuperDrive dual-layer DVD burner w/LightScribe
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium Windows Vista Home Premium

We're glad to see that this new system echoes the same traits we liked about the older model, including plentiful memory, large hard-drive space, and a speedy, powerful quad-core CPU.

Thanks to all of those parts, and especially the graphics card and its dedicated 256MB of RAM, the Pavilion Elite m9040n edges out the older model on our benchmarks. It also fares well against Apple's new iMac, although Velocity Micro's Vector GX Campus Edition gives the new HP a challenge on tests where single-core processing speed matters more than multiple cores. For you that means that the Pavilion Elite m9040n will ably handle all of your digital media editing tasks and general computing. Just don't buy into HP's hype that this system is ready for "DirectX 10" gaming.

Direct X 10-certified the new graphics card may be, but as you can see from our Quake 4 test, it chokes on even low-end resolutions. If it can't handle that two-year-old game, don't expect it to play newer 3D titles. Mostly the graphics card helps because it has its own RAM and no longer steals from the system memory as on the Pavilion m8120n. And, sadly, your upgrade options are limited, as this system has only a 300-watt power supply--hardly enough to power a quad-core chip and even a midrange graphics upgrade.

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

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac
HP Pavilion Elite m9040n

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9040n
Apple iMac
Gateway DX430X

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
HP Pavilion Elite m9040n
Apple iMac
Dell Inspiron 531

'Quake 4' performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024 x 768 (4x AA, 8x AF)  

Although it's weak for gaming, the GeForce 8400 GS graphics card expands your output options by introducing HDMI into the world of mainstream desktops. We're not convinced that HDMI is useful in a midtower system that likely won't be connected to a living-room-based HDTV. You still get a DVI-output, so you don't lose anything by getting the HDMI port, but we suspect HP includes this feature more to bolster its marketing material than anything else.

You'll probably appreciate the other multimedia features in the Pavilion Elite m9040n more. The ATSC/NTSC TV tuner has become a mainstay in this kind of desktop. We still don't love PC-based television watching, but free PVR-capability has its obvious plusses. This in-store configuration has a single, dual-layer, Lightscribe-capable DVD burner, with room to add another optical drive. Online, you can configure the roll-your-own version with a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive, among other upgrades. With an HD optical drive, the HDMI-output becomes more compelling, as you might then be more likely to connect this system to a television.

This desktop also comes with a remote control that thankfully has no external receiver. Because media-card readers use a simple internal USB-interface, HP was able to integrate remote's IR receiver in between the removable media slots. This is similar to Dell's approach in adding a media card reader with a built-in Bluetooth option to its new Inspiron desktops earlier this year. HP also integrates the 802.11b/g Wi-Fi antenna, although the wireless RF mouse and keyboard still require a small, external USB receiver. Our hope is that this trend continues to the point where external dongles become extinct on Windows PCs. Apple has made HP, Dell, and others look behind in this regard for an embarrassingly long time.

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