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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|
|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.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
|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.
What we'd also like to see disappear is HP's incessant pushing of its external hard drives. We can actually imagine adding one of either the Personal Media or the smaller Pocket Media drives to a system, overpriced though they may be. But to add bays for both types to a desktop is redundant, contributes to making the Pavilion Elite m9040n messy on the inside and difficult to upgrade. The thing already comes with a generous 640GB of fixed hard-drive storage. If you want more, sure, add one of these drives. But we can't imagine the average consumer would have any interest in swapping data between a PC and two external hard drives. Besides, HP, with your MediaSmart Server on the way (as soon as those "software enhancements" come through from Microsoft), external hard drives will become relics of the past, right?
You might also notice a little button in our detail shot, right under the HP logo. This is HP's new Easy Backup feature. When you press it, you get a very basic, HP-made software overlay that holds your hand through Windows Vista's built-in backup program. We don't find the dedicated backup button a major innovation, since HP isn't really adding any fundamental technology here. It's simply making it easier for you to get to a feature that comes with all Vista PCs. Still, we like that HP is calling attention to the idea that you should be backing up those photos, important documents, as well as your system software on a regular basis.
We're sad to report that HP also treats you to the usual mess of ad icons on the Windows desktop. We count seven this time around. At least Voodoo was able to keep HP's marketing hounds away from its new Blackbird 002 gaming system.
As always, though, we like HP's TotalCare utility, which is the most useful of the desktop support software packages that have become so popular this year. If you need any information about the state of your system, you will like find it here. HP's support in general excels, with toll-free 24-7 phone help and plentiful resources online. The one-year parts and labor warranty is only par for the course.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
Apple OS X; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics chip; 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive;
Dell Inspiron 531
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; 250GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6420; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 320MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
HP Pavilion Elite m9040n
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400 GS graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drives
HP Pavilion Media Center TV m8120n
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 3GB 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 7350 LE graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drives
Sony VAIO TP1 Living Room PC
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel 945GM integrated graphics chip; 300GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Velocity Micro Vector GX Campus Edition
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.86Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo 6320; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; 320GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive