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HP Pavilion Elite m9100t review: HP Pavilion Elite m9100t

HP Pavilion Elite m9100t

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
7 min read

HP's Pavilion Elite m9100t is a well intentioned, expensive, do-it-all desktop. Go down its spec sheet and you'll likely come away with the idea that there's very little this system can't do. We just wish it did more to distinguish itself from its competition, particularly from Dell. Dell's two most recent desktops take some risks that we were happy to see. This HP system plays it too safe, which makes it hard to recommend, especially with its $2,380 price tag.


HP Pavilion Elite m9100t

The Good

Strong overall configuration lends itself to gaming and digital media tasks; attractive enough design; fast quad-core CPU.

The Bad

None of its many features stand out as unique or exceptional; superfluous removable hard drive bays; too much bloatware.

The Bottom Line

HP's Pavilion Elite m9100t is an expensive, fully featured desktop that doesn't quite have enough personality to distinguish it from its competitors at Dell. Between that missing personality and some poor design choices from HP, we can't get too excited about this desktop.

As the Pavilion Elite m9100t is a customizable PC, you don't need to spend more than $2,000 to get one. For a modest $850 online, you can get a minimum specs with a dual-core Intel CPU and 2GB of RAM, which is not a bad way to start. HP envisions this system as its mainstream flagship PC, though, making our dialed-up review config an example of this system's full potential.

That potential includes an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 CPU, an upper-midrange 3D graphics card, a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive, and two TV tuners. That configuration essentially means with the Pavilion Elite m9100t you can watch any HD disc, play all but the most demanding 3D games at high resolutions, and not only record live TV to the HP's hard drive, but also watch on one channel while you record another. Neither Dell's media-minded XPS 420, nor its more recent XPS 630 gaming desktop can perform all of those tasks and stay within the same price range as this HP.

However, both of those Dell systems offer other features we find more exciting than anything offered by this HP. The most distinctive aspect of the HP is the TV recording and watching flexibility you get from its pair of tuners. Of course, those tuners require either over-the-air or unencrypted cable signals, which fall short of the full-blown HD digital cable that most people watch these days. Compare the Pavilion Elite m9100t's subpar TV features with the XPS 630's dual graphics cards or the XPS 420's specialized video encoding hardware, and the HP system seems as if it received less thought as far as how to make it special.

  HP Pavilion Elite m9100t Dell XPS 630
Price $2,379 $1,619
CPU 2.67GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Memory 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT
Hard drives (2) 500GB, 7,200 rpm 500GB, 7,200 rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/HD-DVD combo drive, DVD-ROM drive Dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium Windows Vista Home Premium
TV tuner Dual ATSC/NTSC TV Tuner No

This is not to say that the Pavilion Elite m9100t is totally unappealing. Its Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive and its 802.11n wireless adapter give it a lot of flexibility in terms of the content it can play as well as its capability to stream that content to other devices. Our review configuration of the XPS 630 has none of those features, but if you configure either the XPS 630 or the XPS 420 to match the HP on Dell's Web site, each system comes in at roughly the same price. Dell won't let you add two standard TV tuners as HP will, but with the XPS 420, you can upgrade to two ATI Digital Cable Tuners for an additional $379. If you're serious about using your PC for TV-related duties (and if you're in the market for a $2,000-plus desktop for the purpose, it's fair to assume that you might be), Dell's CableCard-based approach is far superior to HP's old-school tuners.

This brings us to the HP's performance. It has more RAM and its Core 2 Quad Q6700 quad-core chip is faster than the Q6600 model in the XPS 630. Those specs help the HP's its application test scores, which suggests overall that it has better performance in nongaming programs. Dell also doesn't offer the Q6700 in the XPS 630 (although it does in the XPS 420). That difference means that the Pavilion Elite m9100t will always be a better PC for tasks such as video encoding and other intensive multimedia tasks than Dell's midrange gaming PC, even if you upgrade the Dell's RAM. The overclocked Uberclok Ion, however, uses the same Q6600 chip as the Dell, but bumped to 3.2GHz from its stock 2.6GHz clock speed, and that system outpaces the HP on every application test. If you were to overclock the Dell's CPU (which is easy to do) and upgrade boost its RAM to 3GB, we suspect it would overtake the HP as well.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9100t

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9100t

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9100t

Cinebench test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Uberclok Ion
HP Pavilion Elite m9100t
Dell XPS 630
Gateway FX7020

For gaming performance, the Pavilion Elite m9100t and its single GeForce 8800 GT card trails behind the XPS 630 on every test, largely because the Dell system has two 8800GTs. The HP and Dell scored close on the 1,600x1,200 Crysis test, but we suspect it has to do with the HP's faster CPU and larger amount of system memory. Again, if you overclocked the Dell and added more RAM, it would likely improve performance, and still cost less than the Pavilion Elite. Crysis aside, you can expect the Pavilion Elite m9100t will play pretty much every game you throw at it, and at a decent resolution, just know that you can more gaming capability for your dollar from Dell, without sacrificing too much in the way of functionality.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 630
Uberclok Ion
HP Pavilion Elite m9100t
Gateway FX7020

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (high quality)  
1,280x1,024 (medium quality)  
Dell XPS 630
Gateway FX7020
HP Pavilion Elite m9100t
Uberclok Ion

We mentioned above that this HP system does not offer a second graphics card slot. This is actually a good thing, because if it did you'd have a hard time cramming a second card inside. This system uses the same case as the Elite m9040n we reviewed last year, and our criticism of that model remains the same here. It's attractive enough, and offers all the ports and inputs you'd expect, but it includes separate slots for two different kinds of proprietary removable hard drives from HP (which are sold separately) which is a redundant, up-sell-minded design decision. Worse, the clunky bays impede your ability to make your own internal upgrades and repairs because the removable drive bays take up so much internal space. The empty bay for the larger of the two optional drives blocks the cage for the internal hard drives, and in general, the mess of wires for the removable drives gets in the way of the other internal parts.

We also wish that HP would take the steps that Dell and Sony have recently in letting you opt out of trialware on its PCs, if not or eliminate it altogether. In addition to the various shortcuts linking you to lame game demos and ISPs you probably don't need, HP also takes the annoying step of placing its otherwise useful TotalCare system support software in a floating minidashboard at the top of the Windows screen. When you close the dashboard, the application itself remains open, complete with a task bar icon and wasted resources. A shortcut would suffice here.

Still, at its core, we like the TotalCare program because it's a useful tool for tracking basic system information. If you find you need more support, you can always refer to either HP's Web site, which has a fair amount of system specific resources, or try its toll-free 24-7 support line. Warranty-wise this system compares well with Dell and other competing vendors, giving you one year of parts and labor coverage, with various options to extend the coverage plan at the time of purchase.

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System configurations:

Dell XPS 630
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Q6600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics cards; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Gateway FX7020
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Phenom 9600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

HP Pavilion Elite m9100t
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.67GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; (2) 500GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drives

Uberclok Ion
Windows Vista Home Premium (tested); Windows XP Professional SP2 (second partition); 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Velocity Micro Pro Magix E2055
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500; 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3850 graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive


HP Pavilion Elite m9100t

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7Support 8