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HP Pavilion Elite m9300t review: HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

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
5 min read

At its core, our $1,100 HP Pavilion Elite m9300t review unit is a reasonably priced example of Hewlett-Packard's midrange desktop. It gives you about $900 worth of basic computer, and an extra $200 in home theater-style extras. The good news is that this system is configurable, so if, like us, you find the idea of home theater PCs increasingly tiresome, especially in a standard midtower, you can opt out of any features you don't want. Even with that flexibility, HP's clunky design makes us find similar PCs from Dell and Gateway more appealing.


HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

The Good

Strong basic performance; integrated infrared receiver; all kinds of digital media-oriented options.

The Bad

Cumbersome optional hard-drive bays; no way to opt out of the TV tuner card.

The Bottom Line

At its heart, the HP Pavilion Elite m9300t is a fast, competitive midtower desktop with lots of flexibility in its configuration. You just have to wade through some clunky design and a few components you might not want in order to find it.

We've seen the Pavilion Elite design in its earlier incarnations, and our complaints remain the same. The slick-looking glossy black front is fine, and we especially appreciate the integrated infrared receiver for the remote control. The issue is the two empty bays for HP's proprietary removable hard drives. You have to buy the drives to go in those bays separately, and in the meantime, you're left with a lot of wasted space. This isn't necessarily an issue on the outside of the system, but once you go inside you'll see that the cages for these superfluous drives take up a significant amount of room. The drive cage for the included internal hard drive is pushed to back where it's basically made inaccessible, and the internal wiring is dense and sloppy because of the cramped interior.

  HP Pavilion Elite m9300t Dell Inspiron 518
Price $1,100 $784
CPU 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Memory 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9500 GS 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450
Hard drives 500GB, 7,200rpm 320GB, 5,400rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/HD DVD player/dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g wireless Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit)
TV Tuner Yes No

Design issues aside, there's actually a decent PC buried under all of that mess. If you discount the Blu-ray drive, the sound card, and the wireless networking adapter, you're left with a roughly $900 desktop that fares very well against its competition. Our review unit came with 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium, but HP offers the 64-bit version for no extra charge. And with its fast Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor, its 500GB hard drive, and 2GB of 800MHZ DDR SDRAM, the Pavilion Elite m9300t is one of the best Photoshop systems in its price range.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
HP Pavilion Elite m9300t
Dell Inspiron 518
Gateway DX4200
Apple iMac

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

The Photoshop test stands out because the HP outpaced both Apple's iMac and the Dell Inspiron 518. The latter even uses the same processor, but our hunch is that the HP's 512MB GeForce 9500 GS 3D card contributed to its faster Photoshop performance. The HP and the Dell were tied on our other application tests, which makes sense given their similarities, but the gaming test is clearly in the HP's favor. This is no gaming system, but if you have a 17-inch or a 19-inch LCD monitor, you should be able to enjoy most current 3D games at your monitor's native resolution, as long as you keep the detail settings reasonable.

You'll note, for example that we're comparing the $1,100 HP's performance to that of a $750 Dell. That's because the HP is loaded with secondary extras like a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive, a sound card, and a wireless adapter. If you have $1,100 to spend and want more performance, instead of a Blu-ray/HD DVD drive and the sound card, you could configure this system with a faster CPU, more memory, and switch over to 64-bit Vista for $20 less. Of the options you are stuck with, we'd like to see the TV tuner go. Right now HP's configurator doesn't let you deselect it.

That said, if you're interested in cramming as many options as you can into this system, or just a few, HP has you covered. Upgrades include a Draft N wireless card, a CableCard-ready TV tuner, a Blu-ray burner, larger hard drives, and up to 8GB of RAM. Serious gamers are really the only customer left out, because the 3D card options stop at the midrange, and the motherboard won't support more than a single graphics card.

For software, you're treated to a semiuseful utility and HP's usual collection of trialware icons. The utility, HP's Total Care Advisor, gives you the now familiar set of tools for monitoring your system performance, updating Windows, and troubleshooting help. The trialware icons create desktop clutter, but they're all easily carted off to the recycle bin.

Like Dell, HP's service and support policy rises above the rest because of its thoroughness. The basic warranty covers you for one year of parts and labor, and you get 24-7 toll free phone support. HP also offers in-home support if it finds that dispatching a tech would be the best solution to a particular issue. Online help is also widely available with various e-mail, chat, and remote control assistance, as well as the usual raft of FAQs and system specific help.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.4GHz)
Apple OS X; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics chip; 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive.

Dell Inspiron 518
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.

Gateway DX4200
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.2Ghz AMD Phenom X4 9550; 6GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 640GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.

HP Pavilion Elite m9300t
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9500 GS graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

Velocity Micro Vector Campus Edition
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 384MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive


HP Pavilion Elite m9300t

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 8Support 8