We've never loved Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion Elite desktop chassis, largely due to their clunky design that shoehorns not one, but two bays into the system for non-included, proprietary HP removable hard drives. The Pavilion Elite m9402f is not different, but we're also down on this $819 system for its subpar features compared with a more affordable Dell PC. HP certainly has PCs that we like. This isn't one of them.
Generally, the Pavilion Elite m9402f will do what we expect from most midrange desktop PCs. Its CPU is fast enough, its hard drive spacious enough, and it has enough RAM to handle Windows Vista and allow you to perform most common tasks with little trouble. We were a bit surprised that unlike the Dell Studio Desktop, this HP has no low-end 3D card, relying instead on an integrated 3D graphics chip.
We're also scratching our heads at the fact that it came with 7GB of RAM, by way of three 2GB memory sticks, and one 1GB module. Our cynical side has a feeling this is an attempt by HP to appeal to consumers' numbers-driven instincts, wherein you might conclude that 7GB has to be better than a PC with 6GB of RAM, a more common spec in this price range. Our tests below show that the extra RAM doesn't help the HP's performance.
|HP Pavilion Elite m9402f||Dell Studio Desktop|
|CPU||2.3GHz AMD Phenom X4 9650||2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200|
|Memory||7GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150 SE integrated graphics chip||256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450|
|Hard drives||640GB, 7,200rpm||750GB, 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
Side-by-side, the HP Pavilion Elite m9402f falls short in a couple of areas compared with the Dell Studio Desktop, particularly damning due to the HP's higher price. Both of these PCs are fixed Best Buy configurations, so the specs and prices remain static, sales and rebate offers notwithstanding. While the HP has more memory, the Dell's larger hard drive and dedicated graphics card have a larger impact on overall system capability. Yes, the HP has wireless networking. Perhaps you find that more worthwhile than we do. In standard midtower desktops like these, we're willing to accept wired-only connections in favor of more robust parts elsewhere, like you get with the Dell.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
The test results for these two PCs paint an unmistakably clear picture. The HP was slower than the Dell on every benchmark. It's worth noting that the HP's quad-core AMD CPU and the Dell's quad-core Intel processor also share the same clock speed. We've known for a while that Intel's chips are faster than AMD's clock-for-clock right now. These results add further evidence. This HP will certainly handle any standard modern computing task you throw at it, but not as well as the less expensive Dell.
We've mentioned our annoyance with the HP's hard-drive bays already. We find the larger bay of the two particularly irritating because it takes up a huge portion of the system interior and adds extra wires to an already average cabling job. You do have room to make a few other upgrades to this PC, including a free graphics card slot and a handful of other expansion slots. The spare hard-drive bay might as well not exist since it's obstructed by the removable drive bay, which also gets in the way of the memory slots.
Unlike other systems in this price range, like the Asus Essentio, the HP includes no HDMI video output, or even a DVI option. Instead you get one VGA output, which limits your ability to connect this system to a television. We can't dock too many points here, because we don't relish the idea of a midtower PC in the living room. You also get no eSATA input for high-speed external hard-drive storage. The complement of USB 2.0 ports and FireWire 400 jacks will have to do. For audio you get the standard array of 7.1 analog jacks, as well as single coaxial S/PDIF output.
HP backs the Pavilion Elite m9402f with a year of parts and labor protection, as well as 24-7 toll-free phone support, more or less today's standard for service and support. HP's online resources are helpful as well, with FAQs, driver downloads, and other system-specific info. The system also comes with HP's Total Care Advisor software for do-it-yourself troubleshooting.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.4GHz)
Apple OS X 10.5.4; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics chip; 250GB 7,200rpm hard drive.
Dell Studio Desktop
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 750GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive
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 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion Elite m9402f
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz AMD Phenom X4 9650; 7GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150 SE integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200rpm TK hard drive.