HP Pavilion HPE h9z review: HP Pavilion HPE h9z

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The Good HP's new Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z can at least boast decent expandability and a competitive set of connectivity options.

The Bad HP's latest attempt at a gaming PC fails due to its back-of-the-pack performance compared with other gaming desktops in this price range.

The Bottom Line Slower than all of its competition, the HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h90z is impossible to recommend.

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4.9 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 5
  • Performance 3
  • Support 7

"Mass-market gaming desktop" doesn't have to mean lackluster performance and uncompetitive pricing. Too bad Hewlett-Packard seems to have forgotten. Both slower and more expensive than its competition, the $1,049 HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z desktop is almost confusingly terrible in terms of bang for the buck. A Blu-ray drive and, to a lesser extent, Beats Audio software add some value, but the gamers for whom this system is clearly intended will find little to like here.

HP introduced its new Phoenix case design at CES this year. The stylized appearance comes replete with dramatic angles and red LEDs. All of it will sufficiently communicate "gaming computer" on the shelf at Best Buy, but it does essentially nothing to move PC aesthetics forward.

Absent from this system is the Phoenix line's liquid CPU cooler. HP highlighted the liquid cooling hardware as a selling point for the Phoenix at CES. The AMD FX-8100 chip is indeed overclockable, and you can buy the cooler as a $60 option if you're inclined to tinker with clock speeds. Like Dell, HP won't overclock out of the box, but the liquid cooler option at least acknowledges that PC gamers appreciate the opportunity to squeeze out more performance when possible. You can still overclock the CPU in this Phoenix without the liquid cooling rig, but you won't be able to set the frequency as high as you might with it.

HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z Alienware X51 Origin Chronos
Price $1,049 $999 $1,199
Motherboard chipset AMD 970X Intel H61 Intel Z68
CPU 2.8GHZ AMD FX-8100 3GHz Intel Core i5-2320 4.5GHz Intel Core i5-2550K (overclocked)
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB Nvidia GeForce 550 Ti 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti
Hard drives 1TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm 750GB 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

HP offers versions of the Pavilion HPE Phoenix on both AMD and Intel CPU platforms. Our AMD-based review unit is the most affordable, starting at $999. The other three models, all Intel-based, start as high as $2,049 for the h9se with Intel's unnecessary six-core, Core i7-3900-series chips. None of these Phoenix units is that compelling, particularly compared with HP's non-Phoenix Pavilion HPE h8xt. For $1,130, you can get an h8xt with a Core i7-2600S, with 8GB of RAM, a 2TB hard drive, and a Radeon HD 6850 graphics card. The Phoenix h9t with those specs and a compulsory Blu-Ray drive will cost $1,378, making it a nonstarter.

In comparison with midrange gaming desktops from other vendors, the Phoenix fares even worse. Alienware's new X51 is faster on every test and only costs $999. Willing to spend $150 more than the HP review unit costs? Look into the factory-overclocked Chronos from Origin and you'll get some of the best performance we've seen in a sub-$2,000 computer. Neither of those competing systems has a Blu-ray drive like the Phoenix, but for gaming systems raw performance is far more important.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z (FX 8100, February 2012)

The AMD FX-8100 chip holds the Phoenix h9z back on all of our application tests. HP's system can't outperform the cheaper Alienware system on these tests, nor can it catch HP's more mainstream Pavilion HPE h8xt. I thought the native eight-core CPU might have a chance to help the Phoenix claim a win in the Cinebench test at least, but AMD's chip can't withstand its Intel-based competition.

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

Metro 2033 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)  
1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)  

3DMark 11 combined test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Extreme (1,920x1080)  
Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)  
Entry level (1,680x1,050)  
HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z (FX 8100, February 2012)

Slow 3D performance paints perhaps a worse picture for the Phoenix, given its positioning as a gaming system. It came in last on every test, barely even hitting 60 frames per second on our venerable Far Cry 2 benchmark. Yes, the Phoenix will play most current games at reasonably acceptable image quality and smoothness. Compared with competing systems in its price range, however, the Phoenix offers less headroom for "ultra" quality settings and resolutions above 1,920x1,080 pixels, and won't instill as much confidence in its ability to run more demanding PC games released in the future.

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