The new looks are nice, but we're more glad that HP has redesigned its new midtower Pavilion desktop with an eye on expandability. That and the robust service make this $760 desktop a solid buy for anyone in need of a straightforward day-to-day PC.
HP's new Pavilion a6030n is about as remarkable a desktop as you might expect for $760. It will give you satisfactory workaday Windows Vista performance, with little in the way of gaming or advanced digital video editing frills. From a value perspective, it's a solid PC that performs exactly as it should for its specs and its price. Its main distinction is HP's sleek new design that the company has extended across its entire line of PCs. If you're looking for a basic desktop package that looks good, will last you a few years, and offers a little bit of expandability, the Pavilion a6030n is a solid pick.
Like many PC's we've seen lately, HP went with a dual-core AMD Athlon 64 X2 processor, specifically the 2.5GHz 4800+ model. It's a lower wattage version of that chip, but that doesn't mean its performance suffers; it's simply easier to keep cool, making the Pavilion a6030n an exceptionally quiet machine. This system's 2GB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM shows that even lower-end PCs can adopt the 2GB of memory recommend for Windows Vista Home Premium and still come in at a reasonable price. If this system had a graphics card, you might be able to get away with 1GB of memory, but with 2GB, HP can safely rely on the integrated GeForce 6150 LE graphics chip that comes on the motherboard.
Because it comes with an integrated 3D chip, its results on our Quake 4 test aren't worth making a chart for. You should be able to get away with mainstream titles like the Sims 2 or World of Warcraft, though. For nongaming performance, the Pavilion a6030n came in exactly where we expected. It is not quite as fast overall as more expensive PCs from Dell and Cyberpower, but it also effectively shows off the benefits of added memory compared to the 1GB (and $200 cheaper) eMachines T5226.
As we've already mentioned in reviews this year of HP's new TouchSmart and SlimLine PCs, we're fans of the cosmetic redesign that HP has applied across its entire product family. The Pavilion a6030n is perhaps not quite as attractive as HP's smaller SlimLine, but that's mostly because of the Pavilion's larger size. It remains, after all, a basic midtower desktop. Still, the glossy black front panel and the soft blue LED glowing inside the power button give this system a much improved look compared to HP's old, all-gray models.
Of course, because this is a midtower PC you also get all the expansion benefits of a larger case. A full-size spare PCI-Express graphics expansion slot lets you add a low-end to midrange 3D graphics card after purchase. You also have room to add two more sticks of memory to the two already in place, or twice the number you can put into the smaller SlimLine. HP includes a LightScribe, dual-format DVD burner for reading and creating almost any kind of standard definition optical media. You also get room to add another drive, should you opt for an upgrade later (although if you have an HD optical drive in mind, you'd definitely want a more capable graphics card).
In addition to the cosmetic design, HP made some utilitarian improvements to the new midtowers as well. As with earlier Pavilions (and, remarkably, the new SlimLine), HP includes a front panel slot that will accept one of its handy and expensive removable Pocket Media hard drives. In the older Pavilions the Pocket slot blocked the spare hard drive bay, but the a6030n manages to give you room for both the Pocket Media Drive and an extra, traditional hard drive, in case the included 320GB 7,200 rpm model isn't enough storage (it's a good start at least). The new internal drive cage design looks a bit more complicated to remove than it needs to be, but it's actually a matter of removing two screws, holding down a tab and lifting the entire drive cage up and out of the system.
We will continue to hold up HP as one of the worst vendors for loading all kinds of trial software and offers onto its PCs. The Pavilion a6030n has nine icons on the Windows desktop trying to sell you everything from HP's SnapFish photo Web site to an AOL membership to video games. That means HP has actually added more shovelware since the Pavilion a1740n we reviewed just a month and a half ago. Lame.
Fortunately, if you have trouble uninstalling the trial software or deleting the icons, HP's tech support is available 24/7 to give you some help. You'd better call within the first 90 days, though, because after that, your one-year warranty only covers hardware and labor. We looked on HP's TotalCare software for information on how to clean up all the software and we couldn't find anything on that topic, but TotalCare does give you lots of help for self-diagnosis of overall system health. You could always try asking one of HP's online support techs, too. Those guys can actually take remote control of your system with your permission, in order to troubleshoot problems. Perhaps if you ask them nicely they might help remove the clutter from your desktop for you.
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Find out more about how we test desktop systems. System configurations:
Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+; 1,024GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; 320GB 7,200 rpm hard drive
Dell Dimension E521
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+; 2,048MB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon X1300 Pro HyperMemory graphics card; 320GB Western Digital 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 820; 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 224MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 graphics chip; 250GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion a6030n
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.5GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+; 2GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB integrated Nvidia GeForce 6150 LE graphics chip; 320GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
Polywell Poly 690G-5200
Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit); 2.66Ghz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+; 2GB 667Mhz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon X1200 integrated graphics; 250GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive