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HP Pavilion p6720f review: HP Pavilion p6720f

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MSRP: $599.99

The Good The HP Pavilion p6720f has solid multicore performance, and it offers plenty of room to upgrade.

The Bad The design is a little long in the tooth.

The Bottom Line HP's Pavilion p6720f won't turn heads, but its workmanlike performance and expandability make this a respectable budget midtower.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Support 7

Amid competition from slim-tower PCs and all-in-ones, the tried-and-true midtower PC might seem like a dated platform. Still, we can't help but have some appreciation for HP's Pavilion p6720f. This $599 desktop has few feature highlights, but it's a capable budget PC with an expandable base for a reasonable price.

HP's Pavilion midtower design should feel familiar if you've gone PC shopping in the last few years. Its glossy black, gray-trimmed exterior conforms to apparent industry aesthetic standards, and although its outside is plastered with stickers, we're more willing to forgive a midtower for that design offense. Unlike smaller slim-tower PCs, a standard midtower desktop isn't that likely to wind up in your living room hardware stack.

HP Pavilion p6720f Gateway DX4840-03e HP Pavilion p6510y
Price $599 $649 $529
CPU 2.9GHz AMD Phenom II X4 840T 3.0GHz Intel Core i3 540 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4 630
Memory 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics chip 64MB (shared) Intel GMA HD X4500 integrated graphics chip 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm 750GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive Dual-layer DVD burner Dual-layer DVD burner Dual-layer DVD burner
Networking 10/100 Ethernet LAN, 802.11n Wi-Fi 10/100 Ethernet LAN, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi 10/100 Ethernet LAN
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

The Gateway's DX4840-03e and HP's own Pavilion p6510y are two of the last midtowers we've reviewed, both from July 2010. Neither is available anymore, but they still provide relevant points of comparison for the Pavilion p6720f, in that they let us see how the value proposition has changed over the last nine months or so.

The differences between the two HP systems are more prominent than between the Pavilion p6720f and the Gateway. The newer HP unit boasts a faster, more advanced AMD quad-core CPU than the older one, as well as a larger hard drive, more RAM, and wireless networking. Granted, the newer model costs $70 more than the older one, but even taking that price jump into consideration, the newer Pavilion seems like a definite improvement.

The matchup with the Gateway model isn't as black and white for the Pavilion p6720f. The two are more or less identical in terms of core features, although the Gateway offers more RAM and a dual-core Intel Core i3 chip with a faster core clock speed than the HP. The two models trade performance wins on our benchmark tests, making neither an obvious winner, but we'll give HP credit for offering more expandability than the Gateway. The Pavilion gives you a free PCI Express graphics card slot, as well as three 1x PCIe slots for other card upgrades. The Gateway offers only a graphics slot and a single 1x PCIe input. Although free slots don't translate to instantly usable out-of-the-box functionality, we're willing to pay more for upgrade potential.

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

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

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion p6720f

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
HP Pavilion p6720f
HP Pavilion p6510y
Asus Essentio CM5675-07
Gateway DX4840-03e
Dell Inspiron i560-2050NBK

We weren't surprised by the Pavilion p6720f's benchmark results given its quad-core AMD CPU. Though it drags behind the Asus and Gateway systems on clock-speed-focused tests, the newer HP handles multitasking and multicore-friendly apps well. With more and more programs like media creation apps, games, and even Windows 7 itself supporting multiple processor cores, you may see a noticeable benefit from a system like the HP with four CPU cores. Intel's Sandy Bridge CPUs might upend the HP's fast Phenom II X4 chip when they emerge in this price range, but for now, casual computer users should be satisfied with the Pavilion p6720f's overall performance.

We mentioned the HP's card expandability. We should add that if you want to upgrade to a discrete graphics card, the Pavilion's 250-watt power supply will prevent you from adding anything beyond a lower midrange GPU. Other upgrade options include a spare RAM slot, as well as a free hard-drive bay, but, as usual with the midtower Pavilion, the clunky hard-drive cage makes adding a second storage device harder than it should be.

You'll also need to add a graphics card to this system if you want an HDMI output, as the motherboard only offers DVI and VGA outputs. We can forgive the absence of HDMI given the midtower case, but we're less tolerant of the absent eSATA and FireWire jacks. HP did at least include coaxial digital audio and 7.1 analog audio jacks, as well as a plentiful assortment of USB jacks.

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