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|
|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.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
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.
|HP Pavilion p6720f||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||261.08304|
|Energy Star compliant||Yes|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$29.63|
As we've come to expect from the AMD-based PCs, the Pavilion p6720f is not comparatively power-efficient. You'll pay almost twice as much in annual power bills for this HP as you will for the Intel-based Gateway DX4840-03e or a system like it. Fortunately, in real-dollar terms, that comes down to $2.47 a month for the HP, as compared with $1.41 for the Gateway, so the difference won't beat up your wallet too badly.
HP includes a standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the Pavilion p6720f. You also get 24-7 toll-free phone support and a variety of support resources available on HP's Web site, as well as on the system itself.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
HP Pavilion p6720f
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.9GHz AMD Phenom II X4 810T; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics chip; 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Asus Essentio CM5671-05
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5500; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Dell Inspiron i560-2050NBK
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400; 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i3 540; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion p6510y
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4 630; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics chip; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive