HP Pavilion Slimline s3300 review: HP Pavilion Slimline s3300

The Good Outstanding price-to-feature ratio; Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive; small, flexible case; great performance thanks to a speedy dual-core AMD CPU

The Bad Begs for an integrated IR receiver

The Bottom Line The HP Pavilion Slimline S3330f delivers a remarkable combination of features, value, and flexibility. It excels as both a traditional desktop, and a full-fledged living room PC, complete with a Blu-ray and HD DVD drive. Any nongamer in the market for a sub-$1,000 PC should put this system at the top of their list.

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9.1 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 10
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

We've been anxious to get our hands on the $949 HP Pavilion Slimline S3330f ever since it was announced just prior to this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Now that we've given it a thorough going over, and compared it with some of its competition, we're happy to report that this tiny PC lives up to our high expectations. It brings more entertainment capability, and at a better price, than any other system on the market. We'd recommend it to anyone looking to purchase a home theater PC, sub-$1,000 or otherwise.

HP's Pavilion Slimline series has done well here at CNET recently, despite a rocky start in 2005. The last three versions, however, have been Editors' Choice winners. The S3330f continues the trend. On the surface, this PC stands out for the fact that it costs less than $1,000 and comes with a Blu-ray/HD DVD combination optical drive. For those reasons alone, it might be worth purchasing for some of you.

There are desktops on the market that come close to this one. We configured a Dell Inspiron 530s to match this HP almost exactly and got a price of $1,098 (after instant rebates). That system comes closest to the Slimline. Sony also offers the similar VAIO TP20, but for $1,600. We haven't received either of those systems to review yet, so we can't speak to their performance. However, we have reviewed Sony's higher-end VAIO TP25, a small-scale living room PC with a high-flying $3,000 price tag. We wrote in our review of that system that it's not a good deal, and you can see why from its comparison with the Slimline.

  HP Pavilion Slimline S3330f Sony VAIO TP25 Home Theater PC
Price $949 $2,999
CPU 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400+ 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100
Memory 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M GT
Hard drives 500GB 7,200 rpm 500GB, 7,200 rpm
Optical drive Blu-Ray/HD DVD player with LightScribe DVD burner Blu-ray player/DVD-burner
Networking 802.11b/g wireless, Gigabit Ethernet 802.11b/g wireless, Gigabit Ethernet
TV Tuner Integrated ATSC/NTSC tuner (2) ATI Digital Cable Tuner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium Windows Vista Home Premium

The VAIO has a different round design, a more coffee-table-friendly keyboard than HP's standard desktop model, and a pair of ATI Digital Cable Tuners, which provide that system with CableCard support for recording HD cable on your PC. Neither the tuners nor the keyboard make up for the TP25's exorbitant price, and the $949 Slimline equals or outclasses the Sony in almost every category. The HP's CPU and graphics card are both faster than the Sony's, and--while it matters less now--the HD DVD compatibility, on top of Blu-ray support in the HP, is still something of a plus. Think of all the cheap HD DVD discs you can buy.

Because of each system's small case, the Slimline S3330f and the VAIO TP25 are particularly well suited for living room use. While you could certainly use the VAIO on your desktop as well, the Slimline's case lets you stand it on end or lay it down flat, giving you many more placement options than the cylindrical Sony system. You might write off the system performance of a living room PC as long as it has the right features, but it's relevant to look at the HP's benchmark scores as you would a standard desktop PC, because its design offers so much flexibility.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Slimline s3330f

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Slimline s3330f

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Slimline s3330f

CineBench test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Gateway FX7020
HP Pavilion Slimline s3330f
Apple Mac Mini Core 2 Duo
Alienware Hangar18

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Gateway FX7020
HP Pavilion Slimline s3330f

The HP's fast iTunes score surprised us, although it makes sense because that test largely depends on raw CPU speed. The Slimline's 2.8GHz Athlon 64 X2 5400+ chip has a higher clock than the comparison systems. It also performed well on our Cinebench tests, coming in behind only the quad-core Gateway FX7020, which stands to reason given that the HP's Athlon chip is dual-core. The VAIO comes out ahead on Photoshop because it has 3GB of RAM compared with the HP's 2GB, and its Unreal Tournament 3 frame rate is also higher, such as it is. Neither of these systems will do well as gaming PCs because of their lower-end 3D cards, but the HP's application scores show that it competes well against other small PCs, as well as midrange desktops in its price class.