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|
|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.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
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.
On top of its core features and specifications, the Slimline S3330f has all of the secondary features we come to look for in a living room system in this price range. It has 802.11 b/g wireless networking capability, an analog TV tuner, a spacious 500GB hard drive, a remote control, and a desktop-sized wireless mouse and keyboard set. That list makes the HP as living room-friendly as we'd expect for less than $1,000. The wireless networking and input devices save you from extraneous cable clutter, and the analog TV tuner and 500GB hard drive provide you with at least basic PVR-capability. Even with the slow build-up of PC-based CableCard support, we find in general that we're willing to concede that the PC is still not ideal for full-blown TV reception and recording duties, so the HP's analog tuner is fine, and you could even go without it and gain a low-profile PCI expansion slot for making an alternative upgrade.
As much as we love the configuration of this HP, its design also shines. However, it could also use a few minor tweaks. In addition to its glossy good looks, the HDMI output on the graphics card makes it easy to transmit both audio and video to a modern HDTV (and we had none of the connection issues we found with the last Slimline we reviewed). There's also a DVI input for traditional PC displays. Our biggest gripe is the clunky USB IR receiver for the remote control. It's well past time that HP figured out how to integrate it into the system, as Apple did with Mac Mini two years ago. We'd also like to see HP more smoothly integrate its DVD player software into Windows Media Center. The delay between when you push play and when the software finally displays the content is too long.
Of course, HP's love of crapware icons is alive and well for this system. We count six icons on the Windows desktop hawking some kind of service or product. That said, HP's TotalCare software suite is actually useful in the way it points out system information and leads you to other help resources. For other support, you get a one year parts and labor warranty with the Pavilion Slimline S3330f as well as 24-7 toll-free phone support. You can also go online for system-specific downloads and other kinds of support.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics card; (2) 1TB 7,200rpm hard drives
Apple Mac Mini
Apple OS X; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 120GB 5,400rpm Hitachi hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Phenom 9600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive
HP Pavilion Slimline S3330f
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400+; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200 rpm Samsung hard drive
Sony VAIO TP25 Home Theater PC
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M GT; 500GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive