Compaq Presario SR1430NX
If you need a second computer for simple office and online tasks or a basic system for the college-bound, picking up a preconfigured PC from a retail chain is a stress-free option. You'll get ample firepower and waste little time poring over configuration options. The $650 HP Compaq Presario SR1430NX is a case in point. With its double-layer DVD burner, 160GB hard drive, and integrated flash-card reader, it delivers good features at a decent price. But remember, for a few hundred dollars more, machines such as theand will do more and last longer.
The Presario SR1430NX's smart-looking midtower case features a black-and-silver color scheme and rounded edges. But the plastic panel covering the front is cheaply made. One of the retractable optical-drive covers on our test system snapped off during shipping. The single-thumbscrew case opened easily enough to let us access and remove the decorative front panel for possible replacement or repair.
With the case open, you'll notice a tidy interior providing easy access to most components. But you'll also see that the motherboard does not offer a dedicated AGP slot (much less PCI Express), meaning you're stuck with the integrated graphics provided by the Intel 915G chipset.
On the front of the case, there's a double-layer DVD+/-RW drive, a CD-ROM drive, and an 8-in-1 flash-card reader, along with USB 2.0, FireWire, and audio ports. Around back, there are audio jacks (including digital), four more USB 2.0 ports, and another FireWire connector. Intrepid users will find some room for expansion inside: two PCI slots, two RAM slots, and two internal 5.25-inch drive bays remain free. The system comes with a single 160GB hard drive--spacious for such a cheap PC--and 512MB of RAM, which is enough for running Windows XP Home.