We'd like to thank HP and its $400 Compaq Presario SR1910NX for helping us illustrate an important point: the gap between a $400 PC and the $600 PC is a wide one. If you're considering a budget PC purchase and can find a way to make the extra $200 leap, we highly recommend it, because you can get much more computer for your dollar. This is not a knock against the SR1910NX in particular; for the price, it's about as powerful and as feature rich as you might expect. It's just that you can't expect much. And while you can certainly make the argument that many people need no more than a basic PC such as this for e-mail, browsing the Web, and running the occasional office app, the upcoming release of Windows Vista and Vista-level applications changes the landscape somewhat. This system barely meets the basic requirements for Windows XP, and with its 32-bit processor, it's not making the leap to Vista. To stretch your PC dollar further, we recommend moving up a bit within the budget class and considering the HP Pavilion a1510n or the Cyberpower Back to School 2006.
In order for Windows XP to really run smoothly, you need 512MB of RAM. The Presario SR1910NX has that much, but it also has an integrated graphics chip that steals some of the system memory, so at no time are you actually running Windows with the full 512MB allotment. You can get by with the variable amount (which will never dip below the Windows XP minimum of 256MB), but you can also expect noticeable slowdowns whenever you run graphically intense media. A graphics card with its own dedicated memory will alleviate the problem, and HP accommodates such an upgrade via the system's free x16 PCI Express graphics slot.
Unfortunately, you can't make any upgrades prior to purchase; the Presario SR1910NX is a fixed configuration, available only in retail stores. If you want a model you can customize, look to the Compaq Presario 1900Z series, available on HP's Web site. There you can add memory, hard drive capacity, and other upgrades. The costs of the various extra parts are reasonable, but the selection is limited. HP offers no dual-core processors for a Presario 1900Z series PC, for example.
The processor you get with the Presario SR1910NX is befitting of a system in this price range. It's a single-core, 1.8GHz AMD Sempron 3200+. AMD's budget processor is neither dual core nor 64-bit capable (both of which will matter more with Windows Vista), and its lack of power contributes to the SR1910NX's low scores on CNET Labs' benchmarks. But really, the major performance issue has to do with the memory. Our multitasking test is a good indicator of how sharing the system memory with the graphics chip hurts performance. On that test, the SR1910NX took 8 minutes, 32 seconds to finish our simultaneous run of a virus scan, a video encode, and a file copy. For $200 more, you can purchase HP's own Pavilion a1510n desktop, which completed the same test in 6 minutes, 20 seconds or, better, pick up the dual-core CPU-powered Cyberpower's Back to School 2006, which finished the test in 4 minutes, 28 seconds.
|Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test|
|Apple iTunes encoding test|
|Microsoft Office productivity test|
If you don't care about raw performance or transitioning to Vista next year and you simply want a computer for basic tasks, the Presario SR1910NX will suffice. It also makes a good choice for a cheap second computer. It has a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive for burning CDs and watching movies. You don't get a DVD burner, but there is a spare optical-drive slot if you want to add one in later. We're also pleasantly surprised to see that at the low end of the budget price range you can still get a moderately roomy 120GB hard drive. There's no media card reader, though, an omission that seems especially lame, since it's only a $10 add-on on HP's Web site.
We have to give HP credit for the amount of free software that comes with the Presario SR1910NX. It provides a broad collection of applications that any user will find useful, including Microsoft Works 2006, Quicken New User Edition 2006, Norton Internet Security 2006, Sonic DigitalMedia Plus for burning CDs and making printed labels, as well as a collection of handy application, driver, and operating-system backup tools. We wish HP held back a bit on the baitware, though. The desktop and start menu are cluttered with 30-day and otherwise limited trial versions of various games and services, as well as links to Web sites inviting users to purchase extended HP service plans and added Web security. More useful are the desktop shortcuts pointing you to eBay and HP's SnapFish Web photo sharing service.
HP's service package for the Presario SR1910NX is mostly on a par with those from other PC vendors, with a few downsides. It covers the hardware with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, but the software gets only 90 days of coverage. Phone support is toll-free and operates 24/7. Its Web site offers real-time support chat, e-mail response, as well as comprehensive, system-specific driver downloads and recovery software.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Cyberpower Back to School 2006
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ AM2 socket; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7300 GS (PCIe); WDC WD2500JS-00NCB1 250GB SATA 7,200rpm
HP Compaq Presario SR1910NX
Windows XP Home SP2; 1.8GHz AMD Sempron 3200+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated Nvidia 6150LE graphics chip using 256MB shared memory; 120GB Western Digital 7,200rpm SATA
HP Pavilion a1510n
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; integrated Nvidia 6150LE graphics chip using 256MB shared memory; 200GB Western Digital 7,200rpm SATA
HP Pavilion Slimline s7500y
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M 735; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM TKMHz; integrated Intel 945G graphics chip using 128MB shared memory; 200GB Seagate 7,200rpm SATA
Velocity Micro Vector GX Campus Edition
Velocity Micro Vector GX Campus Edition Windows XP Home SP2; Intel Core 2 Duo E6300; Intel 975X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600GS (PCIe); WDC WD2500JS 250GB 7,200rpm SATA