Although it features an excellent array of connections that make it suitable as a media centre PC, the performance of the HP Pavilion Elite M9380a_01 didn't live up to our expectations, especially for a unit that costs $2000.
From the outside, the Elite looks modest. This shouldn’t be taken as a negative point, because it means the M9380a_01 will fit neatly into almost any home or office environment; the HP logo on the front glows appealingly without being garish.
At the top of the front panel is a 15-in-1 media reader (CF1, CF2, MD, SM, MMC, SD, mini-SD, MS, MSPro, xD, MSDuo, MSDuo Pro, RSMMC, MMC+, MMC Mobile), which more than covers the usual formats used by digital devices.
Below the media reader is a HD-DVD/Blu-ray reader/DVD-RW combo drive. (Toshiba, the former promoters of HD-DVD, resembles Basil Fawlty when it comes to its defeated product: don’t mention the next-gen format war!) The inclusion of HD-DVD support seems somewhat redundant given Blu-ray's decisive victory, although it will be useful for anyone who already owns HD-DVD movies.
While there is an empty slot for a second optical drive, the M9380a_01 only has three Serial ATA power connections, all of which are taken by existing devices. You get the aforementioned Blu-ray combo drive, as well as two 320GB hard drives (which aren't set up in a RAID 0 array). Both drives give you 298GB of formatted capacity to play with, although a few gigabytes have been set aside for the PC's restore partition.
HP has left space inside the case for two optional proprietary devices: an HP Personal Media Drive and an HP Pocket Media Drive. Both of these devices take up a lot of room, especially the Personal Media Drive. It would have been better to see a standard 3.5in bay for another internal hard drive. After all, if you want a removable mass storage device, you can just get a regular USB drive.
The AMD CPU combined with 3GB of RAM, the aforementioned hard drives, and a GeForce 9500GS graphics card, to provide a low score in our WorldBench 6 test. It only scored 74 in this test, whereas the HP Pavilion a6560a, which uses the same CPU and graphics card, but has more RAM (4GB) a 500GB hard drive, scored 85. It's still capable of running several office programs at once, and it's also useful for media encoding, but its performance in our iTunes tests was also a let-down.
The Elite took 1min 50sec to convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, which is 23sec more than the and much longer than its contemporaries such as the Dell or the MegaPC MPC-Kalashnikkov (AK47) 4GHz.
The computer uses three of the four available DIMM slots, meaning that another RAM module can be added. However, users should remember that anything above 4GB of RAM will require an upgrade from 32- to 64-bit Vista in order for the extra RAM to be of use.
The PC's NVIDIA GeForce 9500GS graphics card returned a score of 4904 in 3DMark06. This indicates an ability to play older DirectX 9 games, such as F.E.A.R., at mid-level settings without a problem. However, modern DirectX 10 games will struggle to run.
The graphics card has a DVI-out port, a D-sub port and a HDMI port, allowing a wide variety of screens and panels to be connected.
The Elite’s expansion options are impressive: it offers two USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire port on the front panel, as well as four USB 2.0 ports and a second FireWire port at the rear. The PC's built-in digital TV tuner works well, and the bundled remote control worked right out of the box. You can also connect the PC to a 7.1 speaker system via either its analog or digital outputs.
Unfortunately, the unit drops the ball when it comes to networking. Despite costing a relatively pricey $2000, this PC lacks both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n wireless networking, sticking instead to 10/100 Ethernet and 802.11b/g wireless.