When you're at the mall browsing for a new PC to furnish your bedroom or home office with, this Compaq Presario won't stand out from the Pavilions next to it, much less the iMacs. But it's definitely worth stopping to check it out if you do see it, because it's a well-stocked PC that's perfect for running office applications and storing media files.
It ships with a quad-core CPU, a 500GB hard drive and 3GB of RAM, so it will handle most office applications and multitasking scenarios without balking, and it can also be used for encoding media files and photo and video editing. One thing it can't be used for is playing games. Its GeForce 8400-based graphics card just doesn't have enough juice to run many (if any) modern games, and its score of 1628 in 3DMark06 is a testament to this.
To test its media encoding abilities, we used iTunes to convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s and we used Blender 3D to put all of the CPUs four cores to work on a rendering job. It took 1min 50sec to convert the music to MP3s, which is similar to the score of the Pavilion Elite M9380a_01, but no match for the Pavilion a6560a. In Blender, the rendering time of 50sec is only one second slower than what we expected.
User-friendliness is a key feature of most of the PCs HP puts out, but this Presario doesn't have as extensive a list of 'one-touch' functions and shortcuts as some of the company's more expensive PCs. Still, you get a four-slot memory card reader on the front panel, along with two USB ports, a FireWire port and audio ports, and the supplied keyboard has shortcuts for manipulating the sound, launching Web and mail programs and putting the computer to sleep. It's also a very comfortable keyboard to use, but we can't say the same of the mouse.
Both of these peripherals are corded and they use the PS/2 interface, rather than USB, which we don't mind at all as it leaves more ports open for USB devices (six altogether). For connecting a screen, you get a DVI port and an HDMI port on the graphics card, while for networking you get a 10/100 Ethernet adapter; there is no built-in wireless adapter.
On the inside of the PC there is space to add a PCI Express–based wireless adapter, and you can even add one more hard drive and another module of DDR2 memory. The unit runs an AM2+ based AMD Phenom 9550 CPU, which runs at 2.2GHz and is cooled by an aluminium heat sink and fan combination that doesn't make too much noise. A rear extraction fan is also present to keep the enclosure cool.
It's worth noting that the motherboard has been installed upside down, but it's still a standard microATX-based board with standard sockets and layout. It has two free Serial ATA ports, as well as a free IDE port. The DVD burner that's installed is based on Serial ATA, so the IDE port will probably go unused unless you have a drive from an older machine that you wish to resurrect.
The only feature that's not worth much use is the Pocket Media Drive Bay, which is a slot for HP's proprietary small external hard drives. USB- or FireWire-based external hard drives are much easier to procure and use.
The system runs Windows Vista Home Premium, and it ships with some preinstalled trial software, such as Microsoft Office, but you also get some HP add-ons such as Total Care Advisor, which can keep you informed about your PC's health status (including whether you've backed up your hard drive or not) among other things. All up, this PC is useful for a home user or small business user who wants a basic machine that also has plenty of power for multitasking and media encoding.