HP has been hard at work producing sleek, powerful desktop computers for the consumer and small-office markets. Their new designs are great improvements over HPs of the 1990’s, and the overall specifications and performance stats are getting better with each new system. HP recently released the Pavilion a6130n desktop PC priced at about $700 USD and featuring a Dual Core AMD 64 processor and a very satisfying 3GB RAM configuration. We gave the a6130n a thorough exam to see if it’s as impressive as HP says it is.
Features and Design
The HP Pavilion a6130n is a sleek looking desktop computer. The body is roughly 16″x7″x15″ and weighs about 22lbs. The exterior is a sexy black complimented with silver trim and buttons. The black high-gloss finish on the front is reminiscent of a black iPod and matches the updated styling of HP’s new w2007 and w2207 LCD monitors. The ports and connectors on the a6130n are all easily accessible and color-coded. HP seems to have considered all the possible needs of the average computer user and included corresponding ports for useful or necessary peripherals.
The a6130n comes standard with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 (Dual Core) 5000+ processor running at 2.6GHz, supported by two 512KB L2 caches, one 512KB L2 cache per core. The Athlon 64 X2 5000+ boasts a memory-access speed of 800MHz, but in-depth tests show that the processor may only access memory at about 742MHz. Seeing how the a6130n and other similar computers come with PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM running at 667MHz, the AMD chip will not be hampering performance at all. Granted, if you were to spend some extra money and add 4GB of PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM running at 800MHz, then the CPU’s reported 742MHz memory-access bottleneck could cost you a few nanoseconds here and there.
From the Department of Obvious Statements, the AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ is 64-bit capable.
The a6130n is an AMD Live! system, which essentially denotes a computer system with a dual core AMD 64 processor that is meant to “stream, record, transfer, share, and organize your photos, videos, music and media to the digital devices you already have – set-top boxes, game consoles, MP3 players and mobile phones – with incredible speed, magnificent sound and rich graphics performance.”
When HP released the Slimline s3020n series of computers, they must have been feeling nostalgic for the 1990’s because they only included 512MB RAM standard. Thankfully, HP got the message that 512MB is barely enough for a PDA, much less a home computer. With the a6130n, HP is offering a very generous 3GB of PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM, filling its 4 RAM slots. 3GB is more than enough RAM for most applications and for running Vista in Aero mode. Kudos to HP for the healthy base spec of 3GB memory! The a6130n can be maxed out at 4GB RAM.
Cone of Silence
One of the a6130n’s features I really appreciate is its silent operation. The AMD processor employs its “Cool’n’Quiet” technology to reduce fan speeds and noise. Cool’n’Quiet also provides on-the-fly processor throttling to match power requirements to your computing activities. If you’re working on a Word doc for a few hours, the a6130n will gear itself down, conserving power, saving the environment, reducing your electric bill and keeping fan noise at a minimum – most often dead silent. When you need to get a boost of power for something like Photoshop or CAD, the AMD processor recognizes your needs and revs itself back up for some hard work. Even when running hard, the a6130n stays very quiet. As much as I cringe at the grammar of “Cool’n’Quiet”, I love the technology.
The a6130n uses a 250W power supply.
Ports & Jacks
The a6130n has a number of ports and jacks for hooking up your peripherals, drives and speaker systems. On the front of the a6130n: a 15-in-1 memory card reader (SD/MMC, CF, MS/PRO, etc.), two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, standard 1/8″ audio jacks (in, out, mic) and HP’s Pocket Media Drive Bay. On the back of the a6130n are the flashback-inducing PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, digital audio out, VGA out, one 6-pin FireWire 400 port, four USB 2.0 ports, a 10/100 LAN port, fax/modem, and a number of audio jacks: side, rear, center/sub, mic, output and input.
Back of the HP a3160n
Keyboard & Mouse
What can only be described as thoroughly disappointing, HP supplies the a6130n with a PS/2-style keyboard and old-school ball mouse. HP really should have budgeted an additional $1 or $2 USD for an optical mouse.
The a6130n comes stock with an integrated NVIDIA GeForce 6150 SE video processor. While Windows Vista may set aside as much as 623MB memory for graphics, the 6150 SE uses 128MB of shared video memory. These days, 128MB video memory doesn’t scratch the ‘wow’ factor, but it is quite sufficient for basic applications, watching DVDs, etc.
If you want to have a better video card, the a6130n can be given an after-market upgrade with a PCI video card.
The a6130n comes with an integrated 7.1 channel sound with front and rear audio ports. The front ports are hidden under a retractable flap.
No Bluetooth for the a6130n unless you use a USB 2.0 adapter.
Wired & Wireless
The a6130n comes equipped with an integrated 10/100Base-T LAN port. With gigabit LAN cards offered in computers for several years now, the 10/100 ports are not cutting edge, but they’re still the standard. The a6130n comes with no built-in wireless LAN option. You’ll need to add a PCI, PCI-Express or USB wireless device to get the a6130n linked to a wireless network.
HP gave the a6130n a LightScribe 16X DVD+/-R/RW SuperMulti drive which burns all types of CDs and DVDs and then etches images or text onto the top surface of the special LightScribe discs.
The a6130n comes with a 400GB 7200rpm SATA 3Gb/s hard drive (roughly 383GB when formatted). The a6130n’s motherboard has IDE connectors, so if you want to run older, slower IDE drives, you can.
Pocket Media Drive Bay
The a6130n has a hot swappable “Pocket Media Drive Bay”. Pocket Media drives are proprietary to HP and they’re essentially custom-shaped USB 2.0 hard drives. (On the inside of the drive bay is a simple 4-pin USB plug.) These Pocket Media drives come in 80GB and 120GB varieties. They’re great for quick external backups but their proprietary nature makes them inconvenient for use with other computers. A consumer’s best bet is a hefty USB flash drive or a portable USB/FireWire hard drive.
The front drive bay, and connection ports
Vista and the “Windows Experience Index”
The a6130n comes with Windows Vista Home Premium, so it’s obviously Vista compatible. One feature of Windows Vista is its self-evaluating application called the “Windows Experience Index”. Microsoft’s Windows Experience Index is a numeric grading system that rates how computer hardware holds up against the demands of Windows Vista. It’s based on a scale of 1 to 5.9, 1 being absolute trash and 5.9 being sufficient for the heaviest tasks imaginable.
The a6130n rated a 3.0 on the WEI scale. The 3GB of RAM rated 5.9 (absolutely awesome), the processor itself rated 5.2 (excellent) and the SATA drive rated 5.5 (excellent). It was the 128MB integrated graphics card that hurt the a6130n the most. It rated 3.3 (bad) for Windows Aero (eye candy) and 3.0 for gaming use. According to Microsoft’s rating system, the a6130n is “able to run Windows Vista at a basic level.”
The 3.0 score is a bit misleading because the a6130n runs quite fast and handles most applications with ease. It’s the video card that tanks the overall score, but it’s mostly a technicality. As mentioned earlier, if video performance is really critical to you, get a PCI videocard from newegg.com and you’ll probably see the a6130n’s WEI score jump into the 5.x range.
The HP a6130n is surprisingly light on junkware. This is greatly appreciated. Of course, users may chose to replace Microsoft Works, RealPlayer and Norton Internet Security with free, open source options like OpenOffice, Winamp, AVG and many other zero-cost but highly valuable programs.
Common to most computers these days, the a6130n comes with a limited 1-year warranty and 3-month software support offering.
PS/2 Mouse and Keyboard
Setup and Use
Setting up the HP Pavilion a6130n is easy. In the box is the a6130n itself, the keyboard, mouse, power cord, modem cable, product documentation and disks. It took me less than 2 minutes to open the box, plug everything in and turn the a6130n on. I wasn’t rushing – it’s just that fast and easy. Even the plugs in the back of the computer are color-coded for those unfamiliar with setting up computers.
The initial boot and setup took less than 5 minutes. Once the a6130n was configured, an external timer showed that a cold boot took 1 min 16 seconds to the Vista desktop. While several of my computers fully boot in less than 30 seconds, the 1 minute 16 second boot for the a6130n is on par for this class of desktop system, especially one running Vista in all its Aero glory.
The a6130n was configured with 3GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM, which is the standard complement, and is more than enough for Windows Vista. If you run the a6130n with Windows XP Pro (and 3GB RAM), you’ll find that it just screams.
Running programs like Microsoft Word and Photoshop show the a6130n’s speed. Word opens in less than 1.5 seconds, additional docs open in less than .5 seconds. Photoshop is speedy too, with 4MB files opening in 2-3 seconds, and 20MB files opening in 3-5 seconds. In one of my tests, I was able to have 20 full-res 10 megapixel photos open in Photoshop, 20 documents in Word and 20 tabbed websites open in IE7 (and Firefox, respectively) with iTunes playing a video, and the a6130n never felt sluggish. I could have doubled my activity and the a6130n would have been ready to go full-force.
The 15-in-1 memory card bank on the front of the a6130n is very handy. No more external USB memory card adapters to deal with (or lose), and no more connecting digital cameras and media devices to the computer with cheap-feeling USB cables.
The 16X LightScribe DVD drive is better than a generic DVD-RW drive because it can be used to burn images and text onto the top surface of specially coated DVDs and CDs. This feature can help eliminate the sloppy hand-written content notes on your discs.
After having run the integrated nVidia GeForce 6150 LE video card through the mud on HP’s Slimline systems, I knew that the a6130n’s video card was going to perform well. Of course, the a6130n comes with the nVidia GeForce 6150 SE card and offers 128MB shared video memory. I tested some DVDs on an HP w2207 LCD monitor and on an LG LCD TV. The a6130n gave excellent results on both types of screens and under various circumstances, such as Photoshop, DVD-playback, AVI playback and a few simple games. Despite the fact that the a6130n has only an analog VGA output, the picture quality was quite fine. The 6150 SE card certainly could never compete with today’s standard of video cards, especially for gaming, but for basic performance, it does quite well.
Upgrading the a6130n after purchase is relatively easy, especially the hard drive, RAM, video card and DVD drive. The motherboard has two PCI slots (one in use by the modem card), a PCI-Express x1 slot, a PCI-Express x16 slot and IDE connections for upgrading purposes.
The HP Pavilion a6130n is a great system for most, if not all, common needs. It’s perfect for home use and would serve well in an office setting; It’s body is larger than HP’s Slimline systems, but still smaller than most desktop computers. It has plenty of high-powered hardware under the hood, however it uses on-the-fly energy saving technology to reduce the draw of electricity and keep the system running cool and quiet. All-in-all, the a6130n runs Vista smoothly. The system can double as a media PC (with external USB TV tuner), even with the stock video card. Unless you’re shopping for a hard-core gaming system, the a6130n will satisfy most of your computing needs.
The only real drawbacks of the a6130n are the PS/2 keyboard (they keyboard is fine, the PS/2 connection is not), the crappy ball-mouse and the lack of included video cables. Almost every other computer manufacturer offers USB keyboard and optical mouse for the same price range, and they almost always include a VGA or DVI cable. If HP would wake up and smell the peripherals, the a6130n would be a fantastic value.
• Strong AMD processor
• Attractive styling
• 2Ghz system bus
• SATA hard drive and DVD-RW drives
• 3GB RAM standard
• Ultra cheap PS/2 ball mouse
• No DVI output
• No video cables included
• Weak videocard