Software and extras
A wired keyboard and mouse are packaged with the Phoenix. The keyboard is a standard mid-range model without any particular nods towards gaming, but it works well. Using the mouse is another story – it’s light and feels cheap. Complaining about the peripherals is a bit pointless, however, because most other gaming desktops don’t ship with any at all.
Your first boot of the Phoenix will reveal a plethora of icons, but most of them link to partners instead of shortcuts to pre-installed software. HP also includes HP Magic Canvas, the company’s alternative desktop for touchscreen computers, but its use is entirely optional. Less optional are the Norton Internet Security pop-ups. Fortunately, uninstalling Norton is easily accomplished.
Although our review unit represents a relatively high-end Phoenix, it is actually rather mundane by the standards of pre-built gaming computers. The Core i7-3930K processor is nothing to laugh at, but even the mid-range Maingear Vybe we recently reviewed had a pair of GTX 560 Ti video cards. The single Radeon 6850 in the Phoenix puts the system at an obvious disadvantage.
The Core i7 processor proved strong in SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark by punching out a score of 152 GOPS. That soundly beats the Maingear Vybe we tested and puts this small system in the same league as larger, more expensive desktops. The 7-Zip result of 2,8105 MIPS only reinforced the Phoenix’s processor dominance – once again, this is a much better result than you’d expect from an affordable gaming PC.
More general testing in PCMark 7 brought the system down to earth with a score of 3,637. Although still solid, it doesn’t blow away the competition. The main culprit is the lone mechanical hard drive, which managed a system storage score of only 2,278.
Gaming is what really matters, of course – and that’s where the Phoenix stumbles. Its 3DMark 11 score of 3,764 is well short of other gaming systems we’ve benchmarked. Real-world results were only so-so, as well. This system will play Just Cause 2 at 1080p, but a couple detail settings (such as shadows or water quality) must be turned down a notch to provide a smooth experience. The less graphically demanding Dawn of War 2: Retribution ran at 1080p without a hitch, however, even at “ultra” detail.
We believe this particular system is too heavily weighted in favor of processor performance. There’s no need for a Core i7-3930K in a gaming computer. Many modern games barely take advantage of four cores, nevermind six. HP would provide a better experience if it dropped the 3930K for a 2500K and crammed in a faster graphics card, such as a Radeon 6870 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 560. However, there may not be room in the case to do so.
Expelling the heat built up by a high-end graphics card is always important for a gaming PC, but the Phoenix needs to do more than stay cool. It needs to game well without causing nearby relatives to fear a helicopter is about to land on the roof.
At idle the Phoenix has no problem accomplishing this goal. It’s as quiet as a less powerful mainstream desktop. Load up a demanding game and the story changes – a bit. Most of the noise seems to come from the GPU fan, which must speed up to keep internal GPU temperatures at a cozy 80 degrees Celsius.
The increase in fan noise is easily noticeable, but far from intolerable, even when dealing with stress-testing benchmarks like Furmark. We think that the Phoenix remains quiet and cool enough to be acceptable even in a family room or home theater.
The Phoenix has good bones. The enclosure is hard to work with and the layout is strange, but we have a hard time arguing with the apparent cooling benefits or the system’s inverted motherboard. This desktop is a compromise, but the sacrifices made are outweighed by the benefits gained.
We are less enthralled by the hardware configuration that HP provided in our review unit. It pairs an incredibly powerful processor with a mid-range video card. That would make sense if the Phoenix was supposed to be a multi-purpose workstation, but for gaming it doesn’t provide a good value.
HP sells a solution. The Phoenix h9t, a step below the h9xt we reviewed, can be had with a Core i7-2600 processor and the same Radeon 6850 graphics card for just under $1400. Our past experience suggests that the processor downgrade will have almost no impact on gaming performance, so you can keep the extra $400 and enjoy a nearly identical experience.
The h9t is the fastest configuration we can recommend. Due to space and heat limitations the Radeon 6850 is the best card available with this desktop no matter what version you choose. Though this does severely limit the performance of the high-end configurations.
If you pick the Phoenix h9t with a Radeon 6850 you’ll find it to be an affordable and capable gaming desktop. Similar configurations from custom manufacturers are slightly more expensive or much larger, qualities that may exclude them from use as a multi-purpose family PC. HP has managed to carve itself a niche – but the company will have to offer more powerful video card options to expand it.
- Small enclosure
- Affordable price of entry
- Agreeable aesthetics
- Quiet operation even when gaming
- Video card options are limited
- Processor is over-kill for gaming
- Replacing components is difficult
- Limited space for expansion