HP pitches its Pavilion Slimline s5160f desktop PC as “made for multimedia.” But if your definition of multimedia includes hardcore games, steer a wide berth around this machine. It’s a capable enough computer for digital photography, music, TV, and movies, but it doesn’t have the graphics horsepower that state-of-the-art games demand.
To its credit, HP doesn’t pitch the machine that way. We didn’t find a single reference on the company’s website or in its marketing materials to using the Slimline series to play games. But this system is no weakling when it comes to other media-oriented tasks. HP stuffed some very good components into this small, affordable package, including a mid-range Intel quad-core CPU, 6GB of DDR3 memory, an HDTV tuner, a Blu-ray player/DVD burner combo drive, and a 750GB hard drive.
And where many PCs in this price range make do with integrated graphics that hog system memory while delivering weak performance, HP provides a discrete video card featuring Nvidia’s GeForce G210 paired with 512MB of dedicated DDR2 memory. This card is certainly no graphics powerhouse, but it’s better than any integrated solution we’ve seen.
Features and Design
The first thing you’ll notice about the Slimline series is its diminutive form factor. We didn’t bother to move the full-size tower machine we use for benchmarking videocards—we just set the s5160f on top of the brawnier machine. The case measures just 15.11 inches high and 6.54 inches wide – small enough to fit in a large backpack.
This narrow profile forced HP to mount the Blu-ray drive in a vertical orientation, but that doesn’t impact the drive’s performance. The front panel features a six-in-one card reader with support for xD, SD/SDHC, MMC/MMC+, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro flash memory. There are two USB ports up front, but HP gives no love to the high-speed interfaces eSATA and FireWire. Headphone and microphone jacks round out the front-panel ports.
You’ll find four more USB ports around back, along with the usual stereo and surround-sound audio jacks. There’s a gigabit Ethernet jack here, too, but if your house isn’t hardwired for networking, you can connect to your Wi-Fi router using the integrated 802.11b/g/n wireless network adapter.
The video card has one DVI output, for connecting a conventional flat-screen computer monitor, and one HDMI output. As you probably know, HDMI is capable of carrying both digital video and digital audio signals, and it’s the only way of transmitting the spectacular Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks you’ll encounter on Hollywood movies released on Blu-ray discs. But here’s something you might not know: Due to Hollywood’s onerous copy protection requirements, PCs can’t output Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks unless they’re equipped with a special sound card. This machine doesn’t have such a card.
It will still deliver surround sound from Blu-ray movies, but it won’t be the spectacular sound you’re expecting to hear. And since both this machine’s expansion slots are already occupied, you can’t add this functionality on your own. You’ll encounter similar obstacles should you decide to upgrade other basic components. There’s only one hard drive bay, for instance, so increasing the Slimline’s storage capacity means replacing its existing drive or plugging in an external model (here’s where you’ll miss having eSATA and FireWire ports). The same goes for the optical drive.
And while the system features 6GB of DDR3 memory running in dual-channel mode, HP uses up all four of the motherboard’s memory slots by deploying two 2GB modules and two 1GB modules. If you want to max out the motherboard with 8GB of memory (another weakness, in our book), you’ll first have to throw away those 1GB modules.
Benchmark Performance and Conclusion
Apart from gaming, the Slimline s5160f had no problem running our other benchmarks at 1920×1200 resolution, the maximum resolution of the 23-inch display we paired it with. And the system remained extremely quiet while it did so, thanks to the presence of just one chassis fan. The only other fans are mounted to the video card, the CPU, and the power supply. Passive cooling in the form of heat sinks on some motherboard components and vents across the top and left side of the enclosure make up for small number of fans, but you’ll want to avoid stacking anything on top of the case or wedging it in too tight of a space lest you block those vents.
Not to belabor the point, but this machine just plain sucks as a gaming platform. After it barely managed to finish the first of our gaming benchmarks, reducing Far Cry 2 to a 10.9 frame-per-second slideshow (even with the resolution dialed down to 1680×1050!), we concluded there was no point in continuing down that path. The rest of the system’s components are willing, but the video card is weak. And tight quarters inside the case will forever limit your upgrade options—unless you’re willing to give up the TV tuner so you can fit a videocard with a two-slot cooler in there.
Crappy gaming performance no doubt contributed to the machine’s disappointing PCMark composite score of 4,568 too, but the machine turned in a much better performance with our Photoshop benchmark. For purposes of the test, we took a digital photo shot with an Olympus C-8080 in raw format, loaded it into Photoshop CS3, and then sequentially applied and undid every filter in that program’s arsenal. The Slimline s5160f completed this task in two minutes and 48 seconds—that’s just 47 seconds slower than the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t we reviewed in May. That configuration featured Intel’s top-of-the-line Core i7 processor and was priced at the time at $1,450; this machine is $631 cheaper at just $819. As such, it represents good value for the money.
- Great price/performance ratio
- Blu-ray drive
- Plenty of memory
- Very small and very quiet
- Wireless mouse and keyboard
- Weak videocard
- Limited in terms of expansion
- No eSATA or FireWire ports