HP recently came out with their first system to use the Core i7 processor. Even though the Core i7 processor has been available for several months, it has taken HP until now to build a system that uses it. The HP Pavilion Elite m9600t uses the Core i7 920 processor and hopefully the long wait was worth it.
- Processor: Intel Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz
- Memory: 6GB DDR3 RAM @ 1066 MHz
- Hard drive: 750GB SATA @ 7200RPM
- Optical drive: Blu-ray readable / DVD+/-RW
- Sound: Integrated 7.1 audio
- Video card: ATI Radeon HD4850 1GB
- Networking: Gigabit Ethernet
- Wireless networking: 802.11n
- Operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
- Power supply: Delta Electronics 460W
- Warranty: 1 year limited warranty
The above specs are for the configuration that I received. The retail price for this configuration is $1429.99, but the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t has a starting price of $949 and it tops out at around $3000 for a fully loaded system.
One thing I have always appreciated about buying a pre-built computer is that the cases, both inside and out, are designed and built really well. With the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t the outside of the case is really nice. HP has spent a lot of time designing a case that hides many of the external connectors and because they are hidden the case has a really clean look.
On the front, starting at the top, there is a 15-in-1 card reader. Just below that is the Blu-ray drive, which is hidden behind a spring loaded door. Below that is an empty 5.25″ expansion slot, again behind a spring loaded door.
Next is the HP pocket media drive bay. There are actually two media bays on this case, this one is the smaller of the two. This pocket media drive is available in two sizes, a 160 GB and a 320 GB, both of these drives are 5400rpm.
Below the media drive we have a large section that is divided into three parts. The left part is a small door that hides the external connectors. These connectors consist of a Firewire (1394) port, 2 USB ports, and a headphone and microphone jack.
The middle section has a single button that is the HP Easy Backup button. This button starts up some backup software that comes pre-loaded on the computer. This software allows you to backup your documents and files so they can be easily restored if your computer fails. The backups are saved to one of the two media drive bay I mentioned earlier. So if you don’t have one you cannot use the backup button.
The right section is the second HP media drive bay. This bay is physically much larger than the previous one and it is available in 3 much larger sizes. The sizes are 500 GB, 750 GB, and 1 TB, all of these drives are 7200rpm. As you can see in the image, the back of the bay has a simple USB and power plug. I took this picture with the front cover taken off so it would be easy to see in the back.
Normally the top of a case is not very useful for much of anything, except maybe a foot rest. However, HP has tried to give the top a purpose. The top of the case is indented in, to form a tray, and is covered in a very soft rubber. At the very back is a small handle that can be lifted up, doing so reveals several channels where USB or Firewire cables can be placed. Then when the handle is lowered they are locked into place and can be used to plug in MP3 players or other devices for syncing and charging.
The back of the case doesn’t have anything fancy to talk about so I will just mention the connectors that can be found here. The connectors consist of an Ethernet port, 5 USB and 1 Firewire port, 2 eSATA ports and, Analog and Digital Audio ports.
So that does it for the outside of the case, now we get to dive into the inside. To do this we must first remove the side of the case. There is only one screw that needs to be removed and it is big enough that you should be able to remove it with just your fingers. However, it is so smooth that it can be hard to get a good grip on it. It would be nice if this screw had some grooves around the edge to make it easier to grip.
Once that screw is removed the side of the case slides off easily and we get our first view of the inside. You remember at the beginning of the review when I said I like pre-built computers because “the cases, both inside and out, are designed and built really well?” Well I was wrong about this one. When I removed the side of the case I was stunned with what I saw inside the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t. Right in the middle of the case is a big rats nest of cables. At first I was hoping that this was because I was getting a “review unit” and not necessary a “retail unit”. However, HP confirmed that the cables are like this because of how much they are putting in a small case. To HPs credit the cables are arranged in a way that they don’t block any airflow.
So I told HP that I would give them some suggestions on how this could be improved. The first thought I had was to clip the extra wires. That may sound bad, but honestly, in the configuration I got there is only room for one more hard drive and DVD drive, so all I need is a power plug for those two items. The extra wires, depending on the configuration, could be cut off and the ends sealed so they don’t electrocute anyone. This could also be accomplished by using a power supply that had removable cables.
The second idea is to tuck the cables into one of the empty drive bays. If there isn’t an empty drive bay then they could be tied up on the bottom of the lowest drive bay.
The third idea is to tuck the extra cables behind the Motherboard. This would get them completely out of the way, but allow users to use them if they upgrade the computer. To accomplish this, HP would need to make the other side of the case removable.
The second complaint I have about the case is the placement of the hard drive enclosure. HP put the hard drives in the very back of the case behind the enclosure for the large media drive. They did this because the media drive would get in the way of the motherboard if it was in the back. This makes it very hard to get to if you want to replace the drive or add another one. The media drive bay is not impossible to remove, but I think a better solution would be to make the other side of the case removable or provide a small door that allows access to just the hard drives. As I mentioned above, making the other side of the case removable would also help with the cable problem.
The software that comes preloaded on the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t is a bit on the bloatware side of things. As you can see from this screen shot of the initial desktop there are quite a few icons for everything from eBay to Microsoft office. There is also a trial of Norton Internet Security that nags you every time the computer is turned on. Because of all the software that computer makers pre-load I always recommend that you do a clean install when you first get the computer. Unfortunately, you cannot use HP restore function to do this because it just puts the programs back on.
So now that we know the ups and downs of the design, lets take a closer look at how everything performs. I started out by using 3DMark and PCMark. Because this CPU has hyper-threading I wanted to run each test once with it on and once with it off and compare the results. The first program I ran was 3DMark Vantage. The first image is with hyper-threading on and the second is with it off. As I expected 3DMark got higher scores with hyper-threading on.
Something else to pay attention to is the power usage. I had a Kill A Watt power meter attached to the computer during the 3DMark tests. Before I started the test I measured the power and with hyper-threading turned on it came in at 122 Watts. Then I measured the power when the test was running and the system was under a heavy load and it measured 218 Watts. It is almost a 100 Watt increase in power.
Next I measured the power usage for the computer with hyper-threading turned off. The first image is when the computer was idle and the second was when it was under a heavy load. It is very obvious that having hyper-threading turned on makes the computer use up a lot more power. The difference in power usage with hyper-threading turned off is less than when it was turned on. This was expected because it only has 4 less threads going.
During the 3DMark Vantage test with hyper-threading turned on all 8 threads were running at 100% and the CPU fan got really loud. I’m not just talking about it being noticeable, I am talking about it being so loud that it would be difficult to cover it up, even with loud music. During some of the other tests, when the CPU fan was not so loud, I could hear the Graphics card fan spin up and down, but it was much softer. If you are regularly working with programs that max out all 8 threads you may want to consider replacing the current heatsink and fan with something a bit more effective. With hyper-threading turned off the CPU fan didn’t get nearly as loud. In fact, it was much more bearable and could even could be masked with music or something else.
Here are two audio files which will demonstrate the noise levels of the computer. The first file is with hyper-threading turned on and the second is with it off. The files are broken up into 3 segments. The first ten seconds are with everything turned off so you can get an idea for the ambient sound. The second ten seconds are with only the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t on and idle. The third ten seconds are from when the computer was running full blast. The only real difference between the files is in the last segment, in the first file the fan starts out soft and gets really loud, in the second file the fan starts out soft and stays soft. This is because with hyper-threading turned off the processor does not generate as much heat and so it does not need as much cooling.
Next I ran PCMark Vantage, once with hyper-threading on and again with hyper-threading off. Here are the results, the interesting thing is that it got better scores with it off.
So now that we are done with the synthetic benchmarks I moved on to something a little more real. My next test takes me to SysMark 2007. This benchmark uses programs like Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and others to test the real word performance of a computer. Again, just like PCMark, having hyper-threading turned off got better results.
During all my testing and using of the computer I never had any trouble with any programs that I tried and every program was fast and snappy.
Because of the performance and power usage numbers I would recommend that hyper-threading be turned off if this computer is not going to be used for gaming or for other graphic intensive applications. However, if you need that little bit of extra power for games and such, and you are willing to pay a higher power bill and suffer with the loud fan noise, than having hyper-threading turned on is the way to go.
I did run into an interesting situation when the computer goes to sleep. If I let the computer sleep for more than a few minutes it would never recover. So the only thing to do was to hold down the power button to power it down. However, when I pressed the power button to turn it back on, it would not boot. Instead it would just hang without doing anything. I actually had to turn the power off and on a second time before the computer would respond. This is repeatable and the computer is completely up to date with all updates. There was even a firmware update for the Seagate hard drive that was suppose to fix a booting problem, but it did not help with this.
Warranty and Support
The HP Pavilion Elite m9600t comes with a 1-year warranty. If you want more you can add on to that with the HP Total Care plans. These plans range in price from $169.99 for two years to $329.99 for four years. These extended plans include house calls and round trip shipping if the problem is more extensive.
Support comes in the normal ways. HP can be contacted via Phone, E-mail, Online forums, and through their website.
So overall I am happy with the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t. There are some things HP needs to improve on, but the system is solid, the performance is great, and the price is good. If you are looking for a new desktop, and you think you will ever open the case, then I think this would be a great system for you. The m9600t can be purchased directly from HP or Amazon.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|