The $700 HP Pavilion p6320y is a solid midlevel PC that occupies an uncomfortable middle ground. The $550 Gateway DX4831-01e is a better budget choice if you spend most of your computing time managing a music library or manipulating digital photos. Or a $730 desktop from Asus gives you generally better all-around performance with equivalent features for a marginal cost increase. That makes us recommend the HP only for its strength in multicore-friendly programs. If you’re using programs that take full advantage of a quad-core CPU, the HP could make sense for you. We suspect most of you shopping for a PC in this price range want something of a jack-of-all trades PC instead.
The HP p6320y features the same aesthetic design we’ve seen in HP’s Pavilion P-series for the last couple of years. The recipe is simple: take a minimal glossy black case, add a soft-blue LED-lit power button, a sliding panel on the bottom that reveals a media card reader, and two USB 2.0 ports underneath, and you have a visually attractive tower that can easily disappear into your office setup.
The Asus CG5275-AR003 is another mainstream retail desktop in our 2010 spring roundup that has close to the same set of components as the Pavilion p6320y, with the exception of the processor. For $30 more, the Asus steps up the CPU to Intel’s new 3.2GHz Core i5 quad-core chip that gives it a speed boost in our Photoshop, iTunes, and multitasking tests. Asus also gives you an HDMI port on the back to lure you into hooking it up to an HDTV. Living room hookups aren’t the first thing we look for in a midtower PC (we’d point you to the Gateway SX2840-01 as a slim tower alternative), but, prices being relatively equal, we’d certainly rather have more connectivity options than less. On the other hand, we assume most shoppers in this price range value performance over motherboard connections, and the performance results tip the scales in HP’s favor in the multicore Cinebench test, as you can see in the charts.
The performance scores present a valid argument for both the HP p6310y and the Gateway DX4831-01e, depending on what tasks you plan to do. The Intel processors in the Gateway and Asus systems outperform HP’s AMD chip on the Photoshop and iTunes tests that favor simple processor speed and single-core performance. However, the Gateway and its Core i3 CPU–a dual-core processor that can emulate four cores–falls behind on the multitasking and multicore Cinebench tests when put up against HP’s true quad-core AMD Phenom II X4 b20 CPU. That said, the Gateway is a better choice if you plan to only use your new system for surfing the Web, light photo retouching, or ripping CDs to iTunes.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Asus boasts still-faster single-core performance, as well as better multitasking thanks to its Core i5 650 CPU from Intel and only costs $30 more than this HP. Similar to Core i3, this particular model in the Core i5 family is also a dual-core CPU that can shift to a four-thread design on-the-fly, but its faster clock speed and other features help it outperform the Core i3 across the board–it even beats the AMD Phenom II X4 820 chip on the majority of our tests.
The HP stands out only on our multithreaded Cinebench test, which suggests it might provide a boost on single programs that really take advantage of multicore processors. Your best bet is to research the programs you use most to see if they’re designed to take full advantage of multicore CPUs (Photoshop, for example, only uses multiple processing threads on certain filters). The most likely suspects are video encoding programs and games, although for the latter you’ll definitely want to add a dedicated 3D card to this system.
The back of the HP Pavilion p6320y gives you four USB ports, an Ethernet jack, a FireWire 400 port, VGA out, DVI, digital audio, and 7.1 analog audio, but eSATA and HDMI are absent. This relatively small handful of external connections doesn’t match up with its competition, especially the Gateway DX4831-01e that offers just about every port you need, including HDMI and eSATA for $150 less.
Despite our disappointment over the lack of motherboard connections, we still hooked the p6320y up to a standard desktop monitor using a VGA cable and ran full-screen video from sites like YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo, and Netflix without interruption. It also played full 1080p HD movie trailers from Apple.com without a glitch. We wouldn’t expect otherwise from a $700 desktop, and again, the slim tower Gateway SX2840-01 is a more living-room-friendly PC, but if you intend to watch video on this HP, you shouldn’t run into any problems.
To its credit, HP also offers ample potential inside the tower for upgrades in the form of a 16x PCI Express slot for a 3D video card, one 1x PCI Express slot, one standard PCI slot, and room for another hard drive. You can also get more storage with one of HP’s proprietary media drives that fit in the expansion bay slot underneath the optical disc drive, but all four memory slots are occupied, so future upgrades will require you to discard at least two sticks.
Out of the five desktops we compared, this HP and another we’ve reviewed recently cost the most to power annually–$34.91 for the p6310y and $34.75 per year for the p6320y. Compared with the $22 it costs to run the generally faster Asus, it’s clear that HP has work to do in terms of power efficiency. You might also not be surprised to learn that neither HP system comes close to Energy Star certification.
HP includes a standard one-year warranty with the Pavilion P6320y, with just enough free support to keep you happy. Also you get 24-7 toll-free phone assistance, a comprehensive list of Web help, including manuals, FAQs, live customer service chat, and driver updates.