HP Pavilion p7 desktop PC review: long live the tower PC
A Closer Look: Chassis
If there is one defining characteristic about the typical tower PC that has remained unchanged over the past decade or two, it is that there has been little innovation in the design of the chassis that is responsible for storing all the separate hardware components that are used in its assembly. And unfortunately, the HP Pavilion p7, along with many other OEM-assembled desktops, are no exception to this rule.
True enough, unboxing our review unit revealed what we were expecting to see; a mid tower furnished with glossy black plastic and some added doohickeys not typically found on off-the-shelf cases, such as the use of rounded corners, side eject buttons and 'swing-out' doors to protect the expansion bays from dust. Still, if it is of any consolation, OEM cases such as the HP Pavilion p7's usually have a knack for looking a lot more sleeker and polished than most aftermarket cases which are designed to appear more "badass" than sophisticated.
The HP Pavilion p7 desktop also features a dedicated bay which is capable of accessing a variety of external media storage cards such as xD, Compact Flash, SD, MMC, as well as Sony's proprietary Memory Stick.
Sliding down the front portion of the HP Pavilion p7's casing reveals a couple of audio jacks for connecting one's headphones/speakers and microphones, as well as four USB ports. Notice how the distinctive red Beats Audio logo has been affixed under the audio-out jack; this is hardly surprising, considering how much of HP's PC lineup has been updated to include support for the audio-enhancing technology.
Here is a quick look at the HP Pavilion p7 chassis's sides. As one can clearly see, the PC features none of those side-panel windows like those found on some aftermarket cases being sold in PC shops, although we have to concede that such frills would probably look extremely out of place on an OEM-assembled desktop tower such the p7.
Turning the HP Pavilion p7 around reveals its rear, which houses the socket that connects the desktop's power supply unit (or PSU) to an energy source, along with the variety of I/O and expansions ports that usually come standard on most desktop PCs.
The AMD Radeon HD 6570 graphics card that was bundled in our review unit offers users three different video output modes, namely DisplayPort, HDMI and DVI. Unfortunately, this means that users who intend to hook the HP Pavilion p7 up to an analogue monitor will have to purchase a more recent monitor that supports digital video input, although we are sure HP will only be all too willing to sell you one. Alternatively, users can also invest in a DVI-to-VGA adapter if they are really keen on reusing an old analogue-only monitor lying around somewhere for various reasons.
The rear I/O ports provided by the HP Pavilion p7's motherboard consists of the standard array of audio in/out jacks for connecting devices such as speakers, headphones and microphones. Also present here are four USB ports (for a total of eight such ports), an Ethernet port for wired network connectivity, as well as an SPDIF-out jack for audio output via optical cable.
That being said, it was nice to see that HP had taken the initiative to prevent unsuspecting and not-so-savvy users from making the mistake of connecting their monitor to the bundled Intel Core i3-2320 processor's built-in GPU instead of the provided discreet graphics card by blocking access to the motherboard's DVI and HDMI ports.
A Closer Look: Hardware
Have you ever wondered how the inside of an OEM-assembled desktop tower PC looks like? Well, this is where we have the classic 'good news bad news' situation coming on. The good news is that, like most desktop PCs out in the market, the HP Pavilion p7's internals are relatively easy to gain access to; all that was needed on our end was to remove a single screw from the chassis's rear and we were in, as shown in the image below.
Providing the all-important medium for data storage in our review unit is a Hitachi Deskstar mechanical hard disk which boasts a capacity of 500GB. As far as average computer use is concerned, we would say that this amount of storage should be more than enough for any user to store his or her ever-growing collection of downloaded media files, as well as the occasional work-related documents like reports, spreadsheets and presentations.
That being said, HP has confirmed that the HP Pavilion p7 is capable of accommodating up to a maximum of two hard disks; this potentially allows users to gain access to a maximum internal storage capacity of up to 4TB, if one uses nothing but 2TB hard disks for such a configuration.
Supplying the raw power needed for the HP Pavilion p7's graphics crunching tasks is an OEM graphics card which utilizes AMD's Radeon HD 6570 GPU and is produced by Pegatron. Notice how the OEM card looks simpler than its aftermarket counterparts that are sold in hardware shops.
However, HP has announced that it will be offering a total of six different graphics solutions from both NVIDIA and AMD for consumers to choose from, so users have the luxury of choosing the kind of graphcis card that will best fit their individual needs. These include three NVIDIA-based graphics cards in the form of the GT530, GT520 and GF405, while those who prefer to go with AMD can choose between the Radeon HD 6570, Radeon HD 6450 and Radeon HD 4550 graphics cards. Finally, entry-level users can opt to drop the dedicated graphics card entirely and make do with the onboard Intel HD Graphics 2000 GPU which is built into the system's procesosr. And just so you know, going for various configurations will have a direct impact on the overall price of the HP Pavilion p7 desktop tower PC.
Our review unit also came bundled with two 2GB sticks DDR3 memory from Kingston for a total of 4GB, which should be more than sufficient for the multitasking needs of most users. That being said, users who feel that they are up to the task of performing their own RAM upgrades will probably be delighted to know that there is a fair bit of room for doing so, as the HP Pavilion p7 sports a total of four DIMM slots.
We were also somewhat surprised at HP's decision to spring for a third-party CPU cooling fan as opposed to using Intel's own stock coolers. No prizes for guessing which company HP had chosen to hook up with for its supply of CPU coolers.
Remember what we said earlier about the HP Pavilion p7's hardware being a classic case of "good news bad news"? The bad news stems from the fact that the HP Pavilion p7 leaves very little room for any meaningful hardware upgrades, save for memory. For one, the mATX motherboard only features a solitary PCIe x16 slot which is currently occupied by the bundled AMD Radeon HD 6570 graphics card, thus making it impossible to users to utilize a multi-GPU setup in the machine, In addition, the tight confines of the HP Pavilion p7's interior effectively prevents the installation of most newer (and larger) aftermarket graphics cards,
In addition, it appears that there are no PCIe x4 slots present on the motherboard at all, and the three PCIe x1 slots which are located directly beneath the PCIe x16 slot will most likely remain unused for the duration of the PC's lifespan unless someone decides to utilize them somehow by fitting in a discreet sound card or a WiFi card of sorts into the aforementioned slots.
Oh, and one more thing; our review unit was not shipped with a bundled WiFi card for wireless Internet connectivity. However, this is largely a non-issue on retail versions of the HP Pavilion p7, for the company has assured us that those units will feature a bundled HP-branded wireless card that supports wireless Internet connections via the 802.11b, g and n spectrums.
A Closer Look: Keyboard and mouse
As is the case with most OEM-assembled desktop PCs, our review unit came bundled with a complementary keyboard and mouse. However, unlike some OEMs which pamper their consumers with the wireless versions of the aforementioned devices, HP has instead opted to go with tradition by offering its consumers wired versions of the all-important input devices.
Not surprisingly. the 'B' button on HP's keyboard sports a stylized Beats logo, ostensibly to highlight the fact that the HP Pavilion p7 is furnished with the OEM's audio-enhancing Beats Audio technology.
Using the keyboard, however, was an unforgettable experience, and we do not mean it in a positive way. While the tactile feedback felt just right, the unconventional key layout on the keyboard was bad enough to force us to revert to our own personal keyboards after spending less than an hour with it. And if you are wondering just what was so wrong with the keyboard that prompted such a reaction, we will just let the following pictures do the talking.
Forward-slash key has been moved between the Shift and Z buttons.
Yet another Forward-slash button shows up, this time between the Enter and inverted commas.
Fortunately, the bundled mouse was much more pleasant to use, but only because it actually felt like what a proper mouse should be. That being said, it is just another one of those typical, run-of-the-mill mice which is good enough for getting work done and navigating around your operating system, but that is about all there is to it.
A Closer Look: Monitor
Provided for use with our review unit was a limited-edition micro-thin, LED-backlit monitor from HP, the x2301. We should point out that this monitor is not included as part of the purchase of a HP Pavilion p7 desktop PC in anyway, and that users will have to already have their own monitors for use with the desktop PC, or purchase one separately. According to the company, the x2301 is a highly recommended purchase, as it is reportedly capable of bringing out the best from the desktop PC.
We did not exactly take a ruler to its frame to measure how thin it is, but trust us when we say that the x2301's frame is much thinner than what it looks like in the photograph below. Official figures from HP put the frame's thinness at a mere 9.8mm, which is less than a centimeter. However, such thinness comes at a price, and in the x2301's case, it has got to do with the display's tendency to flex significantly when held firmly at both corners.
Because of its slimness, HP was able to have all of its weight supported by a single small pivot at the base, which handles the display's rotation and pivoting capabilities.
Also, users who were expecting the x2301 to be operated via touch controls should probably look away now, as the monitor sports traditional push buttons to operate its array of built-in features and options.
Video input to the monitor is achived via three different modes, namely HDMI, DVI and VGA. Interesting that HP would recommend this monitor to potential Pavilion p7 buyers, considering how the latter does not sport VGA-out ports for use with the x2301, while the x2301 itself does not support video input via DisplayPort which is present on the p7. Users might also want to note that the x2301 makes use of its own unique power brick (and accompanying DC-in jack) for energy, and is not connected direcly to the mains like most monitors available on the market today.