HP Pavilion a6560a
Multitasking with ease
- Plenty of processing power, can be upgraded and expanded, HDMI, compact and good-looking case
- Could use some more graphics grunt, no Gigabit Ethernet, memory card slots are uncovered, could use more hard drive space
A great little unit with plenty of processing power. It's perfect for image and video editing and won't cost you too much.
Price$ 1,300.00 (AUD)
You really can't go wrong with this PC. It looks good, has plenty of processing power and memory for multitasking, and it's got all the requisite slots and ports for loading photos and plugging in peripherals. It's also got a little room left to upgrade, so you won't have to be stuck with the same configuration forever.
With an AMD Phenom X4 9550+ CPU, which is a quad-core CPU that runs at 2.2GHz, this PC isn't for you if all you plan to do is surf the Web and create documents. It's tuned more towards tasks such as media encoding, photo editing and video editing, and of course, heavy multitasking. With four cores, you can work on at least four applications simultaneously without noticing much of a slow-down in performance. Its 4GB of DDR2 memory also helps this cause.
The only thing you can't do with this machine is play the latest games smoothly at high resolutions. Its NVIDIA GeForce 9500GS-based graphics card is an entry-level card, and it returned a score of 4930 in 3DMark06, which is about 6000 below what a mid-range GeForce 9600-based card can get in this benchmark. Still, it will provide the PC with enough grunt to drive high-resolution monitors, as well as run older gaming titles smoothly.
The best part about this graphics card is its versatility. It comes with D-Sub and DVI ports, as well as an HDMI port. That means you can plug the PC in to a big-screen TV and use it as a media centre. Down the track, if you ever install a Blu-ray drive, you'll also be able to watch high-definition movies with it, too (it is an HDCP-capable card).
In our WorldBench 6 benchmark, the PC recorded a score of 85, which means it will be able to swiftly run any office application you throw its way. In the Blender 3D test, which tests CPU speed, a four-threaded rendering job (which uses all of the CPU's four cores) took 49sec. This is exactly what we were expecting of the Phenom X4 9550+ (by way of comparison, the Phenom X4 9600 took 48sec in our tests when we reviewed it). Its time of 1min 27sec in our iTunes test, where we encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files, was also an expected result. In short, this PC wasn't slow and met our expectations of it.
It's also a fairly economical beast. During our tests, it only consumed about 70 Watts of electricity while under a full processing load, and 45-55W when idle. While switched off but still connected to the wall outlet, it consumed 17W.
As for functionality, a sliding door on the machine's front panel conceals USB, FireWire, and audio and microphone ports. There is also a comprehensive memory card reader located at the top of the front panel, which can accommodate anything from SD cards to CompactFlash cards. However, the memory card reader doesn't have a cover, and could therefore be prone to dust in carpeted environments.
The case isn't a big one (it's only about 39cm tall and 41cm deep), so it should fit in most bedrooms or studies without requiring you to renovate. Its internal design is not typical: it makes use of the 'upside-down ATX' form factor, in which a micro-ATX motherboard is installed with its expansion slots residing above the CPU, rather than below. This shouldn't pose any problems when upgrading. In fact, the location of the slots at the top of the case, rather than the bottom, makes it a little easier to add expansion cards once you get used to using your right hand to push in the mounting bracket.
There are two PCI Express x1 slots and one PCI slot free, so, for example, you could add a wireless networking card and a digital TV tuner. Two memory slots are also free, and you can also add up to two more Serial ATA drives. The PC comes with a Serial ATA-based DVD burner and a 500GB hard drive, and there is space in the case for at least one more hard drive.
Setting up the machine can be a little painful, as there are a lot of registration and software set-up screens to get through before you can log-in — factor in about 10min of set-up time. You get a comfortable USB keyboard and mouse with the PC, but the $1300 price tag doesn't cover a monitor or speakers.
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