So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Hewlett-Packard Australia Pavillion-M8090A_03
- HD-DVD drive, above average gaming performance, media tray and removable drive are handy additions
- No HDMI, some noise issues, tower case design
While the lack of HDMI and a tower case design are sore points, the m8090a is nonetheless a solid media centre PC. It offers more than enough power to perform most tasks and even packs in some grunt for playing games.
Price$ 3,400.00 (AUD)
HP's latest entry in the media centre market is the impressive Pavilion m8090a. It comes in a sleek black tower case and has a couple of nifty inclusions, most notably an HD-DVD drive, that make it a solid choice if you're after an all around entertainment PC. However, it's not overly powerful and it is missing a few features that we usually like to see.
The key thing to note about this system is its NVIDIA GeForce 7600GT graphics card. Combined with the 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 CPU and 2GB of DDR2 RAM, this card means that while media functionality is the system's primary purpose, it's more than capable of playing the occasional game.
Its score of 3116 in 3DMark 2006 indicates strong overall performance for gaming. While it will struggle with the demanding titles, such as F.E.A.R, the 7600GT graphics card is perfectly adequate for the casual gamer.
This machine is also one of the first to be run through our new, Vista ready benchmark program, WorldBench 6. This benchmark runs a computer through a series of scripted tasks, ranging from video and music encoding through to image editing and file compression, in an attempt to test its general performance. The m8090a achieved a respectable score of 82 in this test, which is about right for a mid range system with these specifications. This indicates it will be more than adequate for most tasks you throw at it.
We also ran a separate media encoding test, where we encode 53 minutes of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3s using Cdex. This took a total of two minutes and eight seconds, which is a good time, particularly considering this machine's media focus.
Aesthetically the system is quite nice. It has a glossy black finish, which is attractive and should blend in nicely with a modern home entertainment setup, however we do prefer the horizontal home theatre-style cases that are commonly seen on media centre systems. They fit in much better with the other home theatre components. The tower design may put off buyers looking for a home theatre PC for their living room. A wireless keyboard and mouse are also included in the package, and they worked well in our testing.
The case has a number of nifty features, including a tray on top for storing CDs and DVDs, as well as a space for a 3.5in drive bay that can be easily accessed by flipping open a panel on the front. This allows for a spare hard drive to be quickly inserted, facilitating extra storage and easy media sharing. The front of the case also has S-Video and Composite connections, along with a microphone, headphone jacks and two USB ports, all hidden behind a flip-out panel. Along the top is a media card reader, which support SD, MMC, Compact Flash and Memory Stick.
Around the back, the m8090a has more USB connections and two DVI ports; however, HP hasn't included an HDMI compatible video card. This our main complaint with the system. While there is DVI for digital video and co-axial for digital audio, HDMI is becoming more and more prevalent and many buyers looking to future-proof their home entertainment setups may want this type of connection.
That is doubly true as this system also packs a HD-DVD drive. A great inclusion, this drive allows for high definition HD-DVD movies to be played back. This ensures your system will be useful years into the future. The DVI and coaxial options will suffice, but are much less convenient than a single HDMI cable. Also accompanying the HD-DVD drive is a regular double-layer DVD burner and a 300GB 7200RPM hard drive, for all your storage needs. Network connectivity is facilitated by a 10/100 Ethernet port and 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi.
During our testing we did notice that the m8090a emits an excessive amount of noise at times, particularly when it is running under load. This won't bother everyone, but a loud media centre can take away from whatever media is being played. It was however quite cool, which is great if you are going to store it in a cramped home entertainment cabinet with other devices.
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