The HP HPE Phoenix h9z ($1,049 direct) is HP's (re-) entry into the gaming PC market. While HP's HPE h8 series PCs go after multimedia enthusiasts, the h9 Phoenix goes after the entry level to mainstream gaming enthusiast with similar gusto. What HP brings to the table, in addition to performance, are a lot of standard features that would've been extra-cost options on other entry-level gaming desktop PCs.
Design and Features
The HPE Phoenix h9z line extends the usual HP HPE tower chassis' looks by adding a new faceplate and side panels. The HP Pavilion Elite h8-1124 ($899.99 list, 3.5 stars) and its brethren are basic tower desktops, with fairly sedate looks. The HPE Phoenix h9z swaps in a more aggressive front panel with angry red backlighting and a perforated side panel with red internal lighting. It's not quite as outré as the Alienware X51 ($999.99 direct, 4 stars) or Velocity Micro Edge Z40 ($1,199 direct, 4 stars), but it's definitely going for the same slice of the gaming market.
The inside of the chassis has the room you'd expect from a tower, with plenty of breathing room for the included Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 graphics card. There's room for two PCIe x1 cards, two more hard drives (or one hard drive and one optical drive), and two more RAM DIMMS. Another improvement over the HPE h8 series is an up-rated 600W power supply (compared to the relatively paltry 300W in some h8 PCs).
The Phoenix h9z expands and embellishes the relatively sedate chassis we saw in the HP Pavilion Elite h8-1124 and other members of the h8 series. The front panel now has more lighting effects in the same red tone, while the side panel is more perforated. There's a windowed panel with a matching perforated mesh embedded, which begs the question, why not make it all mesh for better airflow? It looks like it should, but it's just for show.
Another odd decision is that the smallish window shows off the CPU air cooler, but not the gaming-class Nvidia graphics card, which would look more impressive under the red glow of the chassis' lit cooling fan. This is a case (pardon the pun) where the showy elements don't go far enough. There are some bright spots however; the top panel is now deeply indented to keep your smartphone, external hard drives, or camera safe during charge/sync sessions. As my colleague in the lab mentioned, it's perfectly sized and shaped for a resting cat.
The HPE Phoenix h9z comes with an eight-core AMD FX-8100 processor, from their new multi-core FX line of processors. Other niceties include a Blu-ray player optical drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a 1TB hard drive, and Beats Audio. As on HP's all in one PCs, Beats Audio modifies the system's internal audio to enhance music listening and movie watching. Beats Audio works through headphones or through external speakers, and you don't have to be using Beats Audio branded headphones to use the sound enhancements.
The HPE Phoenix h9z comes with a two-year warranty, double that of most other desktops. There is some bloatware, but the system comes with a 15-month subscription to Norton Internet Security, which is a totally useful period of time compared to the paltry 30-day subscription included with many PCs. The initial desktop screen is less cluttered than some, but there are still icons for HP's Magic Canvas, Office 2010, HP Games, Rift! (a fantasy MMORPG), Rara music, Norton Internet Security, and HP Support assistant.
This is where the metal meets the road, and the Phoenix h9z is an adequate, though not exceptional, performer. It gets decent scores at the gaming benchmark tests, with a just playable 54 fps at Crysis at Medium quality and a quite playable 65 fps at Lost Planet 2 at the Middle quality setting. These are due to the system's AMD FX-8100 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 graphics card. However, the Editor's Choice Alienware X51 with a faster processor and graphics are much faster and smoother (88 fps Crysis, 86 fps Lost Planet 2). The Alienware X51 also tops the h9z at both settings on the Futuremark 3DMark 11 test. The AMD processor shows promise at the multimedia tests, however. The h9z runs the Adobe Photoshop CS5 test in a quick 1:38, which is almost two minutes faster than the Alienware (3:36). Unfortunately, you're likely going to want to buy the h9z to play games rather than work on editing pictures.
So for a gaming rig, the HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z is good, but not great. It lags behind the leading Alienware X51 on the game grid, though it puts a good showing on Photoshop and in the features race. It's more expandable than the Alienware X51, and has the Blu-ray player that the compact gaming rig lacks. Essentially, if you want to upgrade in the future, the Phoenix h9z is a decent choice, but if you're looking for performance now, the less-expensive Alienware X51 is still the system to beat.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z
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