Review: Can The HP Phoenix Face Up To Alienware For Gaming PC Prowess?
By Matthew Lentini | Wednesday | 09/11/2011
HP has risen from the marketing ashes of its Personal Systems Group debacle with a high-end PC befitting its name. The HP Phoenix is a high-powered machine to fuel your gaming addiction while making your desktop just a little bit fancier. It throws some top-tiered components into an alluring yet domineering black and red-lit case that does well in league with other gaming chassis.
But is the top model of HP's most powerful desktop PC yet really worth a $2,799 pinch out of the wallet? And if you're the gaming type, what's there to entice you to go for the Phoenix over other gamer-centric set ups?
Let's start out by shooting through some specs: it's got an Intel Core i7-2600 processor running at 3.4 GHz, an AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB GDDR5 graphics card, 16 GB of DDR3 RAM, 2TB SATA 3G hard drive running at 7200 rpm.
The 3.4GHz processor could be overclocked closer to 4GHz, though you'll have to do your own tinkering to get it there. For what you're paying, the graphics card should be stepped up to the 2GB 6950, which takes up two slots just like the 6850, and will also outperform the 6850 in the long run for gaming and for multimedia/animation tasks especially. The 16GB RAM is practically overkill and under most circumstances, you won't find yourself chomping through it all (but the more the merrier, right?). It seems like they went for a few big numbers over picking the top configuration.
That being said, the Phoenix will still lightning through anything you throw at it. On the gaming front, the graphics card will get you throw most new games without a hitch. We ran Dead Space 2 on full specs without so much as a hiccup. Even Crysis Warhead (which I've found runs harder than Crysis 2) was hard-pressed to reduce the framerate.
Straight from the get-go, the Phoenix is an appealing buy on its aesthetics alone, being conservative yet distinctly 'gamery'. Yes, you guessed it, they threw in plenty of LEDs to give it the futuristic space ship look, not uncommon in the gaming PC market. On the front face sits two disk drives: one's a Blu-ray burner, and the other an expandable slot for any new drives you want to install yourself (like another burner for on-the-fly CD burning). Below is a slide-down hatch that reveals a 15-in-1 card reader and four USB ports. Up top is a tray for stashing away whatever you want to clutter your desktop with and, more notably, two USB 3.0 ports. It's a shame there aren't more, but around the back you'll find another four USB 2.0 ports, so you're never without with the Phoenix.
Turn this beast around and you pull up a boatload of connections that make this a HD-everything-ready machine that you could comfortable swap out your Blu-ray player for. There are two DisplayPort connections, a VGA connection, two for DVI and an HDMI out. The connected sound card can handle 7.1 surround sound, so coupled with the Blu-ray drive round the front, the Phoenix makes for a top-notch home theatre PC. Built-in TV tuner does a good job of complimenting this, as does the built-in 802.11 wireless alongside the LAN port for wired connections.
HP's bundled software offering is comparable to adware to on-sell a few other products. A 60 day Norton 2012 subscription trial is more hassle than it's worth, what with all the pop-ups and constant badgering for registration. Windows Office Starter 2010 is thrown in rather than the more in-depth Office suite. There's also a preloaded copy of the mediocre MMORPG Rift thrown in so you can put your brand-spanking-new gaming PC to the test against low-res, online subscription gaming.
A wireless keyboard and mouse combo is thrown in, but the pair has underwhelming wireless coverage with noticeable signal loss at little over a metre or two away despite having the wireless dongle sticking out of the top of the tower. It's good for your initial set up, but you'll want to ditch these for your own peripherals.
With the inside not leaving much motherboard space for upgrading, covered with a cocktail of wires, and a distinct lack of cooling equipment, there is still a lot to be desired in this machine's innards. So would you be better off building one of these on your own? A high-end desktop case could cost anywhere between $150 and $300, depending on the inputs and cooling options (and any number of fans would be better than the lack of in the Phoenix). The graphics card will run at around $150, while the CPU could be picked up for around $300. Throw in a power supply for around $50, the storage at anywhere up to $350, up to $150 to upgrade to a motherboard with more PCI Express Ports for future expansion. The RAM will set you back less than $150 too. As you accumulate this list, bit by bit you find that the HP Phoenix is a very expensive piece of kit that you could competitively build yourself. But is that all too uncommon for 'gaming' branded PCs?
This PC is one top-notch computer with enough trimmings to make it worth a play. And with notebooks stretching over the $2000 mark (even the new, underpowered Ultrabooks), the Phoenix starts to seem a bit less pricey. With the components on board, this computer would last a few years of high-end gaming and multimedia, but those needing a high-end PC for multimedia editing's sake might want to go for something with a bigger GPU or space to throw in two side-by-side. The offering is beautifully polished in a package that's still worthy of any keen gamers' desktop.
Apr/May 2011 issue
reviews the hot new iPhone attach device, the Zeppelin Air. And we look at what's going on in the tablet space...