At first glance, HP's Pavilion HPE-170t might look out of place in the Value PC category. And it almost is: Its price of $1434 (as of February 19, 2010) nearly shoots above the category's limit, close enough to make anyone wonder about the "value" in this desktop. The HPE-170t, however, is a tremendous deal, as its performance beats out every single value system on our charts--and even rivaling all but the fastest of the power PCs we've reviewed. You don't often find a system with this wicked combination of savings and speed--but note that HP made a few sacrifices to get there.
The system's 2.80GHz Intel Core i7 860 processor is speedy, but it's not the fastest of Intel's line, nor the highest-frequency processor we've seen in a desktop system. So how, then, is the HPE-170t able to hit a whopping 162 on our Worldbench 6 suite of tests? A little bit of this performance can be traced to the system's 8GB of DDR3 memory. You don't often see such a hefty amount of RAM in a standard desktop machine. But the stronger culprit behind the HPE-170t's performance is its hard-drive setup: two 500GB drives in a superfast RAID 0 array. Though the array doubles your chances for data failure, it really delivers for general system use.
A single nVidia Geforce GTX 260 card powers this HP machine's graphics. It delivers a reasonable 65.4 frames per second on our Unreal Tournament 3 gaming benchmark (2560 x 2100 resolution, high quality). But gaming enthusiasts will be happier with a system like Micro Express's MicroFlex 75B, which churns out an impressive 82 frames per second (and a WorldBench score of 132) for roughly half the price of the HPE-170t ($699 as of February 19, 2010). That said, the HPE-170t's general performance is still nearly unbeatable. Only Maingear's Shift system--a $7113 Power PC--overtakes HP's machine, and just by an 11 percent increase in speed.
HP's performance triumph doesn't carry through to the HPE-170t's general design--cuts had to come somewhere for this machine to hit its sub-$1500 price, after all. The system's connection options are average compared with its peers: six USB ports on the rear join an optical out, one FireWire 400 port, gigabit ethernet (and integrated wireless-N connectivity), and ports for 5.1 surround sound. The front welcomes three USB ports, a FireWire 400 port, and a multiformat card reader. Overall, I question the lack of any advanced connectivity (such as eSATA or HDMI) on this system. For connections, the MicroFlex 75B blows HP's system out of water, but, to HP's credit, it also lacks the Blu-ray support of the HPE-170t.
The HPE-170t's insides are clad in a glossy, black HP case. Plastic panels keep ports, bays, and optical drives hidden away, but the system's innards are a bit disappointing. Slide off the case and you'll find it isn't very upgradable: A 5.25-inch bay and a single PCI Express x4 slot make up all the open space you have to work with. The clumpy internal wiring also does little to aid the tinkering process.
The HPE-170t's mouse and keyboard are generic and dull. The latter does pack three extra buttons for raising, lowering, and muting your speaker volumes, but that's nothing to write home about.
What is worth writing about, however, is the HPE-170t's killer performance. You'll be hard pressed to find a system that matches the price-to-performance ratio exhibited by HP's speedy rig. It's not a great gaming machine, and it takes a little bit away from almost every other category we can think of. But if all you care about is raw, inexpensive speed, HP has conjured a monster.
This story, "Review: HP Pavilion HPE-170t: Top Performance, Some Quirks" was originally published by PCWorld.