HP Pavilion p6640f: Awkwardly positioned

Being in the market for a budget desktop forces you to consider all of your options chiefly from the perspective of price, not features. The HP (NYSE: HPQ) Pavilion p6640f ($709 as of January 13, 2011) is a fine system in its own right, offering an excellent balance of price and performance. While we wish that this machine had more features, we recognize that it’s difficult–if not impossible–to find a desktop system on the lower end of the price range that doesn’t come with tough trade-offs. Even so, competing systems (including another model from HP) piece together a prettier puzzle in the end.

An AMD (NYSE: AMD) Phenom II X4 925 processor powers HP’s midsize-tower desktop. The inclusion of this competent but aging processor isn’t surprising, given HP’s push for performance at a low pricing overhead. What is surprising, however, is HP’s decision to stuff 8GB of DDR3 memory into this system. We’re not complaining about this new fad of stretching memory capacities to the brink in budget desktops. We just question its usefulness: Would a drop to 4GB of memory affect system performance at all? It sure would affect price.

Those components, coupled with a 1TB hard drive–an excellent choice–helped the p6640f hit a mighty score of 116 on our WorldBench 6 suite of tests. Although that isn’t the top general performance we’ve seen in the budget desktop category, the p6640f does offer highly competitive performance for a price that’s lower than the cost of its similarly configured peers. Case in point: The Gateway DX4320-45 desktop PC nailed a score of 121 on our benchmarks, but it costs nearly $200 more than this HP desktop.

As mentioned earlier, however, the budget category is filled with trade-offs. HP’s own Pavilion Slimline s5660f beat the p6640f ever so slightly in performance; more important, the compact s5660f includes a Blu-ray player, in contrast to the p6640f’s simple DVD burner. But in comparison with the p6640f, the s5660f falters on networking capabilities and upgradability, two areas that might be deal breakers depending on how you plan to use your new desktop.So, in a world of differing configurations, what are some of the saving graces of HP’s midsize tower? For starters, we continue to appreciate HP’s case design. The standard HP motif has been gussied up a bit on the p6640f: Drives and front-panel connections are still masked, but HP rejects its standard glossy coat for a look that’s more gunmetal than the traditional black. A minor change, but it makes the p6640f look as pretty as ever for an HP desktop.

The interior of the desktop is a bit clumpy with its wiring. However, the system delivers a pretty decent loadout for anyone interested in souping up their desktop with even more accessories. You get two out of three drive bays to play with on the p6640f, along with one of the two 5.25-inch bays, three PCI Express x1 slots, and a single PCI Express x16 slot. That’s not a substantial amount of upgrading flexibility compared with, say, that of a performance desktop, but the array is still diverse enough to cover most of anything you’d think of to slap in there.

The front of the case sports a fairly paltry two USB ports–an uninteresting offering even for a budget desktop. The rear is a bit more spread out, thankfully, with a total of four USB ports, one VGA port, one DVI port, one coaxial audio output, one gigabit Ethernet port (Wireless-N connectivity, as well), and integrated 7.1 surround sound. That’s a good lineup, but an even better one would include a nod to some kind of advanced display connection such as HDMI or DisplayPort, as well as some sort of FireWire or eSATA connection. USB 3.0 would be a dream–maybe someday, eh?

Included with HP’s p6640f is a boring wired mouse and a boring wired keyboard. Perhaps in the future we’ll get some better action on the parts of the PC that a person uses most.

So, should you consider the HP Pavilion p6640f? Actually, this is one of the rare instances where we recommend that you save your pennies and jump on up to HP’s slimmer desktop, the Pavilion Slimline s5660f–unless, of course, you have no interest in rocking a Blu-ray player inside your brand-new system. It won’t allow you to upgrade without a hassle, but that restriction is a welcome trade-off for stronger features–and a lower price.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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