capsule review

HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC

At a Glance
  • HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC

    PCWorld Rating

    Well-designed PC comes with helpful software, has a bay for optional removable hard drive, and burns labels on DVDs.

HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC
Photograph: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

The $1700 HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC may not have the diminutive, living-room styling of some other Media Center PCs, but its silver midsize-tower case houses a PC that's user friendly and works equally well as a media hub and as a work PC.

Inexperienced users will appreciate the m7260n's easy setup. HP's two excellent manuals, the Getting Started Guide and the Start Here pamphlet, are well thought out, well written, and clearly illustrated. This will come as a breath of fresh air to anyone who has struggled with the many audio and video connections necessary to integrate a PC and a home entertainment center. Also very helpful are the exceptionally well-labeled audio and video connectors on the case, which include the usual USB, FireWire, and 5.1-channel surround-audio ports as well as VGA, composite, S-Video, and coaxial digital audio ports.

Notably missing is a DVI connector, leaving you no way to send a digital signal to a display device--a must for connecting to a big-screen TV. Also, instead of having the optical Toslink digital audio port found on most Media Center PCs, the m7260n has the coaxial S/PDIF version, which uses a standard RCA jack. And the PC has only a single TV tuner, meaning you can't watch one program while recording a second with Windows XP Media Center's digital video recording capabilities.

A 300GB hard drive and a dual-layer DVD±RW drive offer ample data storage for most users. If you need extra room, you can add up to 300GB more with HP's Personal Media Drive, a separately purchased USB external hard drive that slides into a special docking bay on the front of the PC's case.

Other pluses for multimedia users: HP's Image Zone software organizes and manages photographs with minimal fuss, and the company's LightScribe technology enables your DVD drive to etch a label or graphic onto compatible media.

The m7260n also has the hardware to handle both Media Center tasks and standard computing work. Thanks to its dual-core 3-GHz Pentium D 830 CPU and 1GB of DDR2-533 SDRAM, the m7260n posted a WorldBench 5 score of 88, a result comparable to the scores of similarly equipped systems we've tested. Frame rates on video game tests were passable, but tended to be a fraction of what three other tested budget-priced Media Center PCs produced. For example, on Unreal Tournament at 1024 by 768 resolution, the m7260n generated an average of 141 frames per second, while the $1888 Polywell MiniBox 939NX-MCE kicked out 233 fps. Game play on Return to Castle Wolfenstein looked smooth, but appeared dark on HP's F1905 flat-panel display.

The user-friendly m7260n is well suited to less-experienced users who want a PC for both everyday computing and Media Center duties.

Kirk Steers

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Well-designed PC comes with helpful software, has a bay for optional removable hard drive, and burns labels on DVDs.

    Pros

    • Media Center with video options galore

    Cons

    • Lacks good graphics and upgrade path
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