capsule review

HP Pavilion a1250n Desktop PC

At a Glance
  • HP Pavilion A1250n Desktop (Athlon 64 X2 3800+, 1GB DDR, 250GB, DVDRW DL, Windows Media Center)

    PCWorld Rating

    This Media Center PC manages music and images competently, but needs upgrades to be a useful home entertainment center.

HP Pavilion a1250n Desktop PC
Photograph: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

Priced at $1229 (as of January 17, 2006) with a 17-inch LCD display, HP's Pavilion a1250n is a great example of a value Media Center PC that's more comfortable in the home office than in the living room. The system lacks the sophisticated graphics card, TV tuner, and remote control that come standard on more-expensive Media Center PCs. Nevertheless, it should work well as a home-office PC that can also manage music, photos, and graphics files.

Equipped with a 2-GHz Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 3800+ CPU, 2GB of DDR RAM, and a 250GB Seagate Barracuda hard drive, the Pavilion a1250n posted an impressive score of 94 on our WorldBench 5 test suite. Though most software programs today can't exploit the benefits of a dual-core processor when run by themselves, people who multitask--playing music and games at the same time, for example--should see performance benefits when using this machine.

Notwithstanding the dual-core processor, the Pavilion a1250n depends on integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics, which use system RAM instead of dedicated RAM. As a result, the system isn't the best choice for high-powered games or applications that use fast-moving 3D graphics. On our Unreal Tournament graphics test at 1024 by 768 resolution with 32-bit color, the a1250n's frame rate score of 55 stands as the third-lowest we've yet seen. Older and less-demanding games, however, should play well on this system; game play on Return to Castle Wolfenstein, for example, flowed smoothly. Images looked sharp, with clear delineation between different tones and colors.

DVD movies ran without jitters, and even fast-moving images looked clearly defined on the 17-inch HP vs17 LCD display that accompanied our review system. Small (6.8-point) text was quite legible at the monitor's native resolution of 1280 by 768. The monitor accepts analog VGA input only, however; digital DVI usually produces sharper images.

The case's silver surface, slightly curved edges, and white plastic front soften the appearance of the slightly squat midsize tower case. The a1250n includes a dual-layer 4X DVD+/-RW drive, a 16X DVD-ROM drive, and a nine-in-one media card reader. The DVD+/-RW drive uses HP's LightScribe technology to print labels and images on special LightScribe DVD and CD media that typically cost just a little over $1 per disk.

A small door beneath the front-mounted card reader slides down to reveal two USB ports; a FireWire port; and headphone, microphone, and line-in jacks. The back of the system accommodates four more USB 2.0 ports, two ethernet ports, and three analog audio ports that support 5.1 surround sound. A coaxial (RCA jack) digital-audio SP/DIF port sits above the analog audio ports. But unlike many Media Center PCs, the system lacks an optical Toslink SP/DIF port. A DVI port is also missing, so if you want the superior quality of digital video output for a television or DVI-only LCD, you'll have to add a graphics card with DVI output.

If you decide to add a graphics card or TV tuner to the a1250n, you'll find that reaching the one open PCI Express X16 slot and three open PCI slots is pretty simple. Likewise, in case the system's 250GB hard drive fills up quickly, the readily accessible hard drive chassis offers room for two additional hard drives--though there's only one open SATA connector. There's no room for more optical drives.

As usual, HP comes through with a very user-friendly design. Excellent manuals and setup guides include separate pamphlets for basic use, upgrades, troubleshooting, and setup. The system comes equipped with a basic mouse and a sturdy keyboard with big, easy-to-reach multimedia and control buttons.

The Pavilion a1250n is a good Media Center PC for managing music and images, but you'll have to upgrade it before it becomes a useful home entertainment center or media hub for a TV.

Kirk Steers

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    This Media Center PC manages music and images competently, but needs upgrades to be a useful home entertainment center.

    Pros

    • Good for basic media tasks

    Cons

    • Upgrades needed for true MC PC tasks
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