HP Pavilion a6710t
While the general performance of the HP Pavilion a6710t is top-notch for a $519 (as of 8/23/09) machine, this minitower desktop PC's chief rivals manage to offer a comparable computing experience in a greatly reduced, compact case size. But don't count the a6710t out just yet--it still has a few tricks hidden up its sleeve.
The 2.6GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5300 processor, coupled with 3GB of DDR2-800 RAM, served up some of the fastest performance we've seen at (or under) the $500 mark. The single 500GB Hitachi hard drive offers a great amount of storage for a value PC at this price point, although the $650 Lenovo IdeaCentre K220 raises the stakes to 640GB.
The a6710t matched the $499 Acer Veriton X270 compact PC in performance, delivering a score of 98 in our WorldBench 6 suite of tests; both machines ran in a virtual tie with the Lenovo, which earned a mark of 99. To put that into perspective, you don't see better performance marks for value PCs until you enter the thousand-dollar price range. As far as games go, in our Unreal Tournament 3 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars benchmark tests, the a6710t and the Lenovo managed to run the games--but both were unable to produce playable frame rates even when we dialed the settings all the way back to 1024 by 768 resolution and 'normal' quality. (The Acer, by the way, failed to run both tests entirely.)
The slick, black case of the a6710t hides a slightly larger amount of internal upgradability than the Acer and Lenovo provide. If you can get past the chaotic wiring job, two PCI Express x1 ports are available for additional device installations. The additional free drive bays (one 5.25 inches and two 3.25 inches) toward the front of the chassis aren't a great amount to work with, but it's difficult to find systems at this price that allow for much tweaking beyond that. At least you'd be able to install a Blu-ray burner in addition to the system's DVD writer.
Connections are sparse: On the rear are four USB ports, one FireWire 400 port, two S/PDIF coaxial connections, and integrated 5.1 surround sound. Amazingly, HP decided to make the system's ethernet connection only the 10/100-mbps variety instead of the far more common gigabit ethernet. That hurts the a6710t's ability to perform fast network transfers--you're better off copying your files to a USB drive and physically walking it over to a different computer or device. The front of the case features two USB ports and a multiformat card reader, but that's all you get. Competing systems that have fancier connections such as HDMI or faster connections such as eSATA (and, dare I say it, gigabit networking) put the a6710t to shame.
At first glance, the keyboard we received with our test machine appears to offer more than your standard, generic array, but it has only three extra keys to control the system's volume. The mouse receives no additional treatment of any kind; the smooth, black exterior is as pretty as the mouse itself is functionally dull.
So where does that put the HP Pavilion a6710t? Save for storage capacity, it beats out the more expensive Lenovo IdeaCentre K220 in price-performance ratio, upgradability, and connectivity (yes, another system actually offers less than the a6710t's anemic port lineup). Acer's Veriton X270 costs a tad less and delivers comparable performance and better connections, but that compact PC isn't upgradable in the slightest. Among value PCs priced around $500, you'll find a whole range of deficiencies. Even though the a6170t comes out on top in this group, its own omissions--particularly its poor networking connectivity--mean that it is not so much the winner as it is the best loser.
HP Pavilion a6710t