Although the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t offers components and performance that are the envy of lesser value PCs, it can’t compete against similarly configured machines. Several rivals beat it in performance; and even worse, some models crush the $1460 (as of 8/23/09) m9600t in price, to the tune of nearly $500. That’s not just a one-two punch–that’s an uppercut to the jaw.
To its credit, HP packed some of the best parts it could fit into the m9600t at that sub-$1500 price. For starters, the system carries a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920 processor, a top-of-the-line component for a value PC. The m9600t also includes a substantial 6GB of DDR3 memory, which the preinstalled 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium operating system can use fully. Its 750GB of storage (on a single hard drive) is sizable, too, though less-expensive systems with similar performance specifications have jumped into the 1TB range.
The m9600t’s WorldBench 6 score of 124 put it in a virtual tie with the $999 Dell XPS 435 (125), the $1300 Gateway FX6800-11 (124), the $1049 Acer Veriton M670G (124), and the $999 Velocity Micro Edge Z5 (126). As you can see, every one of those systems is cheaper than the m9600t. And the Micro Express MicroFlex 95B (closer to the m9600t’s price at $1499) trounced all of them, producing a category-leading WorldBench 6 result of 148.
On top of that, even though the Dell is about $460 cheaper than the m9600t, it has an ATI Radeon HD4870 card versus the m9600t’s slightly inferior ATI Radeon HD4850. As a result, the Dell achieved frame rates that were 15 to 20 frames per second better than the m9600t’s results on our gaming tests. The m9600t’s averages of 47 fps in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and 52 fps in Unreal Tournament 3 (both at 2560 by 1600 resolution and high quality) are among the higher scores we’ve seen from a value PC, but such results are clearly not great given the system’s price.
Keeping the comparison going, this HP ties the Dell in connectivity offerings. In the rear, the m9600t comes with four USB connections, as well as two eSATA ports, one gigabit ethernet port, one FireWire 400 port, integrated 5.1 surround sound, and an S/PDIF optical connector. The front of the case provides fewer connections (a single FireWire 400 port and two USB ports) in exchange for two bays that fit one HP Media Drive and one HP Pocket Drive, respectively. Though the Dell offers nothing like those drive bays, I can’t give HP the nod in this respect since purchasing one of the company’s proprietary storage designs to use in the bays only adds to the system’s price. The one other item on the m9600t’s front panel is a single 15-in-1 media card reader, which rests in the top.
Inside, the wiring job looks like a junkyard heap. The wires are all tangled and bunched up directly in the center of the system, hindering your access to the machine’s few upgradable options. In fact, I’m not even sure you can access the system’s single free internal 3.5-inch bay–not without performing heavy (read: screwdriver) surgery on the interior. The wiring would make it a nightmare to install a new 5.25-inch device in the system’s only free bay or to connect new devices to the m9600t’s single free PCI Express x4 slot or x16 slots. The fact that nothing on this case is screw-free certainly doesn’t help matters. You probably won’t want to tackle this system with anything less than a machete and a jungle guide.
While the same-ol’, same-ol’ chassis from HP is getting a bit tired in terms of features, it nevertheless looks and performs better than most of the big-brand cases I’ve encountered. The connectors on the front are completely stealthed behind coverings, as are the system’s optical drive and free 5.25-inch bay. A healthy amount of labeling ensures that no novice will ever get lost on this system’s exterior. The elegant black and gray chassis will blend neatly into your workspace or desk area–a nice change from some of the crazier takes on PC case design.
Our test system shipped with a generic keyboard, boring and standard in every way save for its three volume buttons. The scroll-wheel mouse, small for even dainty hands, is as nondescript as the keyboard.
Is the HP Pavilion Elite m9600t worth its inflated price? In a word, no. That isn’t due to a failure to perform in our benchmarks, and it isn’t because the system (ugly as it might be on the inside) happens to lack some substantial feature that people would want in a value PC. The m9600t certainly offers a lot of bang. The problem is the buck–actually, the problem amounts to nearly 500 bucks, which is roughly how much more you’d be paying for a system that performs worse than one of its key competitors.