If you’re looking for an inexpensive Media Center PC that can easily manage your music, photos, and other multimedia, HP’s Pavilion a1130n Desktop PC is a good choice. Unlike more expensive systems that run the Windows XP Media Center Edition OS, the Pavilion a1130n has no TV tuner or remote control, but it does a fine job of handling other multimedia tasks at a very reasonable $1060.
If the Pavilion’s 250GB hard drive isn’t large enough, you can store files on recordable CD and DVD media using the 16X DVD±RW LightScribe drive, which can write up to 8.5GB on a single double-layer DVD. LightScribe is an HP technology that allows you to flip a DVD in the drive and then use the drive’s laser to print–or actually burn–a label onto LightScribe-compatible DVD media. A second 16X DVD-ROM drive makes for easy DVD copying.
I also liked the bundled keyboard. It felt a bit light, but had good key action and sports five Internet shortcut buttons as well as a number of buttons for common multimedia tasks such as opening and closing the DVD drives and burning DVDs.
To cut costs, HP skips on supplying dedicated graphics RAM and instead borrows up to 128MB of the installed 1GB of system RAM for use by the integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics processing chip. Not surprisingly, the frame rates on our graphics tests using Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Unreal Tournament were very low. But both games ran passably on the system. Watching our Star Wars DVD looked great on the 17-inch HP Vs17 flat-panel display. Colors on photographs were also real and vivid, and even the smallest font in our text evaluations (6.8 point) looked clear and readable.
Anyone wanting to play games or work with digital video can boost graphics performance by adding a dedicated graphics card to the open PCI Express x16 slot on the motherboard–an option not available on the earlier Pavilion a1120n.
The two cigarette pack-sized Harmon Kardon speakers bundled with our test unit produced reasonably clear sound on both DVD movie playback and audio CDs, but anyone who cares about sound quality will want to invest in better speakers.
Opening the case is easy: Just remove a single thumbscrew to take off the cover. In addition to the PCI Express x16 slot, there are two open PCI slots and one slot holding a modem card. I easily reached all of the expansion slots. If you want to add extra RAM to the two open sockets, you’ll have to fight your way around a bundle of power cables that also hinder access to the external and internal drive bays. But since all the drive bays are accessed by removing the case’s front panel–which isn’t too difficult to do–changing drives is actually a pretty simple process.
Our Pavilion a1130n posted a score of 93 on PC WorldBench 5; this is on the low end of the spectrum for systems we’ve tested running on a 2.2-GHz Athlon 64 3500+ CPU but still enough to comfortably run most common applications.
This is an excellent entry-level multimedia PC for the budget-conscious student or enthusiast.
HP Pavilion a1130n Desktop PC
WorldBench 5 score of 93, 2.2-GHz Athlon 64 3500+ CPU, 1GB of DDR400 SDRAM, Windows XP Media Center, 250GB hard drive, 16X DVD±
RW drive, 16X DVD-ROM/40X CD-RW combo drive, integrated ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics, 17-inch HP Vs17 monitor, Harmon Kardon 2-piece speakers, V.92 modem, midsize tower case; Microsoft Works. One-year parts and labor warranty; 24-hour daily toll-free support during warranty period.