HP Pavilion Elite e9120f Review

by Reads (12,725)
  • Pros

    • Built-in wireless
    • Lots of RAM
    • Quad-core CPU
  • Cons

    • Weak graphics performance
    • Some strange design cues

HP recently refreshed their desktop lines, in order to better prepare for the upcoming fall buying season.  The Pavilion Elite e9120f is another high tech desktop with a number of strong features.  Paired with a fresh new design, this computer might be just the thing for your home office.  Is this AMD-powered machine a good value, though?  Read on for our full review.

Specifications

  • Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 910 @ 2.6GHz (2MB L2 cache)
  • Memory: 6GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • Hard drive: 1TB SATA @ 5400RPM
  • Optical drive #1: 16X DVD+/-RW SuperMulti drive
  • Optical drive #2: Blu-ray / DVD-ROM
  • Sound: Integrated HD audio
  • Video card: ATI Radeon HD4350 512MB
  • Networking: 10/100/1000 Ethernet
  • Wireless networking: 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi
  • Operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
  • Built-in multiple memory card reader with IR receiver
  • Inputs: 7 USB2.0 (3 front, 4 back), 7.1 audio out + headphone/microphone jacks
  • Power supply: 300W
  • Dimensions: 16.9 x 6.5 x 15.1 inches (L x W x D)
  • Warranty: One-year limited parts and labor

The Pavilion Elite e9120f is currently available from HP.com and select retailers for $769.99.

Build and Design
HP recently redesigned all of their desktops, in addition to updating the specs. The redesigns don’t stray too far from what came before, but it’s nice to see things changed up a bit. The front of the machine features the now-standard glossy black plastic face with a memory card reader and various ports. Instead of going edge to edge, however, the front panel extends outward a quarter of an inch or so. The rest of it is covered with what looks like a speaker grill, but the holes are fake and don’t actually perforate the panel. Surrounding the outer edge is a strip of silvery plastic. The whole effect isn’t too different from previous incarnations; it’s subtle, but nice.  A power button on top lights a serene blue color; the same LED lights a universal power symbol in the upper right hand corner.  The HP logo in the middle also glows softly white whenever the machine is powered up.

Speaking of the front, HP has long been a fan of hiding things like optical drive bays and USB ports behind little flappy doors. I can’t say that I enjoy them nearly as much, but the effect is nice. One thing that I do find a little baffling is the component door on the lower left side of the computer. Open it up, and you find the two audio jacks and two USB ports. That’s it, in all of that space. It would have been a better design choice to put the memory card reader there as well, and integrate the IR receiver into the top of the case. To the right of the door labeled “connector ports” is another for one of HP’s storage drives. It actually fits a a 3.5-inch drive in one of HP’s external drive bays, so users can just shove it into the slot, use it, and pull it back out. No need for any sort of cabling. There’s a second one of these media bays in the middle of the front panel, only it’s used for HP’s 2.5-inch external portable hard drives.

hp pavilion  elite e9120f

It’s a very clever idea, and no doubt that it’s potentially very useful. The problem is that HP forces users to buy their own brand of external drives, meaning users who already own a number of portable storage solutions are left out in the cold. We’ve mentioned it before, but if HP would let users buy the cases and use their own drives, the feature would be so much more useful. Given the rise in popularity of home server units like HP’s own MediaSmart line, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the large of those two bays drop off at some point in the future. That would leave users with a cleaner front panel as well as a smaller drive to carry about with them.

hp pavilion elite e9120f

One nice thing about the e9120f is that it comes with dual optical drives. One bay is filled with a 16X DVD+/-RW SuperMulti DVD Burner, while the other has a Blu-ray / DVD-ROM. Users can copy data off of one drive and burn it on another, or use the DVD/CD burner while watching a movie on another. Given the built-in Media Center features as a part of Windows Vista Home Premium, the Blu-ray drive and the infrared receiver, this machine could easily be used as an auxiliary theater PC when not preparing this month’s TPS reports. HP unfortunately didn’t include a remote control with this system, but a basic one isn’t too expensive, and would be a worthwhile addition to the computer.

hp pavilion elite e9120fhp pavilion elite e9120f

The left and right sides of the computer have vents set up to keep the internals cool. While there are a number of fans inside the machine, keeping everything from overheating, the vents keep them from running overtime. On the top, HP laid an indentation into the surface so users can place gadgets and other paraphernalia for charging and easy access. One of HP’s other desktops that we’ve had in had a rubber coating on the indentation that protected both the computer and the devices from getting scratched up, as well as a hinge to keep the cords untangled, and it would be really great to see HP start to roll these features out to other units that they sell. It’s a really nice thing to have.

Inputs and Expansion
As we mentioned earlier, there are three USB2.0 ports on the front of the machine, in addition to the multi-card reader, audio jacks, IR receiver and dual optical drives. On the back lay the others, including four more USB2.0 ports and one FireWire. There are also more audio options, in the form of 7.1 and digital coaxial out as well as a line in jack. It would be nice to see a couple more USB ports in the back. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet port.

hp pavilion  elite e9120f

Video options include three ports on the discrete Radeon HD4350, with VGA, HDMI and DVI-A out. There are also integrated video ports out on the motherboard, but with the inclusion of the of the video card, HP disabled them and screwed plastic covers over them so that they can’t be used.

hp pavilion  elite e9120f

Internally, things are a bit messy because of the metal trays for the HP Personal and Pocket Media Drives, but there remains a fair amount of opportunity for expansion. There are two 3.5-inch drive bays, one of which is filled with the included 1TB hard drive. The graphics card takes up the only PCI-Express x16 slot, but there are still three x1 slots, only one of which is filled (with the included 802.11a/b/g/n wireless card).

Performance
The e9120f is part of HP’s Pavilion Elite line, so we expect higher than average capability from the machine. The results were adequate; the only letdown of the system is really its weak graphics capability. Users looking for a computer to do something besides gaming or other GPU-intensive tasks, however, can buy this without fear of disappointment.

wPrime CPU performance comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Desktop Time to complete wPrime 32M
HP Pavilion Elite e9120f (AMD Phenom II X4 910 @ 2.6GHz) 15.771s
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.301s
Gateway SX2800-01 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.35s
HP Pavilion Slimline s5160f (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.379s
Dell Studio One 19 (Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 @ 2.5GHz) 30.999s

PCMark05 overall general performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop PCMark06 Score
HP Pavilion Elite e9120f (AMD Phenom II X4 910 @ 2.6GHz) 8455 PCMarks
HP Pavilion Slimline s5160f (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 7107 PCMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6887 PCMarks
Gateway SX2800-01 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6539 PCMarks
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz) 5589 PCMarks

PCMark Vantage overall general performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop PCMark Vantage Score
HP Pavilion Elite m9600t (Intel Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 6479 PCMarks
Alienware Area-51 790i (Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66GHz) 5976 PCMarks
HP Pavilion Elite e9120f (AMD Phenom II X4 910 @ 2.6GHz) 5801 PCMarks
HP Pavilion Slimline s5160f (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 5280 PCMarks
Gateway SX2800-01 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 5035 PCMarks

3DMark06 overall graphics performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
HP Pavilion Elite e9120f (Phenom II X4 910, ATI HD4350) 2871 3DMarks
HP Pavilion Slimline s5160f (Core 2 Quad Q8200, NVIDIA G210) 2547 3DMarks
Dell Studio One 19 (Pentium Dual Core E5200, NVIDIA 9400) 1966 3DMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Core 2 Quad Q8200, ATI HD3450) 1820 3DMarks
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350, NVIDIA 9400M) 1552 3DMarks

HDTune results:
hp pavilion elite e9120f

The quad core nature of the the Phenom II X4 910 CPU shines through by its strong CPU benchmark results. All of the test results are made higher by dint of the CPU’s ability. The 3D capability of the graphics subsystem, however, is pretty weak. The HD4350 was never really intended for use as a gaming card; its strength lies it in its ability to encode and decode audio and video codecs, especially high definition ones. Still, users would be able to enjoy older games as well as current favorites like World of Warcraft, but at low settings.

The hard drive was of medium speed, with an average transfer rate of just under 70 megabytes per second. Fortunately, there’s an open 3.5-inch drive bay within the computer, so users wishing to add a little pep can install a faster hard drive or even a solid state drive, and use the included terabyte for storage only.

Accessories
HP really didn’t include much in the way of accessories with the e9120f, and that’s a bit of a disappointment. Cheap wireless keyboards and mice are not that expensive these days, especially for manufacturers, and if HP wants to keep moving desktops, they should make them as attractive as possible. Users do not like cords, and in 2009 there’s no reason for us to keep having to put up with them. That being said, the included keyboard and mouse are both functional and easy to use, if a bit basic in nature.

Software
We covered in our review of the little brother of this machine, the Slimline s5160f, some of the recent software HP’s been including with their machines. It’s worth reiterating in this instance, however, thanks to the inclusion of the Blu-ray optical drive.

hp pavilion elite e9120f

Users can pop in a film and take advantage of the included CyberLink and MediaSmart DVD playback software to enjoy the experience. Again, it would be really nice to see HP include just a cheap, basic remote for use with applications like that. I think it would be an easy way of increasing the fun and usability of the machine without incurring a significant cost penalty.

hp pavilion elite e9120fhp pavilion elite e9120f

In addition to the polished MediaSmart software is the usual bevy of system inventory applications and driver utilities as well as a 60-day trial of Norton’s Internet Security 2009. I have no real problem with OEM’s like HP installing programs like Norton so that they can keep end costs down. I do take issue, however, with programs like Norton that try and trick users into keeping software on the computer, like disabling the ‘X’ button in the corner of the program. It would be really great to see a manufacturer take a stand and say that sure, we’ll put programs on these systems, but you have to make them easy to uninstall.

Power, Heat and Noise
AMD’s Phenom II x4 processor showed off its power saving capabilities here. While at idle the Pavilion Elite e9120f used an average of 82 watts, but under full processor load, that number almost doubles to 153 watts. Completely maxed out, we managed to get the system to pull down 166 watts of electricity. This seems to be about middle of the road in terms of power efficiency for desktop computers. Fortunately, even under load the system never got very loud. A much smaller desktop I had sitting on the desk completely drowned out any noise there was, and it itself didn’t put out much.

Conclusion
The processor, terabyte of storage, high RAM and Blu-ray-capable dual optical drives all stand out as interesting aspects of this system; while its certainly intended for consumer use and media enjoyment, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see amateur designers and photographers using the machine for applications such as Photoshop and A/V editing, where strong processors and high RAM save the day. It’s true that the graphics performance of this system is relatively weak, but it wouldn’t take much to upgrade that if a user finds themselves dissatisfied.

HP has a solid, if slightly underwhelming performer in the Pavilion Elite e9120f. The system is sharply designed, with a few questionable choices, like the multiple port locations on the front of the system. It’s also worth questioning if both a Pocket Media Drive bay and a Portable Media Drive bay are both necessary to put on the front of the machine. HP may have skimped on items like accessories, but they’ve also skimped on the price. Taking a page from Gateway’s book and increasing the value of computers by adding low-cost upgrades like higher RAM capacities, HP has a capable machine on their hands. If you’re looking for a versatile content playback and creation device, it might also be your next purchase.

Pros

  • Built-in wireless
  • Lots of RAM
  • Quad-core CPU
  • Dual optical drives

Cons

  • Weak graphics performance
  • Some strange design cues


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