HP Pavilion M390n
With Windows XP Media Center 2004, and a 4X DVD+R/RW burner, a TV tuner card, a remote control, and a large 200GB hard drive, you'll be all set to record TV shows in a flash.
Hewlett-Packard does about the best job of any vendor implementing conveniences for home users. The front of the classy-looking blue, black, and silver case holds a seven-in-one memory card reader, and two USB 2.0 and FireWire ports for connecting peripherals. A row of five buttons, located above the card reader, gives you quick access to digital files stored in desktop folders such as My Picture or My Music--a unique touch. The wireless keyboard sports a few handy buttons, too; they let you perform optical drive functions--such as opening and closing drive trays, and initiating recording to DVD or CD-RW media. The top of the case has an inset cut-out which will hold an HP camera docking station and provides a way to neatly run the docking station's USB cable to the back of the unit.
All the features are backed up by a superb manual with 200+ pages of illustrated help dedicated to the Media Center operating system--one of the best manuals we've seen.
The HP Pavilion F1703 17-inch LCD rendered bright colors on our test images--a photo of a group of children, and a DVD movie. The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers, a two-speaker-and-subwoofer set, provided good sound, in part thanks to the system's Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 sound card. But if you want to bump up the sound quality, we recommend the Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 speaker set (which costs $250 more; provides four satellites, a center speaker, and a hefty subwoofer; and supports THX 5.1 audio). (To add the 5.1-channel speakers to the system, you'll need to order this model as the customizable M300y series from HP's Web site, rather than as the M390n sold by retail stores.)
Though the outside is a home user's dream, the inside is a nightmare for do-it-yourself types. The interior is unusually messy and cramped. We found snarled cabling, and optical drive bays that extended too far into the chassis's interior and seemed way too large for the minitower case. There's room to add extra memory, but between the cabling and the drive bays, snapping it in will be a hassle.
Our test unit came equipped with a 3.2-GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of DDR400 SDRAM, and earned a 117 score on PC WorldBench 4 tests. It's not the fastest we've seen from this configuration, but it's close to what we expected. Our review unit included an NVidia GeForce FX 5600 with 128MB of memory, and the system generated above average frame rates.
Great looks and great features make this unit a good choice for home users who emphasize entertainment over customization.