HP Pavilion a1510n
At a Glance
HP Pavilion a1510n Desktop (2.4GHz Athlon 64 3800+, 1GB DDR, 200GB, DVDA?RW DL, Windows XP Media Center)
With its user-friendly design and thorough documentation, the a1510n is a good entry-level PC.
The Pavilion a1510n puts together an appealing mix of performance, cost, and features for anyone seeking an affordable, basic PC.
Ultra-budget-conscious buyers can certainly find a cheaper PC; a bare-bones HP a1400 series system, for example, starts at under $300. But anyone who wants to run an e-mail client, Web browser, and several other programs simultaneously or who wants to work occasionally with photo or other large data files will appreciate the extra processing power that the system's Athlon 64 3800+ CPU and 1GB of DDR2 RAM deliver--especially if an upgrade to Windows Vista is in their future.
The a1510n earned a performance score of 97 on PC World's WorldBench 5 test suite, a mark that ranks it a few percentage points below other systems running on the same CPU.
Due in part (we imagine) to its integrated GeForce graphics, which relies on both dedicated graphics RAM and system RAM, the a1510n posted an abysmal frame rate of 20 frames per second on our Return to Castle Wolfenstein test at 1280 by 1024 resolution; that's one of the lowest marks we've seen in recent times. Game play at chez Wolfenstein was choppy at best, and images displayed on the HP vx17e screen were far too dark for comfortable viewing. Nevertheless, other images and small (6.8-point) text appeared clear and readable.
HP has left the door open to faster graphics by providing an open X16 PCI Express slot on the motherboard. Adding a decent graphics card could be your ticket to a meaningful performance boost. Beneath the easy-off cover, a relatively uncluttered interior presents no obstacles to the open RAM and PCI slots, so you could easily add a TV tuner, which this bare-bones Media Center PC lacks. A single-screw clamping bracket secures all of the expansion cards, but you may have to wrestle with a wad of unkempt wires and cables to reach the open drive bays.
Other pluses for this budget system are a LightScribe DVD burner that introduces text and images on the "top" side of recordable CD and DVD media--at a price of around a $1 a disc--and a keyboard that offers lots of big, easy-to-reach control buttons.
As usual, HP's documentation includes a well-illustrated setup poster and excellent setup guides, making this system a great choice for a cost-conscious novice who wants a little more processing power than the typical entry-level PC offers.