Re-Introducing the HP Phoenix

Less than four months ago we had in for review HP's entry to the gaming desktop market, the Phoenix. We found that it was a compelling product that served a market segment that had gone largely ignored by the major vendors, though the Sandy Bridge-E build had a hard time justifying its cost. Worse, by the time our review went up HP had already basically obsoleted our review unit.

Today we go for a second round with the HP Phoenix, and this time we're taking a look at what HP claims should be a much more compelling model than the one we reviewed before. You'll recall Sandy Bridge-E and NVIDIA's last-generation GeForce GTX 580 drove the price up to a staggering $2,880, putting it easily within striking distance of the boutiques you would normally be buying gaming desktops from. Our review unit today exchanges Sandy Bridge-E for Ivy Bridge, and includes the promised update from Fermi to Tahiti.

It's been well established that Sandy Bridge-E's value proposition is a dubious one, and for gamers it's nigh nonexistent. I've actually even upgraded my personal workstation from a Gulftown i7-990X to an i7-3770K; unless you're doing a lot of serious video editing and doing it frequently, the extra two cores just aren't worth the increased power consumption and expense. Even then, editors routinely posting video to YouTube and Vimeo may find more utility out of Intel's Quick Sync than they would from two extra cores (as I have).

Suffice it to say, nine times out of ten, the market HP is targeting with the Phoenix is going to be best served by an Ivy Bridge quad-core. HP has made the necessary updates and here's what we're looking at for round two:

HP Phoenix h9se Specifications
Chassis Custom HP Phoenix
Processor Intel Core i7-3770K
(4x3.5GHz, Hyper-Threading, Turbo to 3.9GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 77W)
Motherboard Custom Intel Z75 Chipset Board
Memory 2x4GB Samsung DDR3-1333, 2x2GB Micron DDR3-1333 (max 4x8GB DDR3-1333)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB GDDR5 (OEM)
(1792 GCN Cores, 800MHz/5GHz core/RAM, 384-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 2TB 7200-RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo Drive
Power Supply 600W Custom
Networking Ralink RT5392 802.11b/g/n Wireless
Atheros AR8161 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Audio IDT 92HD73E1 (with Beats Audio)
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks, optical out for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical drive
4x USB 2.0
SD/MMC/CF card reader
Top 2x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Back Side Optical
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks
1x DVI (Radeon)
1x HDMI (Radeon)
2x Mini-DisplayPort (Radeon)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 16.22" x 6.89" x 16.34"
(412mm x 175mm x 415mm)
Extras Integrated 802.11b/g/n
Closed CPU liquid-cooling loop
Beats Audio
Warranty 2-year hardware and 1-year software support
Pricing Starts at $999
Review system configured at $1,689

Right off the bat it's safe to assume the Ivy Bridge-based system is going to outperform the Sandy Bridge-E-based system we reviewed in February in most tasks. We lose two CPU cores and an SSD in the process, but doing so shaves $1,200 off of the price tag. In exchange, our graphics card has been updated to AMD's Radeon HD 7950, and in fact NVIDIA is now off the table entirely for graphics card options in the Phoenix.

That said, the starting configuration is pretty dire. HP only offers the Intel Core i7-3770K in the Ivy Bridge-based Phoenix, which is fine, but the default graphics card is an anemic Radeon HD 7670 with 1GB of DDR3 (basically a rehash of the HD 6670 but with twice the RAM). At a starting price of $1,199 for the Ivy Bridge system, this is pathetic to the point where an end user willing to sacrifice some CPU performance can actually buy a gaming notebook with better performance at the same price.

Here's the real problem: upgrade prices on most of the components are exorbitant bordering on extortionate, Apple-level gouging. The default configuration includes 8GB of DDR3 (10GB with the current sale), and that's fine, but HP wants to charge you $600 to go up to 32GB of DDR3-1333 when you can purchase the same amount of memory at DDR3-1600 speeds at retail for a third of the cost. Even 16GB (4x4GB) is an unreasonable $160, and that's ignoring the fact that HP still equips the system with lowly DDR3-1333 when DDR3-1600 is roughly the same price at retail. It's just cheap.

The graphics card is worse. Going up to a Radeon HD 7770 will cost you $180, and the Radeon HD 7950 is a staggering $430. That's at least a $50 premium over retail on each, and that's ignoring the fact that they're replacing the existing (mediocre) card; an HD 6670 will generally set you back at least $50, so basically you're paying HP $100 over the cost of retail pricing for the GPU upgrades. About the only place they don't gouge you is on the price of hard drives, but SSDs are also overpriced by about $100 apiece.

I went and checked with boutiques to see if they could compete with HP on price here. They do, and then some, provided you're willing to sacrifice the smaller form factor of the Phoenix. iBuyPower's default Gamer Paladin E810 configuration is $1,519 and ships with faster memory, a faster video card, and a better motherboard with support for Lucid Virtu. Switch to the comparably sized LAN Warrior and it actually gets even worse. Bounce over to AVADirect and their Compact Gaming System, same deal. Where are the savings we're supposed to be able to get from going with a major OEM like HP that can drive prices down? Unfortunately, they're not here.

Okay, so the pricing isn't all that compelling. You can put together a system with better features at gaming shops like the above for less money, or you could even go the DIY route and end up spending around $1475 for a similar mATX build with a better motherboard and RAM, or closer to $1400 if you go with less expensive options. Still, paying $200 extra to get a pre-built system isn't the end of the world, if the performance and other elements are there. Let's see if this Phoenix is able to rise again from the ashes of a burned checkbook.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • flamethrower - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    A pre-built micro-ATX based performance system. To me this means $800 to $1500 excluding monitor. Enthusiast systems like this don't interest me much.

    Have I been missing your coverage of this type of system? Should I look at laptops if I only need a performance-class system?
  • cashkennedy - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    So this pre-built , micro-atx equivalent (same size) performance system that ranges from 1000-1700 clearly has nothing in common with what you are interested in...

    What do you mean by performance class? Cause you can order this with a crap video card for 999 and it would no longer be a gaming class if thats what you consider this...
  • ImSpartacus - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    I think he's referencing the argument that OEMs should play to their strengths and not try to compete with homemade systems.

    Enthusiasts can easily make cheap, tweakable, expandable performance-first systems. OEMs have no chance of seriously competing in that space.

    But OEMs CAN appeal to the enthusiast by providing a product that the enthusiast cannot get anywhere else. Machines like the Alienware X51 and almost every mini-ITX HTPC are examples.

    flamethrower is asking for something in the middle.
  • Etern205 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    One area DIY can't compete to OEM is the OS. If someone can only spend $1000 on a gaming build, then shelling out $100 means, they will have to get a less powerful graphic card, not like a GTX 670 or HD7950.

    BTW, I tried to configure a simlar PC from newegg to as close as possible the system review in this article, and total comes out to $1,530, and that also includes the OS.
  • bah12 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Keep in mind that Microsoft's OEM license for $99 is not legal to use on your own machine. Load's of us do it, but from a strictly legal perspective using an OEM licence on a DIY build is not compliant with the terms of the licence. The only licence Microsoft sells for a "naked" PC is full retail, so in reality you should price in a $299 OS not $99. But who's going to do that really :)
  • Einy0 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    You are somewhat correct in that notion, the license clearly states that an OEM license is for a new PC and must be sold to a third party. It purposely does not place other obstructions on the license, in order to allow knowledgeable PC people to build systems themselves for reasonable licensing fees. If they did not intend this they would make more restrictions on the license. An example would be the "system builder" would need to a be a qualified and licensed business or employee of such a business. Legally, I could have my wife purchase the software, install it on a new PC and sell it to me for $1. The key restriction here is the software lives and dies with the PC. Microsoft considers the motherboard to be the key item in that transaction and even then there are concessions for failed components.

    From MS Licensing:

    e. To distribute the Software or Hardware in this Pack, you must be a System Builder
    and accept this license. “System Builder” means an original equipment manufacturer, an assembler, a refurbisher, or a software
    pre-installer that sells the Customer System(s) to a third party.

    Pricing the OS at $299 in a complete system build would
    be just plain idiotic. If MS enforced $299 an OS, they would kill their market overnight! People would find alternatives quickly...
  • Zink - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    To me a performance system would need an SSD and this case is about 2" higher than other mATX systems because of the non-standard power supply and case design.

    If performance-class means mediocre gaming ability then I think a laptop is a great way to go. Intel quads hit 3.5Ghz and have 80% of the performance of the quad desktop i7s.
  • flamethrower - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    You cannot edit your posts on here. I got distracted by the lead-in about the $2900 system. This is a midrange system after all.
  • bigboxes - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Maybe you should RTFA next time before giving a knee-jerk response.
  • JeBuSBrian - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    How is it that the mainstream system builders always seem to make their gaming rigs so fugly?

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