HP Phoenix makes a stylish high-end PC debut

The custom gaming/performance PC market is probably best known for its garish, overwrought case design and the staggering price of entry. Price comes down quite a bit as buyers look to build their own machines, but for a lot of people, pre-built is a fine option. It doesn’t require any technical expertise and there’s the added benefit of manufacturer product support. Buying a pre-built machine does involve some amount of compromise; you don’t get to pick every peripheral in the machine and there is the aforementioned aesthetic issue. When HP contacted me to test a machine that bucks the aesthetic trend, I was intrigued. After a few weeks with the HPE Phoenix h9xt I now have something I never thought I would have–a high-end pre-built I would actually recommend to a friend.

It goes without saying that custom PC builders can turn back now. I’m not going to be speaking your lanugage here, and neither is HP. You aren’t the market they’re trying to reach, and with good reason. You know your machine as well as any support tech and have likely ripped it apart a thousand times just so you could rebuild it. The Phoenix line is aimed at folks who want performance but don’t have interest in all that goes into building a machine. Different strokes, friends.

To that end, HP really delivers. The spec list of my HPE Phoenix h9xt is as follows:
· Windows 7 Home Premium [64-bit]
· Core i7-3930k six-core processor [3.2GHz]
· 10 GB DDR3 RAM [3 DIMMs]
· 2 TB 7200 rpm SATA hard drive
· Blu-ray player & SuperMultiDVD burner
· AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics [1GB]
· 2 top-mounted USB 3.0, 4 USB 2.0
· Price as configured $1,799 (starting price $999)

This is not, by any means, the PC I would build were I to build one myself. Pairing a $600 processor with a $150 video card is just downright odd, but as with any machine at this price point, the HPE Phoenix h9xt can be customized to suit your needs. My first step would be to downgrade the processor and upgrade the video card. I don’t do anything that requires a bleeding-edge processor, but if you do, it’s there.

You may have balked at the 10GB of RAM–I know I did. It’s a 3-DIMM build, which seemed really bizarre until I learned that the motherboard runs with quad-channel support. I would still probably rather see a 12GB or 16GB configuration, but with quad-channel memory I was never hurting for performance.

None of the tech mumbo jumbo is really all that important, though. HP has been around for decades. If they couldn’t make a decent computer by now they wouldn’t still be in business. As for aesthetics, well, the market so far has proven that gamer’s aren’t really visual people. They’re into overstimulation of every sense. They like flashing lights, bulbous cases and all other variations on the grotesque. I know, it seems foolish to worry about aesthetics on a machine built for performance, but if we can learn anything from Apple (oh yeah, have you seen their market cap?) it’s that people value style.

HP took that lesson to heart when designing the Phoenix line of machines. I actually muttered the word “wow” when I pulled it out of its box. Not “WOW!” Just, “wow,” because it’s an understated look. It’s the kind of machine you could actually sit on your desktop without risking jeers from domestic visitors. It won’t scare off prospective mates. In short, the Phoenix is a sleeper–the kind of machine that performs exactly when you need it to without getting showy.

I never thought I would walk away from a pre-built machine thinking, “damn, I would buy that.” And yet, that’s exactly what I would be saying if I was someone else. I realize that’s a strange way to compliment HP, but to be fair, the HPE Phoenix h9xt isn’t designed for me. It isn’t designed for someone who knows the smell of a dying DIMM. It’s designed for the casual but committed power user. The not-quite-pro-sumer. This machine was created for guys who would be buying an Alienware but have too much self-respect, and for those guys I think it’s an excellent solution.


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Drink of the Week: The Aviation (à la Craddock)

The AviationThe Aviation is one classic cocktail with a schizoid past. Everyone seems to agree now that the first known version of the drink appeared in 1911 in a recipe book written by New York bartender Hugo Ensslin. This original version called for gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and Creme de Violette, a liqueur made from the actual violet flower. It disappeared from American shelves at some point in the decades that followed.

You might think that would be it for the Aviation, but another version also appeared some 19 years in Harry Craddock’s better known Savoy Cocktail Book. This version omitted the Creme de Violette. As the classic era of cocktails passed into history, it became the standard Avaiation cocktail for the few remaining aficionados who cared about such things.

That was not the end of the story because, probably driven by the 21st century cocktail revival, Creme de Violette started to return to some U.S. liquor stores about five years back. A couple of years later, another all-but forgotten violet-based liqueur, Creme Yvette, was recreated and is now served in Aviations made at many a fine bar.

However, for all the years between 1930 and 2007 and even at many bars right now, somehow refined drinkers made and are making do with the not quite original version, which really isn’t bad at all. So, we shall start with the Craddock version and save the Ennslin iteration for later. Note to boozy publicists who might be reading — I await the magical free bottle(s) of Creme de Violette or the (more expensive) Creme Yvette.

The Aviation (Savoy style)

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce to 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 ounce to 1 ounce maraschino liqueur

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you’re not completely in love with the cocktail, look at something purple.

Please note, once again, that maraschino liqueur. which contains a very interesting combination of sweet cherry flavor but also some subtle bitter notes, should never be confused with the bright red syrup that goes around the highly preserved cherries you can buy at the supermarket. You’ll also note that I’ve wimped out a bit and given you quite a bit of latitude regarding just how much lemon juice and maraschino to use. I have my reasons.

The fact of the matter is that, inspired by the wide variation in recipes I found online, I tried this drink in numerous permutations. While I lean very slightly towards those using a bit less maraschino and somewhat less than the maximum amount of lemon juice (say, 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce), they all turned out very decently. At the same time, none of my Aviations were quite thrilling as if, perhaps, they were maybe missing something. We will see at some future date.

In the meantime, I would like to thank my Facebook friend, Christopher Tafoya, who gave me some very useful pointers. Also, as I assume the Aviation was, at some point, in someone’s mind, connected with the once new and very dangerous phenomenon of human flight, I’m leaving you with a clip from the best film ever about hard-drinking pioneer aviators, Howard Hawks “Only Angels Have Wings,” from the fabled movie year of 1939.

As for the answer to the question in the clip: “Who’s Joe?” Depending on you look at it he’s either Noah Berry, Jr., who later played James Garner’s dad on “The Rockford Files,” or he’s some dead guy in the movie.


Friday Video: Kaiser Chiefs, “On the Run”

Click here to listen to Kaiser Chiefs’ Start the Revolution Without Me on Spotify

The editorial ‘we’ that dominates this column is getting turned off today. It’s my son’s birthday. He’s 5. His two favorite bands are Muse and the Kaiser Chiefs. Like father, like son.

And, as luck would have it, the Kaiser Chiefs have a new single “On the Run,” in conjunction with both Start the Revolution Without Me, the Americanized one-album version of the UK 2011 double-album The Future Is Medieval, and Souvenir, the band’s upcoming singles compilation. If you’ve never seen these guys live, go. Now. I’m lucky enough to have seen them twice, at the 2005 and 2009 Lollapaloozas. They killed it both times.

I asked my son what other song he’d like me to include in this piece. “Knights of Cydonia!” he said. As you wish. Happy birthday, kiddo. How wonderful life is now you’re in the world.


It’s Easy Being Green: Volkswagen explores ways to be fuel efficient and fun

Car enthusiasm boils down to the enjoyment of the drive. All you need is a car you enjoy, a twisty road and some exciting scenery. But the scenery aspect always seems to be left out – the natural backdrop that turns an average drive into a memory. A drive through California will remind you just how important nature is to enjoying a car, and how to make cars not adversely affect the world we live in. No, this article will not be an environmental screed if you were wondering, but it will highlight how VW and other car manufacturers are keeping the joys of motoring while taking into account the preservation of the planet.

The GTI and Golf R are pretty good examples of how far automakers have pushed the envelope, balancing performance with green friendliness. Don’t be mistaken, neither of these cars are hybrids. The GTI and Golf R both share turbocharged 4 cylinder engines, but the R dials up the power and is equipped with 4Motion AWD. But it was the GTI that I took the keys to start the day.

It was the early morning and everyone was scrambling to get into the car of their choice. Volkswagen had their full lineup here in San Francisco; so many journalists were trying to get into the newly revised CCs, Beetle TDIs and Golf Rs. So why did I pick the GTI? It may be three years old in its current state, but there’s something inherently right about a GTI on the roads of California.

Make note that I did not say the best driver’s car though. With 200hp, and a little bit too much weight, the GTI is not a go-to canyon carver, but it is perfect for those that want to enjoy the ride instead of making it go by as quickly as possible. The GTI is composed and refined where many competitors are always antsy to go faster and harder. It may not be the fastest car when compared to the likes of the WRX of MazdaSpeed3, but it offers a balance of speed and refinement that the others lack. Also, the GTI is exemplary of how far the environmental and performance goalposts have moved since the dawn of the catalytic converter.

Pulling off onto the shoulder to grab a picture of the scenery reminds you of just how large of an impact the quest for clean engines has had on the environment. My view of the rolling hills and vistas of San Francisco is clear and crisp – a nice break before taking off again. However, if this same picture was taken during the 1960s, the view I stopped at may have been covered by smog. Blankets of carbon dioxide used to coat California before the catalytic converter. Since its introduction, the clouds have lifted and the view is only halted by how far you can see, or the traditional San Francisco fog.

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Heading to Las Vegas to cover Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tourament

We’ll use any excuse to hit Las Vegas, but covering the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational (MJCI) definitely qualifies as a trip we’re excited about. This 11th annual charity golf tournament will feature stars like NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers along with Ken Griffey, Jr., Wayne Gretzky, Roger Clemens, Brian Baumgartner, Brett Hull, Maury Povich and Chris Chelios. I’ll be reporting through the weekend here on the blog and you can also follow us on Twitter for photos and updates. I’ll also be staying at the incredible Aria Resort & Casino so this is shaping up to be a great weekend!

It’s also for a number of great causes, as this is a charity golf tournament. Proceeds from the charitable tournament will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation, UC San Diego Nevada Cancer Institute, James R. Jordan Foundation, Opportunity Village and Cats Care, the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats’ charity arm. Since its inception in 2001, MJCI has raised more than $6 million for charity.

The tournament is being held at the incredible Shadow Creek golf course, which is opening to the public for only the second time with this tournament. I’m looking forward to getting some great photos.

Tickets may be purchased at any MGM Resorts International box office outlet or online through the links above:

Daily General Admission Pass $30/Thursday-Sunday
Weekly General Admission Pass $100/Thursday-Sunday
Daily VIP Pass $150/Thursday-Sunday
Weekly VIP Pass $500/Thursday-Sunday

VIP spectators will enjoy access to an unparalleled view of the course from the M life VIP tent, an openair venue featuring a “VIP Party Deck” overlooking the par-5, 18th hole, catering and a full-service bar. Discounted tickets are available for military service members with valid identification, and Senior Citizens 65 years of age or older with valid ID; both groups will receive 25 percent off a daily or weekly general admission ticket. Additionally, the tournament has created a special “Bring the Kids for Free” general admission ticket offer, which provides access to Shadow Creek for youth 16 years of age and younger when accompanied by a general admission ticketed adult (up to two children per paid adult).

With the golf tournament with MJ and then the Final Four semi-finals on Saturday night, this should shape us as quite a weekend. I also get to enjoy all the amenities at the Aria and will also see the Cirque du Soleil Viva ELVIS show which should be incredible. I saw the Love show featuring music from The Beatles last year so I’m definitely looking forward to this Elvis show!