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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