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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  • dj christian - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Which program did you use to test it's power consumtion under load? It's the barebone excluding the monitor i suppose?
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    They use a power-meter and measure draw off the wall. Of course it is just the PC they measure with no monitor. :-)
  • soloburrito - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    1.) Expensive unlocked processors for a product targeted at consumers who most likely won't overclock.
    2.) Offering more CPU options in their base systems than GPU systems.
    2a.) Offering high-end CPUs and low-end GPUs on gaming systems to begin with.
    3.) Clear lack of motivation to create a compelling product.
  • danjw - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Since that is the only way to get rid of the spamware these OEMs install on these systems.
  • IlllI - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    if they actually wanted to build a good gaming system they should not have killed off voodoo like they did.
  • hapkiman - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    I have to agree with almost everything you said about the HP Phoenix, BUT with a few exceptions... I ordered the i7 3770 version, and as soon as I got it changed out the 10GB (I know weird amount) of 1333MHz RAM to 4 sticks of 4GB 1600MHz Crucial Ballistix, (which I got for only $80 @ Newegg), and it was immediately recognized and runs in XMP mode at 1600MHz for an awesome 16GB on the Z75 mobo. I caught a Memorial Day 25% off coupon and got my rig with a 160GB Intel SSD added and a 1TB HDD for $1100 w/free shipping. You can't touch that price on any vendor. With my added Crucial RAM it was close to 1200.00. And a standard two year warranty from HP say a lot for me and I'm willing to bet to a lot of others as well. That warranty adds several hundred on any vendors site, and it was free with HP.

    I got the cheapest graphics card they had at the time (a GTX 550 Ti), because I already had a overclocked XFX 2GB version of the Radeon HD 6950 which I wasn't using (and the stock Delta 600 watt can handle it easily).

    Here's the thing...My benchmarks are WAY-WAY better than your readings. Not sure what exactly is going on, but my rig is fast as all get out and was very reasonably priced. I am very satified and think I got a great deal. And it looks badass. With all settings on Ultra (1920x1080) in BF3 and everything else turned up as high as it will go (4xMSAA - Ambient Occlusion - Motion Blur - EVERYTHING MAXED) I get right at a sweet 60+ FPS running smooth as melted butter. If I turn a few things down (and I mean barely) I can easily get 80+ FPS on BF3 with spikes into triple digits.

    I know there are people who say "why would you shell out a grand on a HP pre-built when you can build yourself and save $ and get better components?" I used to be one of those guys and hated HP and Dell. But situations change, and there is a market for this rig. With a full-time job and little kids I just can't do it anymore. I shopped around a lot and think I made the right choice.

    I am not your average gamer or enthusiast. I work full time 50+ hours a week. And again, I just don't have time to build and have no desire to do so anymore (and I have built two gaming rigs from scratch). But I still have a passion for computers. I don't care about overclocking anymore, but I may want to tinker around a little inside the case from time to time, but that's about it. Adding the RAM and the 6950 card is about all I want to do.

    I use this Phoenix rig constantly and absolutely love it. The i7 3770 with 16GB of 1600MHz RAM and the Radeon HD 6950 is screaming fast - and with the closed loop cooler (which you failed to mention is made by Asetek) stays right around 30c idle +/- 5c. It hits upper 40s at load, but that's no problem at all, and is barely higher than my old Sandy Bridge rig which I just got rid of a few months ago (it had an i7 2600 paired up with this same 6950 card).

    Putting these same components together or as close as I could get on Newegg comes to almost $1600. And I have to mess with each manufacturers individual part warranty which is a pain in the butt. I only have to call HP now if I have an issue and they give me the option of sending me the part to replace myself, sending a tech to my house, or mailing it back to them to fix. I call that piece of mind.
  • hapkiman - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Yes- I meant "Peace of Mind."
  • Curt1234 - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    I was thinking the same thing, dumb down the config and use a coupon code to get a steal deal. Great job. I work with HP all the time at work and at home, I have had several z800's, now just one and its a great box, wish HP would make a G820 for Gaming, this is nice box though.

    Some of you might remember HP sold a gaming computer based on the Awesome Coolermaster Wavemaster case, it has an Asus board and side window, lights, 3.2 P4, it was a beauty, sold at compusa. I basically copied the specs and built my own, except I went with a 2.4 Norwood and overclocked, then later Asus had a socket adapter to allow the awesome Pentium M to drop in, did that with a 2.0 and overclocked it would smoke anything and the TDP was still almost half of the Prescott and AMD's.

    That cooler you have is also the one I had in a Z800 I sold on ebay, it had dual liquid cooling and is probably the same one in single configuration, HP probably uses a decent Delta in that rig?
  • kedesh83 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Wow, my homebuilt system with an i5 2500k, with a HIS 6950 2gb blows this out of the water in terms of gaming performance. And it's not even overclocked. What a waste of money.
  • hapkiman - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    Sure you can equal me in gaming performance- of course. Multiple cores aren't utilized in gaming and hyperthreading doesn't matter for gaming either. And ..I don't know exact what model HIS 6950 card you have- but mine is OC'ed pretty nicely and beats the crap out of a reference model 6950. You can run hand in hand in gaming with me for sure, but you DO NOT blow me out of the water on anything else. Not at all. You're kidding yourself.

    Any other tasks besides gaming (and I am a very casual gamer and use my computer for mostly for other tasks) you can't hang exactly with me and my i7 3770. I will win. Unless you overclock the crap out of your 2500k of course.

    The i5 2500k is a fine GPU (perhaps the best gaming CPU there is), but stock for stock I win in anything but gaming.

    Hey- I'm not slamming your rig or for your building bro- I was right there with you about five years ago, but things change (like marriage, job, mortgage, kids, etc..and mostly free time), and I just can't build anymore. I needed a good pre-built for around a grand- with a solid warranty and I wasn't about to get Alienware.

    Enjoy your 2500k rig. I'm sure it kicks butt.

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