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.

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  • hapkiman - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    Sorry -trying to type too fast. I meant:

    "The i5 2500k is a fine CPU" Not GPU obviously.

    And the most important point I left out was - even if you still want to call it a "waste" of money....well.....It's MY money. God Bless America.
  • Nikonhead - Thursday, July 5, 2012 - link

    I just purchased this unit from the HP website. I searched for the best deal according to the specs and this one fit the bill. HP has free Blu Ray upgrade, Free 10GB upgrade, 600W power supply, TV tuner with remote, wireless Beats keyboard and a decent AMD graphics card all for $1,250 and that includes tax. I can't see finding anything for less that has so much.
  • Wolfpup - Monday, July 23, 2012 - link

    I've been looking at this, building stuff myself, and similar systems from other vendors the past week, and I think it does pretty okay on price, with the caveat that yeah, you don't want the base GPU, and I'm not sure if it has the proper connections, etc. if you don't order it with a higher end GPU to begin with (which now includes the Geforce 680 for $100 over the 7950 by the way).

    I'm really glad SOME big company is making an actually reasonable high end system. Dell's become completely uninteresting to me for years. Technically they do have some stuff under their Alienware brand, but I don't like the options there, and the desktops are too ugly IMO to use at work.

    It's almost like HP and Dell swapped systems...Dell used to have the high end stuff, and HP the gimmicks, and now they're reversed.

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