HP has an X box--not Microsoft's gaming console, but a full-blown computer called the HP Compaq X Gaming PC. With a big red X emblazoned on its chest right above the Compaq logo, the X Gaming PC GX5000Z looks the part of a fully qualified gaming PC. This particular configuration stands at the top of the GX5000Z line, powered by an AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 processor and accompanied by Nvidia's latest GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics card and a 17-inch LCD. It also carries a top-flight price which, if you opt for the upscale model reviewed here, hovers around $3,600. Don't go into shock; that's pricey compared to HP's Pavilion and Presario home PCs but right in line with high-end gaming-system prices. Fortunately for the hard-core gamers who might consider purchasing such an expensive PC, the performance is just as high-end as the price. The HP Compaq X Gaming PC GX5000Z features the same wavy, brushed-aluminum Cooler Master WaveMaster case that has housed many PCs we've seen. At 18.0 by 7.5 by 21.0 inches (HWD), the GX5000Z is a full-size tower. Its main differentiator is the Compaq X logo and the hot-red LED glow radiating from the front panel when you turn the system on. Unlike its custom-shop competition, Compaq will not paint the case for you.
A quartet of 5.25-inch bays greets you from behind the GX5000Z's easy-moving door on the upper portion of the case. Two are available for future expansion, while the other pair holds the system's optical drives. The lone front-accessible 3.5-inch bay houses a nine-in-one media drive that also includes a USB 2.0 port. Two additional USB 2.0 ports and a single FireWire port sit concealed beneath a pop-up panel on top of the case. The rear offers a full complement of ports, including four extra USB 2.0 ports and another FireWire port.
With its three thumbscrews removed, the side panel slides off easily. Inside the GX5000Z, you'll find four 3.5-inch bays, two of which hold the pair of 10,000rpm SATA drives. Compaq has placed one of them at the top of the row and the other at the bottom. A pair of 80mm fans cools them down, but that type of spacing makes us suspect that the fast-spinning drives generate a lot of heat, which may be an issue should you decide to add more internal storage. We were also less than impressed with Compaq's cabling, which, while not so sloppy as to significantly impede airflow, does not show the attention to detail befitting such a high-priced PC. Check out the internal shots of the Velocity Micro Vision FX AVD for an idea of what we're talking about.
The installed 1GB of memory leaves two sockets for expansion to a maximum of 4GB. Although there are four unfilled PCI slots, only three are accessible, thanks to the severe overhang of the fan and the heat sink on the graphics card. Although the Compaq X Gaming PC GX5000Z is a high-end gaming system, there are currently no AMD-compatible chipsets on the market that support the new PCI-Express (PCIe) interface. This limits your upgrade potential, especially for graphics, and leaves you with only an AGP slot for adding a better graphics card down the road. We expect that graphics-card makers will support the older standard for at least a little while, and in fact, we have yet to see a significant performance difference between AGP and PCIe cards. The lack of the new slot is worth noting, however, because you can expect that PCIe cards' performance will eventually outpace that of AGP models. If you must have PCIe now, you might seek out the Intel processor-based Compaq X Gaming PC GX5000T, whose chipsets support the new interface.The HP Compaq X Gaming PC comes in both AMD and Intel flavors; our sample GX5000Z, the AMD version, came with an Athlon 64 FX-53 processor, although the default configuration uses the slightly slower AMD Athlon 64 3500+. The FX-53 is clocked slightly faster, at 2.4GHz, and has double the L2 cache. These specs have earned it a place in gamers' hearts because it's generally faster for gaming than any current Intel CPU. The Athlon FX-53 can also be overclocked, but getting the CPU to 2.4GHz was a milestone for AMD, so don't expect a ton of wiggle room without resorting to extreme aftermarket cooling measures. In addition, 1GB of dual-channel memory and Nvidia's new GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics card ensure that the GX5000Z can hang with any top-tier gaming PC.
The Compaq X Gaming PC GX5000Z includes a powerful optical drive tandem, with both a 48X combo DVD player/CD-R burner and an 8X double-layer DVD+RW burner. The system's dual 74GB, 10,000rpm SATA hard drives in a RAID-0 configuration offer fast access to just under 150GB of hard drive storage.
The upscale Compaq FP317 17-inch LCD provides a few inches less screen real estate than the 20.1-inch LCD that comes with Dell's Dimension XPS, but Compaq's high-quality display provides a viewing area large enough to comfortably accommodate its 1,280x1,024 maximum resolution. It did strike us as odd that the FP317 has an analog-video input while the GeForce 6800 Ultra has dual digital-video outputs. Compaq solved the connectivity problem easily enough with a converter plug, but you shave the video quality down just a bit with such an arrangement. Most serious gamers will probably want to look into a CRT monitor instead of an LCD for the smoothest gaming, but Compaq offers only one such monitor on the GX5000Z's configuration page: a tiny 17-inch CRT.
Our test system's speakers, or lack thereof, were a big letdown. Gaming is a combination of sight and sound, and the two little drivers hiding inside the lower bezel of the LCD panel just didn't cut it. Why bother replacing the integrated 7.1 Realtek audio with an Audigy 2 ZS for the sake of such a cheap output device? We'd highly recommend a quick look through Compaq's speaker options, and we'll also make a polite nod towards the Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 system.
The included Compaq-branded mouse and keyboard should suffice for most gaming and general-use purposes, although we would have preferred to see a more refined mouse from Logitech or Microsoft with extra assignable buttons. Apple's iTunes, Sonic RecordNow, InterVideo WinDVD 4.0, Microsoft Windows Movie Maker 2.0, and Adobe Acrobat Reader round out the Windows XP Professional operating system. More than that you'll have to purchase separately from Compaq or elsewhere.Despite its previous attempts, HP has never been a serious challenger for the gaming-system throne. While the HP Compaq X Gaming PC GX5000Z can't lay claim to the application-performance crown, it comes close enough that the sitting monarch, the Velocity Micro ProMagix PCX, needs to at least sit up and take notice.
A 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 processor helped the GX5000Z hold its own against the fastest PCs we've seen. Its SysMark 2004 score of 203 represents one of the lowest performances in our five-system comparison, but it's still far above the score of most systems that come through our Labs. It's important to consider the value proposition for this type of performance, considering that the Velocity Micro and Alienware systems both cost significantly more than the GX5000Z. Compaq's system might lack some of the pricier systems' polish, but it's got it where it counts, which is more than enough for day-to-day use.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Along with the other high-end AMD Athlon-based PC in our comparison, the Compaq X Gaming PC GX5000Z produced outstanding scores on our 3D-performance tests. It and the ABS Ultimate M5-64 finished in a statistical dead heat, beating out the next closest competitor by 13 percent on our 1,024x768 Unreal Tournament 2003 test and by about 15 percent on the higher-end 1,600x1,200 resolution test, with a stunning 267.2fps.