It's fair to assume that any $500 PC will require a few compromises. The HP Compaq Presario SR1620NX is no exception, but that doesn't make it a bad system. It's surprisingly well equipped for a budget PC, with adequate horsepower for home users, students, or anyone with basic computing needs. The Presario SR1620NX combines features such as a double-layer DVD burner, a nine-in-one media-card reader, and a generous software bundle with futureproof technologies such as a 64-bit-capable CPU and an x16 PCI Express graphics slot, making it a good choice for budget buyers and second-PC seekers.
A fixed configuration that costs an even $500 without a monitor or speakers, the Presario SR1620NX features an eye-catching black midtower chassis with gray accents and a large, green power LED. At 15.3 inches high and 16.5 inches deep, it's compact enough to sit on a cluttered desk; Dell's budget Dimension E510 is 1.5 inches deeper and 1 inch taller. Despite its relatively trim dimensions, the Presario SR1620NX still offers room for expansion. Inside we found space for a second optical drive (the system includes a double-layer DVD burner) and a second hard drive. Two of the four RAM slots are free, as are two of the three PCI-card slots. There's also an x16 PCI Express slot for users who want more graphics horsepower than the onboard ATI Radeon Xpress 200 chip affords. That's a welcome perk in an entry-level system, one that's lacking, for example, in the more expensive Gateway DX200X.
The Presario SR1620NX also has generous external expansion options, with seven USB 2.0 ports (three in front) and two FireWire ports (a six-pin port in front and a six-pin port in back). While many budget systems stock the front end with only microphone and headphone jacks, the Presario SR1620NX goes the extra mile with a third jack for line-in connections.
The Presario SR1620NX's specs are your typical budget affair: AMD's inexpensive 2.2GHz AMD Sempron 3400+ CPU, 512MB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. While we've seen more memory and bigger hard drives in other low-cost systems, this one is more than capable of meeting the basic needs of budget buyers. Plus, the Sempron 3400+ offers 64-bit support, which will become more important next year with the release of Windows Vista and subsequent 64-bit apps. On CNET Labs' BAPCo SysMark 2004 application benchmark, the Presario SR1620NX and its Sempron chip held up well against systems with Intel's budget Celeron chip. It cruised to an easy victory over the Shuttle XPC K6200h, which features a Celeron D 335 processor, and HP's own Pavilion s7220n Slimline PC, which uses a mobile Celeron M 370 CPU. It predictably trailed PCs with mainstream CPUs, including the excellent eMachines T6524, which features an Athlon 64 3500+. Not only did the T6524 best the Presario SR1620NX by a healthy 20 percent on SysMark, it costs only $100 more and gives you more memory and a larger hard drive; it's still our pick for budget buyers.
We didn't have high expectations for the Presario SR1620NX's cramped-looking, low-profile keyboard, but we found the keys surprisingly comfortable and responsive. The mouse, however, earned a definite thumbs-down: It's an old-fashioned ball mouse, not an optical model. We appreciate the nine-in-one media-card reader but suspect the 56Kbps modem will be useless to most.