The AMD-based HP Pavilion d4100e desktop resides near the top of the company's Pavilion line, but with a wide variety of configuration options, it can be easily tailored to different budgets and purposes. Prices start below $1,000; our $1,899 review unit came configured as a home multimedia system, featuring HP's LightScribe DVD burner, a hefty 400GB hard drive, and a 9-in-1 media-card reader. You'll have to pay more for a monitor and speakers or for high-end options such as a RAID hard drive setup, but the d4100e is a desktop workhorse that can grow with your needs.
The HP Pavilion d4100e's black-and-silver chassis provides ample access to interior components. Although the side panel and the drive bays are tool-free, you'll need a screwdriver to add and remove expansion cards. The proprietary HP motherboard, based on ATI's Radeon Xpress 200P chipset, has four available PCI slots and two vacant memory slots.
The front panel features a media-card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and audio-in, microphone, and headphone jacks, but the highlight is the double-layer LightScribe DVD-recordable drive. It lets you burn grayscale text, photos, and preformatted CD label art directly onto specially coated discs. Though we wish you could create a label in less than 20 minutes and do it in color, LightScribe is certainly a step up from a trusty Sharpie or any label printer we've come across.
There's a standard set of connections around back, including jacks for integrated 5.1 audio with digital audio out as well as composite and S-Video out. You'll also find four additional USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and an Ethernet connection. Inside the case, there's room for two more hard drives, two additional 5.25-inch external drives, and one 3.5-inch external drive for adding a floppy or Zip drive. It all adds up to an impressive array of external and internal expansion options, but we were disappointed to see that HP doesn't include a bay that can accommodate its handy Personal Media Drive, which it lists as an option on the Pavilion d4100e. Unlike HP's Media Center m7070n Photosmart PC, which has an oval-shaped front-accessible bay for a Personal Media Drive, the Pavilion d4100e requires you to connect this external hard drive via USB 2.0.
The HP Pavilion d4100e uses an AMD Athlon 64 4000+ processor running at 2.4GHz, although other options on this AMD-only system range from the less expensive Athlon 64 3200+ to the top-of-the-line Athlon 64 X2 4400+ dual-core. If you want an Intel chip, you'll have to choose the similar d4100y Pavilion series. With 1GB of 400MHz DDR memory and an impressive 400GB, 7,200rpm SATA hard drive, the d4100e is well suited to editing and storing large multimedia projects. Power users can opt to create a RAID array with two 80GB or 160GB drives.
The HP Pavilion d4100e turned in respectable scores on CNET Labs' benchmarks. On BAPCo's SysMark 2004, the system kept pace with but didn't surpass the Falcon Northwest Talon SLI, even though the Talon uses a slightly slower Athlon 64 processor. Still, the system's score of 189 was right where we expected, equaling the performance of similar AMD-based and Intel-based configurations, including HP's own Intel-based HP Pavilion a1050y.
A 256MB PCI Express Nvidia GeForce FX 6800 card gives the system enough 3D power to satisfy all but the most demanding gamers and graphics enthusiasts, who would typically gravitate toward more expensive SLI-based rigs for extreme graphics performance. If you're not interested in gaming, you can save $220 by opting for the entry-level 128MB Radeon X300 SE.