Small-form-factor (SFF) desktop computers have until recently targeted niche buyers, such as gamers on the LAN-party circuit and city dwellers short on desk space. But earlier this year, with Apple's unveiling of the Mac Mini, the SFF computer began to migrate into the mainstream, thanks to the Mini's aggressive price point. And now, HP is determined to bring the SFF PC to the masses, with the sleek $519.99 (after $50 mail-in rebate) Pavilion s7220n Slimline Desktop PC. The system delivers some impressive goods for an approachable price in an attractive package, with the caveat that you can neither customize nor expand the system. It's about as fixed a fixed configuration as you'll find in a desktop PC.
At 9.7 inches high, 4.4 inches wide, and 13.1 inches deep, the HP Pavilion s7220n Slimline is about the size of a large college dictionary. It's certainly larger than the diminutive Mac Mini, but the s7220n's silver finish and minimal ornamentation come somewhat near replicating the Mini's sleek, understated look. Like the Mini, the s7200n's case isn't intended to be opened by the end user, so HP has smartly outfitted it with a relatively robust feature set most buyers at this price point won't outgrow too quickly. The system features 512MB of RAM, a 9-in-1 flash-card reader, a spacious 200GB 7,200rpm hard drive, and a double-layer DVD burner. HP throws in LightScribe so that you can label CDs and DVDs using the company's proprietary laser technology.
The s7220n achieves its tiny size thanks in part to the use of a notebook processor, the 1.5GHz Celeron M processor 370, which runs more efficiently than a desktop chip. This allows the s7200n to run coolly and quietly in a compact case. Other than the CPU, however, the s7220n uses no other mobile technology--the optical drive and motherboard, for example, are full size and as durable as those on a traditional desktop. HP has even managed to fit the power supply inside the box, so the system requires no external power brick.
But the HP Pavilion s7220n Slimline is a one-size-fits-all deal. You can't up the RAM or opt for a smaller hard drive prior to purchase, which you can do with the Mac Mini. While the company does offer a slightly lower-end configuration--the $449 (after $50 mail-in rebate) HP Pavilion s7210n, available only in retail stores--we'd like to see one configurable option in the Slimline series.
Take wireless networking, for example. Priced as it is, the s7220n will surely find a market as a second PC for the home; being able to network it wirelessly to the family's main computer seems like a no-brainer. The same goes for sound and video--you can't upgrade the integrated solutions found in this budget system, and this limits its appeal, despite its entry-level status. The ability to add more memory a year or two down the road would greatly extend the s7220n's lifespan. If you are looking not for a second PC but a basic budget box to serve as your primary (or only) PC, we suggest the $599 eMachines T6524. It's a standard midtower system but is expandable and more powerful.
In testing, the HP Pavilion s7220n Slimline kept up with budget competitors despite its mobile processor. The s7220n's 125 score on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark tied the score of a Celeron D 340-based Gateway 3200XL, which is a now-defunct standard tower system. Meanwhile, the s7220n outshone another low-profile system, the Shuttle XPC K6200h, based on the Celeron D processor 335, by about 4 percent. Though the Celeron M 370's clock speed is lower than that of Celeron D 335 and 340 chips, its performance is aided by 1MB of L2 cache--quadruple that of either Celeron D chip.
In terms of 3D performance, the s7220n and its integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 chip pulled a frame rate of 36.5 on our Unreal Tournament test, run at 1,024x768 resolution. That's better than some basic systems but nothing close to what you need for even the midrange games of today. It goes without saying that this is not a system intended for anything resembling serious gaming.