HP Pavilion Slimline s7640.uk review

£800
Price when reviewed

It’s tempting to regard small-form-factor PCs with a degree of suspicion. Airflow and cooling restrictions typically rule out installing the hottest, fastest CPUs, while space considerations mean the latest graphics cards are equally impractical. But, with even the cheapest PCs more than capable of running Windows Vista, a PC doesn’t necessarily need to knock our socks off with its performance to impress. Instead, the Slimline aims to impress by its size – the entire system resides in a chassis that’s a tweaked version of HP’s Media Vault mv2020 NAS device. Inside, there’s a fully fledged PC thanks to a mixture of standard components, notebook-sized parts and some good design.

It’s all powered by a CPU that would normally be found in a notebook. The Intel Core Duo T2050 is part of Intel’s low-powered range and has a quoted Thermal Design Power of a mere 31W. Since the chip generates such little heat, all the cooling for the Pavilion’s core components is provided by a single 80mm fan mounted directly above the heatsinks for the CPU and south bridge. In practice, though, the system is still a little too audible for our liking. Place it in the average living room and you probably won’t notice it against a typical conversation, but it’s certainly loud enough to be an occasional distraction. On the plus side, performance is respectable – 0.86 in our benchmarks.

The Slimline’s credentials as a living-room PC are bolstered by the inclusion of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (HP will soon be releasing a version with Windows Vista Home Premium). You get S-Video and composite video-out ports on the back, as well as a coaxial S/PDIF port supplying 7.1 audio. The only disappointment is that HP hasn’t included a TV tuner, but if you opt for the Vista version it’s simple enough to add a USB tuner afterwards.

Internal storage is provided by a 200GB Seagate Barracuda hard disk. It’s a 3.5in desktop model, which means upgrading will be cheaper than if HP had economised further on space and used a 2.5in notebook disk. The optical drive is capable of writing to all kinds of disc, besides being LightScribe-enabled. The cluster of media card slots at the top of the system is a welcome sight too, as is the front-mounted USB port.

The rear of the machine is even better appointed: four more USB ports as well as a six-pin FireWire port, plus two PS/2 ports. There’s also a socket for you to screw on the aerial for the integrated WLAN controller, offering 802.11b/g.

Most of the ultra-small-form-factor machines we’ve seen previously, such as the Hi-Grade DMS P60 7200 and the Shuttle mini X 100HA, have external power supplies, but the Pavilion’s PSU is built into the chassis. It sounds like a minor point, but the integrated power supply is preferable to having a power brick adding to behind-the-desk clutter. The PSU is cooled by an extra fan, but it doesn’t add noticeably to the overall noise of the system.

The internals are inevitably cramped. Both SODIMM RAM sockets are already filled with a respectable total of 2GB of RAM, and the spare SATA port is redundant, as there’s no space to install an extra disk. The graphics card is an Nvidia GeForce 7500 LE, which ran to usable average results of 17fps and 18fps in Far Cry and Call of Duty 2 respectively, albeit at 1,024 x 768 and our lowest benchmark settings. The graphics card sitting in the PCI Express slot could, theoretically, be upgraded, although it’s half height so your choices are more limited – it also adds another cooling fan.

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