(CNET) -- Similar to the New York Yankees, who missed the playoffs this year after 13 straight October campaigns, the HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f snaps the Slimline's run of four consecutive Editors' Choice awards.
But just as the 2008 Yankees are still an above .500 team, the Slimline s3500f is still a competitive small-form-factor PC--it's just that the competition has caught up to it somewhat.
Playing the part of the upstart Tampa Bay Rays is Acer's new Aspire X1200, a small-form-factor PC that delivers nearly the same features as the Slimline s3500f for $130 less.
The $580 Slimline s3500f supplies a slightly faster AMD Athlon X2 CPU, 180GB more hard-drive space, and an integrated 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, but those advantages do make up for the added cost. And the cheaper Aspire X1200 has eSATA and HDMI ports, two items you won't find on this Slimline. Add a Wi-Fi card to the Acer Aspire X1200, and it becomes the more attractive (and still cheaper) low-end home theater PC of the two.
To the Pavilion Slimline s3500f's credit, however, it holds its own as a budget desktop when you look at its performance against that of a similarly priced midtower PC such as the Gateway GT5692.
The Slimline s3500f uses the same chassis as the s3330f we reviewed earlier this year, but it features a stripped-down configuration that makes the system more of a small budget PC rather than something you might shoehorn into a home theater.
The pricier s3330 included a Blu-ray/HD DVD drive, HDMI port, and TV tuner--features absent on this s3500f retail model sold at Best Buy and other big-box stores but available as added cost options on configurable models on HP's Web site. The s3500f has 64-bit Windows Vista and 4GB of memory.
More memory leads to better performance, which can particularly be felt on our Photoshop benchmark. (The 32-bit operating systems can access a maximum of roughly 3GB of RAM, depending on your configuration.)
While the s3500f trims features and $380 off the price of the s3330f model, it's only marginally better than the cheaper Acer Aspire X1200, delivering 300MHz more of CPU speed, 180GB more hard-drive space, and integrated Wi-Fi. Those advantages add up to $50 or $60, by my calculations (another $10-$15 for the higher CPU, another $10-$20 for the larger hard drive, and $30 for a b/g Wi-Fi card).
The HP Slimline chassis measures 4.2 inches wide by 10.9 inches tall by 13.9 inches deep, which is 1.5 inches deeper than the more compact Aspire X1200 and a hair wider and higher. As with any small-form-factor (SFF) computer, you sacrifice expansion room compared with traditional mid- or full-tower computers.
For example, the Slimline s3500f has only two memory slots whereas most full-size PCs supply four slots, and removing the memory sticks requires you to first remove the optical drive. You will also make do with only one PCI slot and a x16 PCI Express graphics slot that will accept only half-height graphics cards.
The Slimline chassis remains the same, with a glossy black front panel with silver accents. Standard features--a multiformat media card reader, an optical drive, headphone and mic jacks, and a pair of USB 2.0 ports--are found on the front along with a slot that accepts HP's Personal Media Drive.
While it's convenient to simply slide in one of HP's external drives, those who are regularly transferring large amounts of data would be willing to trade the Personal Media Drive for the eSATA port on the Aspire X1200.
The back panel features four more USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and a connection for the wireless LAN antenna. The integrated GeForce graphics provide only an analog VGA video connection, though you get a digital audio port in addition to the standard 2.1 analog audio ports.
A modem card is included; you'll need to remove it should you want to add a TV tuner or Bluetooth functionality to the system.
If you are shopping for a small PC for desk and not living-room use, the Pavilion Slimline s3500f holds its own against the roomier competition. The midtower $550 Gateway GT5692 is similarly spec'd but trades up to a triple-core AMD processor, and the scores on CNET Labs' benchmarks of the two systems were close throughout.
The Gateway and its extra processing core enjoyed its biggest advantage on our multimedia multitasking test, though on iTunes, a test where CPU clockspeed is paramount, the Slimline excelled. Though you sacrifice expansion room, it's nice to see that you don't sacrifice performance with the compact Slimline s3500f.
The system does not ship with a Media Center remote, which was included with past Slimline models. You get a wired keyboard and a wired optical mouse--further proof this is a system for desktop use and not living-room duty where wireless peripherals allow for coffee table computing.
HP backs the system with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, which includes 24-7, toll-free phone support. You can also go online for system-specific downloads and other kinds of support.
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