HP Phoenix h9se: The Pavilion Goes Beyond Thunderdomeby Dustin Sklavos on February 29, 2012 12:00 AM EST
Conclusion: Carving Out a Niche
What I think HP has done with the Phoenix is to essentially produce a commodity gaming system. To a certain extent the HP Phoenix is comparable with gaming machines from boutiques, but the limited expandability and tight thermal and power constraints of the Phoenix suggest something more akin to Alienware's X51 than something meant to legitimately compete with custom builds.
That in mind, HP is also in a certain way serving a market that has heretofore gone underserved: people who want to buy a PC off the shelf that can play games--not just some games at lowered detail settings, but all recent releases at Full HD resolution. Remember that most desktops in retail cut the GPU corner first and hardest and then almost never have enough juice in the power supply to handle a halfway decent dedicated video card should the end user want to make that upgrade. With the Phoenix, a customer can order a basic $999 tower and not have to worry about being unable to play anything or having to do any serious configuring.
Our review configuration is probably the least sensible build a consumer could order from HP. The vastly less expensive i7-2600 base model is, at $1,149, the sweet spot, though the end user would be advised to pay the extra $69 for the GeForce GTX 550 Ti (at $229 the Radeon HD 6850 upgrade isn't worth it). We'd also recommend waiting for the HD 7950 upgrade to become available if you're serious about gaming, as that should deliver performance similar to our test unit.
The strengths of the Phoenix are also its weaknesses, though. As I mentioned before, the expandability is pretty severely limited due in part to the small chassis. This isn't the hardest enclosure to work in, but really it's meant to be what you need it to be the day it ships. HP doesn't prohibit overclocking, but the i7-2600K/2700K is absent from the configuration options, while the remaining unlocked options (AMD's FX series and the Sandy Bridge-E i7 hex-cores) are already producing about as much heat as the cooling system can handle without serious stress. You can replace the video card, and HP does rate the case as being able to handle up to 250W from there, but that's about as far as you're probably going to want to go. Real estate inside the chassis is at such a premium that multi-GPU configurations aren't an option, and there's very limited space for adding hard drives.
Ultimately the Phoenix is a fine choice for anyone who wants a gaming system but doesn't want to deal with any of the potential hassles. Major vendors like Dell and HP are known quantities to most consumers, and the HP Phoenix is a ready-to-ship big box gaming system for cheap (discounting the SNB-E builds). While more serious users are probably still going to want to buy from boutiques (assuming they're not rolling their own), there's definitely a market for what HP has produced.