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.

Build, Heat, and Power Consumption
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  • Flunk - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    I'm not a big fan of the look of the case but the support for high-end graphics cards makes this a much more viable system than the Alienware X51. This could be a good option for gamers who don't build their own systems and don't want to pay the boutique prices.
  • cknobman - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    A. This thing is UGLY AS PHUCK
    B. Note: Custom motherboard and Custom power supply. If either ever goes out your screwed.
    C. Looks to be waaaaaay overpriced.

    I learned the hard way (before I started building my own computers) that "custom" parts just mean cheap OEM crap that you cannot replace. I will never go back down that road.
  • Sabresiberian - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    One thing you can count on in any review of a case, is that someone will post saying it's ugly.

    No, no it's not fundamentally ugly, but your belief that your opinion means anything more than personal preference is.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    In the case of the power supply, "Custom" just means it's not any specific brand and we don't know who makes it or whether it's 80 Plus/Bronze/Silver/Gold. AFAIK, both Dell and HP have long since abandoned their proprietary power supply connectors. The motherboard on the other hand is likely BTX, which would mean using anything else in the case likely wouldn't work. Dustin would have to confirm this however.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    The motherboard is actually micro-ATX. It can be replaced.
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    Well, you could probably build one yourself a bit cheaper, but without adding up the numbers probably not a lot cheaper. Remember that the i7-3960x CPU alone is $1049 on NewEgg. And the cheapest x79 motherboard is $204. Cheapest Gtx 580 is $459. So just with those three components you would be over $1700.

    So I don't think its particularly over priced for an OEM System.
  • Iketh - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    I have it at about $500 cheaper if you build it yourself.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    What exactly did you put in there? Let me five you my list at Newegg:

    ASRock X79 EXTREME4-M mATX ($219)
    Intel Core i7-3960X ($1050)
    Corsair H70 cooler ($80)
    Zotac GeForce GTX 580 ($460)
    Mushkin 16GB (4 x 4GB) ($80)
    Intel 320 Series 160GB ($265)
    Hitachi 500GB 7200 RPM ($85)
    Flash reader ($20)
    Encore ENEWI-2XN45 Wireless N300 ($15)
    Fractal Design Core 1000 ($40)
    Corsair CX600 V2 600W ($70)
    LITE-ON 12X Blu-ray Combo ($60)
    Windows HP x64 OEM ($100)
    Keyboard and Mouse ($20)
    Total: $2564

    Of course, the GTX 580 is no longer even an option at HP, and the same goes for the 160GB SSD (at least on the model I selected) so we'd be looking at GTX 550 Ti and a 256GB SSD in it's place. You can get that configuration for $2559 from HP. Making similar changes to the Newegg order, we end up with $2379.

    Either way, it looks like HP is charging a premium of about $300 to build and configure their systems at the very high end. If you go with something more reasonable (like the i7-2600 h9t model), the price difference is more like $200 over building it yourself. It's not an awesome deal, but it's also not bad either -- pretty much in line with what you'd pay at a boutique.
  • alterecho_ - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    It seems to be possible to fit in a 7950 in the X51:

    So i think the X51 has potential for future cards.
  • ViperV990 - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    Hopefully the case looks better in person, but in the photos it reminds me of cheap e-machine towers, very plasticky. The steel used also looks to be rather thin.

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