HPE Phoenix – Gaming-Grade Performance On-a-Budget

When I started in “the nerd biz” I was testing EXPENSIVE, massive machines. But times are a-changing – and you don’t need  a car downpayment’s-worth of cash to get great performance these days. Proof: HP’s Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9 (let’s just call it “Phoenix,” for now). Starting at $1,199, we’re cramming a bunch of gear into an ATX case. And I say, “It’s about damn time!” Read on if you want the skinny on what the Phoenix is packing, get some early test results…and an earful of a rant about the state of PC gaming. Sounds tempting, I know….


First, as an introduction to what the Phoenix is all about, I sat down with HP’s John Gleason, product manager on the new desktop, to rap about what’s happening inside-and-out. Roll the video! (Quick disclaimer: John is a worldwide product manager and some components/features will vary by region.)



Let me be real about something: I don’t think anybody is living under the illusion that this is a Cray super-computer or something. That said, this small case accommodates a 600W power supply and enough juice to support one of those juicy discrete graphics cards like nVidia’s 580. There’s 4-DIMM slots on the mobo that can handle up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM and a removable drive cage that can hold three internal hard drives. You can opt for light-up liquid cooling for silent running – it’ll cost you a little extra. Curious about how well it all works together in the Phoenix? Same here.

So I grabbed a machine from the labs when nobody was looking.


phoenix right.jpgAll disclaimers in effect: I’ve been playing with a prototype unit. In fact, one HUGE caveat up front – the unit I have is equipped with a 7200rpm HDD. Why point this out? Since the time this unit was assembled, we internally said, “that isn’t fast enough.” As a result, every Phoenix comes standard with a 128GB SSD boot drive. So take whatever test results I get and realize that what YOU will get is potentially better performance depending upon how you kit out your rig. And if you want to add a 7200 drive after the fact, go right ahead. I’m not stopping you. (BUT, in order to do that, you’ll need to remove the graphics card support strut and drive cage that you might have spotted in the video). As for audio, it has everything from an optical audio port to a Beats-ready headphone jack at the top. Enough jibber jabber, let’s kick the tires!


HPE Phoenix H9 (Prototype machine)

CPU: Intel Core i7-26000 @ 3.4GHz
HDD: 1.5TB 7200rpm HDD (remember, these are replaced with SSDs in the final machine!)
Video:  Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti
Audio: 1 headphone-out, 1 mic-in jack – both top-mounted, optical audio port, 6-2.5” audio jacks; Beats audio
Interesting I/O: Two top-mounted USB 3.0 ports, Four front-mounted USB 2.0 ports, four rear-mounted USB 2.0 ports.

 Phoenix WEI.JPG














(Again, that "5.9" score for the Disk Data? Ignore that. The final machines rock SSDs. They will be faster.)


Boot to Windows 7: 39 seconds
System Shutdown: 11 Seconds


(Scores below listed in frames per second, the average of three test runs)


Just Cause 2
Dark Sunrise – 19x10 – all “highest settings”: (16x AA) 28.04; (32x CSAA) 25.85
Dark Sunrise – 16x10 – medium settings: 38.07


Resident Evil 5 – DirectX 10
Fixed Test – 19 x 10 – highest settings: (C16XQx AA)  56.5; (8x AA) 61.1
Fixed Test – 16 x 10 – medium settings: 123.5


Total War: Shogun 2
DirectX 11 Graphics Balanced 720p: 51.11


Warhammer 40K – Dawn of War II: Retribution
19 x 10 – Ultra settings: 52.1
16 x 10 – Medium settings: 90.95


phoenix top.jpgObviously, your mileage will vary depending upon how you bulk up your Phoenix. While Gleason is jacked about the way the liquid-cooled option runs quiet with the case lid on or off, I gotta say, the fan-driven test PC I had also kept pretty hushed. Even as I was running the above benchmark tests.


OK, Mini-rant time:

During the height of the holiday rush, Dan Ackerman and Rich Brown over at CNET posed a question: “How much is too much?” when it comes to gaming PCs. Or, as they put it at the end of their piece: How much is too much to pay for a gaming laptop or desktop? What I found interesting: In a survey attached to that story, 37 percent responded that they’d spend between $1,000 and $1,500 on a gaming-grade PC if it warranted it. Well, you guys saw the above numbers – you tell me.

My two cents: I’m finding that MANY machines can give you a solid multimedia experience. If I can run Deus Ex: Human Revolution on the Pavilion dm1 (which starts at $450) – or Skyrim on my Envy 14 – or whatever….gaming doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition for PC players. And just imagine what one can do with something like the Phoenix – a modest-but-dedicated desktop that can grow with your needs. With the initial $1,199 pricetag, you get a pretty good headstart on a good gaming rig come January 8.


All right that’s enough for this mini-rant from me. If / when I get my hands on a final unit, I’ll be sure to update when I can. But I wanna hear from you guys. What do you think of this as an affordable, powerful solution?


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