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Dell, HP, and iBuyPower Back-to-School PC Roundup
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Date: Sep 20, 2011
Section:Systems
Author: Paul Lilly
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Introduction
Alice Cooper sang it wrong, school isn't out forever; with Labor Day in the rear view mirror, school is back in session. That means having to stock up on supplies and investing in essential items to get through the school year; like beer, condoms, and a new PC. You're on your own with the first two, but you've come to the right place for guidance on a new system.

We pinged three system builders -- Dell, Hewlett Packard, and iBuyPower -- and asked each one to send us a back-to-school PC equally suited for work and play (read: Mainstream). What we're looking for is a flexible configuration that's able to put its nose to the grindstone during the week to tackle multimedia projects, whether they be for school or for work, yet capable of running wild on the weekends with sufficient pixel pushing power to satisfy our jones for blowing something (or someone) up, in the virtual world, of course.

Our request leaves a lot up for interpretation, and wouldn't you know it, each vendor took a different path towards the same goal, yet they all chose Intel's Sandy Bridge platform to build around. Dell sent us its compact XPS 8300 system with a Core i7 2600 processor, AMD Radeon 6770 graphics card, and proprietary software to share and sync your digital life; HP sent its Pavilion Elite H8-1050 PC with a Core i7 2600 processor, Radeon 6850 graphics card, and built-in TV tuner; and iBuyPower configured a decidedly showy system with a Core i5 2500K processor, Nvidia GeForce 550 Ti graphics card, and off-the-shelf components with a barebones Windows install and flashy NZXT Phantom case. Three systems, three approaches, and three verdicts.

Back-to-School System Roundup
Here We Go!

 
Dell XPS 8300
$1,263

iBuyPower Gamer Power BTS11
$1,000
 
HP Pavilion Elite H8 1050
 $1,300


Looking at the price of all three systems, iBuyPower's Gamer Power BTS11 jumps out to an early lead, though none of the configurations cost more than $1,300. These aren't budget boxes, however, and we won't be evaluating them as such. Ten years ago, we would have tempered our expectations, but if you're going to plunk down a grand or more on a desktop, it had better justify the four-digit price tag with performance to match.
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HP Elite Pavilion H8 1050 Configuration and First Impression
Our roll call begins with HP's Elite Pavilion H8 1050. This system comes to class with a built-in TV tuner that first-year college students can use to watch television on their desktop monitor rather than rationing off a portion of their grant money for a dedicated TV set. There's some value there for home users as well, especially if you're into the whole HTPC scene.


HP Elite Pavilion H8 1050
Specifications and Features (as tested)

Model

Pavilion Elite H8 1050
CPU

Intel Core i7 2600 with air cooling
Memory

10GB DDR3 1333MHz
Graphics

AMD Radeon HD 6850
Storage

Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5TB (3Gbps, 5400 RPM)
Optical

Blu-ray Reader/DVD Burner Combo
Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Internet

10/100/1000 Ethernet and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
Front Panel Ports

2 x USB 2.0; 2 x USB 3.0; Memory card reader; Headphone and mic
Rear Panel Ports

4 x USB 2.0; GbE LAN; Optical SPDIF; Audio inputs
Sound Integrated 7.1 surround sound
Power Supply 460W
Weight

24.20 pounds (unpacked)
Keyboard / Mouse HP wireless keyboard and mouse
Dimensions

6.88" x 16.34" x 16.22" (WxDxL)
Warranty

1 Year Limited
Price

$1,300 (as configured)


This is an interesting mix of parts that seems to suggest HP had a tough time deciding how much power to inject into a mainstream system. Clearly a solid state drive would be too much for a system of this caliber, but we think a 7200 RPM hard drive would have better suited the Core i7 2600 and AMD Radeon HD 6850 foundation. The other thing that sticks out is the oddball RAM configuration. That's not a typo, the Pavilion Elite H8 1050 ships with 10GB of DDR3-1333 system memory in a 3x2GB and 1x4GB configuration.

Not listed in the spec sheet is the elephant in the room that comes with every HP system. We're of course referring to HP's recent announcement to shop its PC business. There's a cloud of uncertainty that hovers over HP as it looks to sell or spin off its Personal Systems Group (PSG) division, and the OEM recently posted a list of FAQs addressing some concerns you might have with purchasing an HP system. For example, will HP continue to honor warranties after severing its PC arm?

"Yes. We absolutely stand by our PC products and will continue to honor all warranties and provide support as you need it," HP stated in its FAQ.

We're willing to give HP the benefit of the doubt on that one, though the situation is admittedly awkward.

Contents

  • HP wireless keyboard
  • HP wireless mouse
  • Power cord
  • Quick Start Guide and related documentation
  • DisplayPort adapter
  • IR Remote control and accessories
  • VGA-to-DVI adapter
  • S-Video to Composite adapter
That's a fairly generous bundle, though it lacks any driver discs or restore media. You can, however, create your own restore media using HP's included software, and we recommend doing so.



It took us 57 seconds to load the desktop from a cold boot and 10 seconds to power down completely. Once inside, we were hit with a single pop-up offering us a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2011. HP shoveled a medium-sized scoop of bloatware onto our system, though it was kept in check by not automatically loading with Windows and sucking up resources. Other included software falls under the 'Utility' designation, such as HP's LinkUp software, which you can read in more detail here.
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HP Elite Pavilion H8 1050 Design and Layout


HP's Pavilion H8 1050 ships in a compact box with a stylish albeit glossy exterior that's a bear to photograph (those aren't dents in the front panel, they're reflections). It's an attractive case that won't have any trouble blending in with a variety of decors, whether tucked away in a cramped dorm room or on display in a professional work office environment. Despite its compact size, HP doesn't intend for you to lug this around to LAN parties or back and forth across a college campus. It lacks a handle and doesn't have any molded spots to get a good grip.

Stealth is the name of the game here. A Blu-ray reader hides behind a glossy drive bay cover that automatically flips down when you eject the tray, and there's a sliding cover that slips down (manually) to reveal a multi-format media card reader and two USB 2.0 ports.



On top are a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, a power button, and mic/headphone inputs. The ports are positioned so that they're hidden from sight if you're standing in front of the case. This design adds to the aesthetic at the slight expense of usability, in that you'll end up fumbling around trying to jostle your thumb drive into one of the USB ports.

Around the back you'll find:
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • GbE LAN
  • Optical SPDIF
  • Audio inputs
Noticeably missing is an eSATA port, though with USB 3.0 thrown into the mix, you still have the option of high-speed file transfers. The Pavilion Elite H8 1050 also supports up to three monitors at once for "mega-tasking," as HP likes to call it, or for tri-gaming goodness via AMD's Eyefinity technology.



OEMs have historically went to great efforts to keep bumbling customers from mucking around inside their PCs, but somewhere along the line, they figured out some of us actually know how to use a screwdriver. Some are better about it than others, and HP made it super easy to tear off the side panel, which is held in place by a single thumb screw. Once you toss the hunk of steel aside, however, your adventure is just getting started.

There's an obnoxious bar that stands in the way of easy access to the internal components and whose purpose appears to be to hold the graphics card in place. Or perhaps HP put the bar there to hide the jumble of cables that are strewn all over the place. On a positive note, the hard drive, CPU, and RAM all sit at the bottom and receive unobstructed access to air flow, so the messy cable management ultimately amounts to little more than an eyesore, and one that's not visible with the window-less side panel in place.

Notice that the motherboard is attached to the left side of the case, which requires removing the right side-panel. Most ATX systems are the exact opposite.
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Dell XPS 8300 Configuration and First Impression
Next up we have Dell's XPS 8300 system. This machine is aimed at all-round content creation and multimedia chores, and though it didn't ship to us with a built-in TV tuner like HP's system did, there's an option to add one when configuring an XPS 8300 online.


Monitor sold separately

Dell XPS 8300
Specifications and Features (as tested)

Model

XPS 8300
CPU

Intel Core i7 2600 with air cooling
Memory

8GB DDR3 1333MHz
Graphics

AMD Radeon HD 6770
Storage

Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB (6Gb/s, 7200 RPM)
Optical

Blu-ray Reader/DVD Burner Combo
Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Internet

10/100/1000 Ethernet and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
Front Panel Ports

4 x USB 2.0; 1 x USB 3.0; Memory card reader; Headphone and mic
Rear Panel Ports

4 x USB 2.0; eSATA; GbE LAN; Optical SPDIF; Audio inputs
Sound Integrated 7.1 surround sound with THX TruStudio PC
Power Supply 460W
Keyboard / Mouse Dell wireless keyboard and mouse
Warranty

1 Year Limited
Price

$1,300 (as configured)


Like both other systems in this roundup, Dell chose Intel's Sandy Bridge platform to serve as the foundation. The OEM then dropped in a performance-oriented mechanical hard drive with a generous 64MB of cache, 7200 RPM spindle speed, and a SATA 6Gbps interface. Rounding out the setup is 8GB of DDR3 memory and a Radeon HD 6770 graphics card.

Contents

  • Dell wireless keyboard
  • Dell wireless mouse
  • Power cord
  • Quick Start Guide and related documentation
  • VGA to DVI Adapter
  • Drivers and Utilities disc
  • Windows Reinstallation DVD
Is that a Windows disc bundled into the system contents? It is -- Huzzah!



And then our celebratory cheers turned into grumbling jeers. We're okay with the weather widget in the upper right corner of the desktop, but the pop-ups are a drag, and in particular McAfee's persistent cries for attention will make you want to smother it with a pillow, which is what we ended up doing. Dell shipped us a 15-month subscription to McAfee, but since it got in the way of benchmarking (the pop-ups caused some benchmarks to crash), we uninstalled the security software for the duration of tests.

We did a little digging and uncovered other bits of crapware pre-loaded on our XPS 8300, though like HP's system, most of it didn't start up with Windows. The XPS 8300 loaded Windows faster than the other systems in our roundup, cold booting in just 47 seconds, and taking 9 seconds to power down.

Dell includes its "Stage" software on XPS 8300 systems, which is a fancy name for a dock. It gives users quick access to frequently accessed files such as multimedia content and games. There's also a Syncup button for accessing the 2GB of online backup Dell includes free of charge for one year.
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Dell XPS 8300 Design and Layout


The XPS 8300 arrived in a compact box similar in size and stature to HP's system, and while you can tuck it out of sight, you'll deprive others of a gorgeous case that's clearly influenced by Apple. It's a white system, which isn't unique to PC cases in general, but certainly a departure from what you would expect from a bulk OEM. The result is a clean looking system flanked by subtle curves and a glossy front facade.

A multi-format memory card reader sits on top of the front bezel, and below that are a pair of drive bays hidden behind stealth covers. One of these houses the XPS 8300's Blu-ray reader, and other other one is empty. Right below the empty optical bay is a door that manually slides down to reveal a pair of USB 2.0 ports and solitary SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port.

Like HP's system, there's isn't a handle on the XPS 8300, though there are hand grips on the front and back that make it easier to transport.



Up on top are a pair of front-facing USB 2.0 ports and mic/headphone inputs situated in the center, a power button towards the front, and a recessed area to plop your keys, USB thumb drives, loose change, receipts, and anything else you dig out of your pockets. It's also an ideal spot to plop your mobile gear while they charge, like a smartphone, handheld game system, or portable media player.

Around the back you'll find four additional USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, GbE LAN, optical SPDIF, and audio inputs. Absent are any water cooling in/outlets, though it's such a tight squeeze inside (see below), you'll quickly abandon any thoughts of trying to cram a radiator and water cooling loop inside the XPS 8300.



The side panel is held in place with two thumb screws, and once removed, the panel door pops right off. As we mentioned, it's a tight fit inside the XPS 8300, and apparently housekeeping wasn't a top priority, or even on the to-do list. You'll spot a zip tie here and there, but nothing that would qualify as a serious attempt at cable management.

We do like that Dell kept the bottom part of the case open to accommodate longer videocards, especially in a case as small as this one. But if you do plan to upgrade the GPU to something more powerful than the Radeon HD 6770, you could end up stretching the capabilities of the included 460W power supply, though our power consumption tests showed there's room to spare.
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iBuyPower Gamer Power BTS11 Configuration and First Impression
Last up is iBuyPower's Gamer Power BTS11, the tall man on campus in this back-to-school roundup. Unlike the other two contenders, iBuyPower is a boutique system builder that uses off-the-shelf components, hence why the BTS11 brings a showy NZXT Phantom case to class.



iBuyPower Gamer Power BTS11
Specifications and Features (as tested)

Model

Gamer Power BTS11
CPU

Intel Core i5 2500K with liquid cooling
Memory

8GB DDR3 1333MHz
Graphics

Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti
Storage

Western Digital Caviar Black 750GB (6Gbps, 7200 RPM)
Optical

Lite-On 24X DVD Burner
Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Internet

10/100/1000 Ethernet
Front Panel Ports

2 x USB 2.0; eSATA; Mic/headphone
Rear Panel Ports

4 x USB 2.0; 2 x USB 3.0; GbE LAN; Optical SPDIF; Audio inputs, Serial
Sound Integrated 7.1 surround sound
Power Supply Xion 700W
Keyboard / Mouse HP wireless keyboard and mouse
Dimensions

8.74" x 24.26" x 21.29" (WxDxH)
Warranty

1 Year Limited
Price

$1,000 (as configured)


The first thing that stands out is the price tag. At $1,000, this is the least expensive machine in our roundup, a tradeoff that comes at the expense of a Blu-ray drive or larger hard drive. It's also the only machine to employ liquid cooling, which along with the unlocked Core i5 2500K processor seems to suggest iBuyPower expects users to at least entertain the idea of overclocking. iBuyPower also separates itself from the pack by being the only one to bring an Nvidia GPU to class, whereas both Dell and HP went with AMD Radeon HD 6000 series graphics cards.

Contents

  • iBuyPower keyboard
  • iBuyPower mouse
  • Quick Start Guide and related documentation
  • Windows Reinstallation DVD
  • Gigabyte Motherboard Manual
Notice anything missing? iBuyPower inexplicably neglected to bundle a power cord with our system, which makes turning it on a bit of challenge. We always have a supply of power cords in our endless bin of computer parts, but iBuyPower shouldn't assume every customer will have one on-hand. Based on prior experience with iBuyPower, we're willing to chalk this up as an anomaly.



Getting back to iBuyPower's status as a boutique system builder, we were greeted to a squeaky clean desktop completely devoid of any third-party cruft. The upshot is you don't have to spend the first 15 minutes or so uninstalling junk software, though that also means you won't find any proprietary utilities or special overlays that can sometimes add to the Windows experience. That's fine by us, as we typically prefer to customize our setups on our own.
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iBuyPower Gamer Power BTS11 Design and Layout


Both Dell and HP sent us compact systems, as opposed to iBuyPower, which opted to build its Gamer Power BTS11 in a hulking NZXT Phantom chassis. It looks like a Storm Trooper and is nearly as tall as one, too. The BTS11 is an eye-catching machine with plenty of cooling potential, though we're not real geeked with the idea of swinging open a case door to access the optical drive. Despite its size, the BTS11 doesn't feel much heavier than the other two systems in this roundup. That doesn't mean you'll want to lug this around to LAN parties -- it's too big for that -- but you can move it from room to room without taking rest breaks along the way.

Behind the door resides a Lite-On 24X DVD burner and a bunch of unused drive bays with ventilated covers. There's isn't a media card reader or hidden USB ports like the other systems bring to the back-to-school party.



There are mesh grates all around the Phantom case, including the top panel where a fan exhausts hot air up and out of the system. You'll also find a pair of USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, mic/headphone inputs, and several fan control sliders on the top of the case.

Around the back are four USB 2.0 ports, a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, a GbE LAN port, optical SPDIF, audio inputs, and a serial port. NZXT's Phantom case also features four water cooling in/outlets on the rear panel, and as we'll get to in a moment, there's ample room inside should you decide to upgrade to a full-fledged water cooling setup.


Three thumb screws hold the side panel in place, with the middle thumb screw noticeably longer than the top and bottom screws. You'll want to keep this mind when re-attaching the panel or you'll wonder why the screws are acting stubborn.

Once you yank the side panel off, you can park your car inside, right next to the motherboard. We're only slightly kidding; there's a ton of elbow room, and iBuyPower didn't mess it up by throwing cables around willy-nilly. Even though there's plenty of room for power cables to hang out, iBuyPower took full advantage of the Phantom's cable management amenities, and the end result is a tidy interior you wouldn't be embarrassed to show off.

The biggest advantage iBuyPower has over the other systems in this roundup is room to grow, both literally and figuratively. There's plenty of physical space to worth with, and also a generous 700W power supply. As configured, this thousand-dollar system won't knock your socks off, but there are plenty of affordable upgrade options. An additional $59, for example, trades the GeForce GTX 550 Ti graphics card for a GTX 560 Ti, or you can roll with an AMD Radeon HD 6870 for $58. Likewise, spending $12 more nets a 1TB hard drive.
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PCMark & 3DMark Tests
The three systems in our roundup sport similar configurations and are each built around Intel's Sandy Bridge platform, but no two systems use the same graphics card or hard drive. Will these differences be enough to affect performance in a meaningful way? We begin to answer that question by loading up a handful of Futuremark benchmarks.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance


Dell XPS 8300 jumps ahead of the pack in our first benchmark run, edging out iBuyPower's BTS11 system by a hair. Bringing up the rear is HP's H8 1050 even though it's equipped with the fastest CPU and GPU combination. The slow spinning hard drive is the reason why HP's machine trailed behind the other two.

Futuremark PCMark 7
Simulated Application Performance


Futuremark 3DMark11

Futuremark's PCMark 7 combines more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, Web browsing, and gaming. It's specifically designed to cover the full range of PC hardware, from netbooks and tablets, to notebooks and desktops, making it a great testing tool for virtually any system.

The same situation played out in Futuremark's recently launched PCMark 7 suite, and again we suspect HP's decision to utilize a 5400 RPM drive is holding the Pavilion back. Out in front, it was iBuyPower that managed to slide ahead of Dell to take pole position.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11
Simulated Gaming Performance

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Performance preset option, as well as ran the system through a 3DMark Vantage run, which focuses on DirectX 10.


Here we see HP's Pavilion H8 1050 leapfrog the other two systems by a big margin, and that's because 3DMark 11 focuses its attention on gaming performance above all else. That means much more attention is placed on the GPU, and HP's decision to go with an AMD Radeon HD 6850 proved to be the difference maker.


The disparity in gaming performance was even more pronounced in 3DMark Vantage, with HP's machine jumping several thousand points ahead of the competition. All three appear capable of handling mid-range gaming chores, HP's machine just looks like it's better suited for the task than the other two. Whether or not that's actually the case is something we'll look at in our real-world game tests.

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SiSoft Sandra & Cinebench
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
 
Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

HP and Dell went with the same processor -- an Intel Core i7 2600 (3.4GHz, 8MB L3 cache) -- which gave them an edge over iBuyPower and its Core i5 2500K chip (3.3GHz, 6MB L3 cache). It's true the 2500K has an unlocked multiplier, but that only comes into play if you intend to overclock, and our system arrived at stock speed.

When we turned our attention to the memory and physical disk subsystems, HP's Pavilion again took a backseat. Dell's came in second place by a hair, but wins the round by offering more than twice as much storage space as iBuyPower's (2TB versus 750GB). HP's hard drive offers ample storage too -- 1.5TB -- but you give up 40MB/s of performance in an area that's already considered the bottleneck of most modern systems.


What's also interesting is that HP's oddball 10GB RAM configuration (3x2GB; 1x4GB) appears to take a slight performance hit compared the more traditional 8GB setup in the other two systems, but not enough to have us concerned.

Cinebench R11.5 64bit
Content Creation Performance

Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.

None of these back-to-school systems are tuned for CAD design, 3D modeling, or other professional tasks Cinebench attempts to measure. That said, HP turned in the best multi-threaded performance of the bunch, and by a pretty wide margin (comparatively).

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Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and Lost Planet 2

FarCry 2
DX10 Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the Ranch Map. The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings.

Far Cry 2 isn't particularly demanding, but it does provide a glimpse into how these three systems scale at different resolutions. And while FC2 is playable on all three systems, HP's Radeon HD 6850 handled higher resolutions better than the other two videocards represented here (Dell's Radeon HD 6770 and iBuyPower's Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti).

Left 4 Dead 2
Gaming Performance

 
Left 4 Dead 2

In our Left 4 Dead 2 test, we use a custom Time Demo that involves plenty of fast action, some explosions, and plenty of people and objects on the screen at the same time.

Left 4 Dead 2 is another game that's not particularly taxing and it was a virtual wash at all three resolutions. What does this tell us? It tells us that if your system can't run L4D2 smoothly, it's time to take it out behind the shed and fire a couple of rounds like Old Yeller.

Lost Planet 2
DX11 Gaming Performance

 
Lost Planet 2

A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows. There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water. This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11. We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.

Things got serious in a hurry when we loaded up Lost Planet 2, and even at modest resolutions, all three systems broke a sweat. If you plan on playing high-end games on any of these back-to-school systems, you'll have to dial down the visual quality settings to keep things running smooth.
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Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Metro 2033
DX11 Gaming Performance

 
Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism.

The recurring theme in our real-world game tests so far is that HP's Radeon HD 6850 is the preferred graphics card out of the three represented here, and that again plays out as we fire up Metro 2033.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Call of Pripyat
DX11 Gaming Performance

 
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and throws in DX11 to the mix. This benchmark is based on one of the locations found within the latest game. Testing includes four stages and utilizes various weather conditions, as well as different time of day settings. It offers a number of presets and options, including multiple versions of DirectX, resolutions, antialiasing, etc. SunShafts represents the most graphically challenging stage available. We conducted our testing with DX11 enabled, multiple resolutions, and Ultra settings.

HP came close to a clean sweep in our gaming tests, but tripped at the finish line long enough for iBuyPower to pull ahead, at least at lower resolutions. iBuyPower's GeForce GTX 550 Ti didn't scale as well as the Radeon HD 6850 graphics card, and iBuyPower quickly slid back into second place.
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Power Consumption

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

We used SeaSonic's Power Angel Power Meter to measure the amount of power our test system pulled from the wall. You'll find three figures below: power supply's maximum rated wattage, peak power consumption under a full CPU/GPU load, and how much the system pulled from the wall when idle (following a fresh system boot).

Even though HP had the burliest videocard of the bunch, it nearly tied Dell for consuming the least amount of energy under load. We tested this by running a combination of Prime95 (CPU and RAM) and Furmark (GPU), a potential lethal combination, but one that gives us a glimpse of a worst case scenario.

Dell pulled slightly less power from the wall than HP under load, and while both feature a 460W power supply and the same CPU, other parts of these two systems are different, though apparently not different enough to warrant choosing one over the other based on power consumption.

A bigger power supply doesn't mean you'll use more power, but in this case, iBuyPower's system consumed nearly 100W more under load than the other two systems, which we attribute to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti graphics card and liquid cooling setup more than anything else.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: What we have here is a tale of three systems with each one taking a different approach to performance. HP's Pavilion Elite H8 1050 outgunned the competition in gaming performance, which isn't the least bit surprising since it toted the biggest gun (AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics card).  But HP also opted for a 5400 RPM hard drive, albeit one with 1.5TB of storage space. In evaluating storage performance, the nod goes to Dell, which equipped its XPS 8300 system with a fast 2TB Seagate Barracuda XT hard drive spinning at 7200 RPM with 64MB of cache, a SATA 6Gbps interface, and also throws in 2GB of online backup free for a year. iBuyPower's 750GB Western Digital Caviar HDD is also a solid performer, but offers less than half the storage space of the others. Where iBuyPower's system makes a case for itself is in overclocking potential (unlocked CPU), upgradeability, and overall price.


HP Elite Pavilion H8 1050 - Editor's Choice

Looking at our performance summary, you can imagine how tough it was to pick a winner since each system builder focused on a different aspect of performance, but in the end we decided to give HP's Pavilion Elite H8 1050 our Editor's Choice award. Not only did it nearly clean sweep the competition in gaming performance, it also held its own throughout our gamut of benchmarks. Equally important are the value-added extras, things like integrated Wi-Fi, a built-in TV tuner, wireless input devices, and plenty of IO, including a pair of USB 3.0 ports. We're not thrilled with the messy interior or 5400 RPM hard drive, but otherwise, the Pavilion Elite H8 1050 is an all-around performer suitable for home or school.

That leaves the iBuyPower Gamer Power BTS11 and Dell XPS 8300 battling for second place, and we give the nod to iBuyPower. It's gaming performance was nearly on par with HP's, and though the Core i5 2500K is a slower chip than what the competition used, it has an unlocked multiplier, which makes overclocking easier. It also boasts integrated liquid cooling and an eye-catching chassis, and iBuyPower was the only vendor to attempt any sort of cable management. The end result is an interior that's as good or better than anything we could have assembled ourselves. Add to all that a price tag that's several hundred dollars less expensive than the other systems in this roundup and you have a solid second place finish.

Dell's XPS 8300 places third, though don't mistake that to mean this is a bad machine. Not only did the XPS 8300 rock the biggest, fastest hard drive of the bunch, but Dell includes 2GB of online backup free for a year. The XPS 8300 turned in very good performance numbers across the board, and we appreciate the Blu-ray drive and integrated Wi-Fi, even though these amenities come at a higher price tag.

That's how the standings shake out if we're picking a winner, though it's important to note there aren't any real losers here. It's not that we want to wax diplomatic -- it's not up to us to stroke a vendor's ego -- but even with each systems' individual flaws, none of them are bad buys. Which is the better buy depends on your criteria. If you're indifferent and just want a solid all-around machine, we feel HP offers the best option.


HP Pavilion Elite H8 1050 

iBuyPower Gamer Power BTS11

Dell XPS 8300



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