Hp’s Slimline Pavilion s7600c has a major advantage over previous incarnations of HP’s small-form-factor design: a dual-core CPU. Thanks to AMD’s new line of energy-efficient Athlon 64 X2 chips, HP can now compete with the Mac Mini as a powerful, feature-rich tiny PC. The Mac Mini has a size and aesthetic advantage; it’s twice as small, and its clean lines cut a better profile. But what the Pavilion Slimline sacrifices in space-savings and good looks, it gains in functionality and performance. It’s also less expensive. Although our review config cost $975, when you balance out the specs to match those of the 1.83GHz Mac Mini Core Duo, the Slimline gets the win. If you’re looking for an affordable, compact computer to tackle day-to-day tasks, as well as one that might be able to perform some home-theater duties, we recommend the Pavilion Slimline s7600e as the most balanced system we’ve seen.
The reason we like the Slimline so much is because of its features. In nearly every aspect, it beats the Mac Mini, its main competition. For core hardware, the config HP sent us came with a 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processor; 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; and a 250GB, 7,200rpm hard drive. Those features, among others (which we’ll get to), are all upgrades to the core Slimline PC config and bring the $450 postrebate base price up to our review unit’s $975. To get the Mac Mini as close as it can to those specs, you’d have to pay $1,075, and the hard drive would still be only 160GB, or 90GB smaller than our HP’s. You could even dial the Mac Mini to $1,152 if you add an Apple mouse and keyboard, which would be fair, since the HP comes with its own input devices.
Both the Slimline s7600e and the 1.83GHz Mac Mini come with DVD burners, although our review unit was the LightScribe model (a $40 upgrade over the standard DVD burner), which can etch black-and-white images onto the surface of a disc. We don’t find LightScribe all that exciting, mostly because it’s slow, but we’re sure some people like it. What we appreciate more is the HP’s wireless networking capability. It’s a $25 add-on here, whereas with the Mac Mini it comes standard. That feature is part of what makes these small PCs so home entertainment-friendly. It’s easy to imagine hooking them up to your television and to play movies and music and display photos. The HP lets you do that with Windows Media Center, and the Mac Mini with Apple’s Front Row software.
HP also has the edge in other features, but this is in part due to its design. When you go bigger on the case, you can do more. For example, the Slimline has a 9-in-1 media card reader for easy digital media transfers from cameras and other devices. The Mac Mini requires you to plug your devices in directly, because it doesn’t have internal space to accommodate a media card drive. We also suspect Apple doesn’t want to disturb the Mini’s clean-lined exterior.
We’re less sure why the Mac Mini doesn’t have a TV tuner. WinBook proved that it’s possible to fit a tuner in a small case with its Jiv Mini. HP’s Slimline has one by way of its half-height PCI expansion slot. We don’t love PC-based TV viewing because of the poor image quality, and if you had one of these small PCs connected to your TV, you wouldn’t need a tuner anyway. What we like about the HP more than the tuner itself is the PCI slot that lets you add a card in the first place.