Introducing the HP Phoenix h9se

Outside of the Envy series and the bygone era of Voodoo (anyone remember the Blackbird?), HP hasn't exactly been a brand associated with high performance gaming desktops, at least not on the consumer side. They're a large vendor and we tend to expect basic computer systems from them--the type of system we'd buy for our parents or grandparents, not something that would be competitive with the kinds of desktops we can get from boutiques. Yet companies like HP or Dell can leverage their size to produce slick, heavily customized chassis designs for their builds, and that's exactly what HP has done with the Phoenix h9se.

In its nearly sub-midtower dimensions, HP has crammed the Phoenix with a heck of a lot of power while producing something with a unique aesthetic. It's attractive without being gaudy, and in true big-box fashion they've managed to keep the price down. Is the Phoenix worth the gaming dollars of you and yours? Here's the quick rundown of our review unit.

HP Phoenix h9se Specifications
Chassis Custom HP Phoenix
Processor Intel Core i7-3960X
(6x3.3GHz, Hyper-Threading, Turbo to 3.9GHz, 32nm, 15MB L3, 130W)
Motherboard Custom X79 Chipset Board
Memory 4x4GB Micron DDR3-1600
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB GDDR5 (OEM)
(512 CUDA Cores, 772/1544/4008MHz core/shaders/RAM, 384-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Intel 320 Series 160GB SATA 3Gbps SSD

Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C 500GB 7200-RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) Blu-ray/DVDRW Combo Drive
Power Supply 600W Custom
Networking Ralink RT5392 802.11b/g/n Wireless
Realtek RTL8168 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Audio IDT 92HD89E2
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks, optical out for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical drive
4x USB 2.0
SD/MMC/CF card reader
Top 2x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Back Side Optical
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks
2x DVI-D (GeForce)
1x Mini-HDMI (GeForce)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 16.22" x 6.89" x 16.34"
(412mm x 175mm x 415mm)
Extras Integrated 802.11b/g/n
Closed CPU liquid cooling loop
Warranty 2-year hardware and 1-year software support
Pricing Starts at $999
Review system configured at $2,899

Our sample system is very nearly as beefy as it gets (and then some!) outside of some upgrade options on storage and memory. While you might think the Phoenix is an Intel-based system from looking at the above table, HP offers the Phoenix with every major processor series. At the $999 price point you start with an AMD FX-8100, which is upgradeable to the FX-8150, but at that point you're within spitting distance of the vastly more powerful Intel Core i7-2600. Ours comes equipped with Intel's Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-3960X, an extremely powerful but costly processor.

HP will also be refreshing the Phoenix with Ivy Bridge once those processors become available. In the meantime, you're also free to overclock any of the unlocked processors that the Phoenix can ship with, although HP won't overclock from the factory and their overclocking support matches Intel's: you're free to do it, but don't come crying to us if/when the overclock is bungled.

Worth noting is that the video card specifically has gone end-of-life from NVIDIA, presumably in anticipation of the release of Kepler, so it's no longer available for order. That leaves the highest performance users hanging in the breeze until March 7th when the AMD Radeon HD 7950 will become available; until then, only the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti and AMD Radeon HD 6850 are currently offered. When we asked why the 7970 wasn't being offered, HP's representatives said it was an issue of maintaining a price point. That's a fair response; the 7970 is still pretty fresh in the marketplace, and AMD has seen fit to command a very pretty penny for it. When the 7950 does become available, it'll actually come in at $10 under the GTX 580 configuration.

For the rest of the setup, we've got our preferred SSD + HDD combination for storage, a Blu-ray combo drive, 16GB RAM, and pretty much everything else you'd want from a top of the line system. About the only thing you can't get from the factory in the Phoenix is dual-GPUs; HP sells this strictly as a single-GPU chassis, and the 600W PSU is fitting for such systems. The rest of the components cover all the bases, with USB 3.0 on the top and rear of the chassis and integrated WiFi. Let's hit the benchmarks before discussing the finer details of the build.

System Performance
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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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