Available in your choice of case and operating system (from Windows to Linux), the HP Compaq Business Desktop dc7100 is designed for fast and friendly deployment in enterprise settings. Released in June 2004, the system is equipped to stand the test of time, with Intel's new mainstream 915 Express chipset (a.k.a. Grantsdale), whose modular nature makes for easy component swapping -- once you get the too-tight hood off, that is. The dc7100 also boasts more USB 2.0 ports than other multimedia PCs, and the AU$1,100 LCD monitor that HP bundled with our test system (AU$1,889 without the monitor) earned particularly high marks on our tests. The aspects that corporate customers will most appreciate, however, are the system's security features for both software and hardware, the custom-image options, and the generous three-year warranty, which includes onsite service and 24-hour toll-free phone support.
HP offers three case designs for the Compaq Business Desktop dc7100: the largest, a minitower; the slighter, a small form factor (SFF); and the smallest, an ultraslim desktop. We reviewed the SFF, which weighs approximately 8.85kg and measures 33.78 x 37.85 x 10.03 centimeters (W, D, H). The SFF case is flat on both sides, and it can stand like a tower without the need for a base. What's more, the processor and power-supply fans blow out of the front and rear of the case, respectively, so no airflow is lost if you place the unit on its side.
Although we prefer any case that offers a tool-free design, the dc7100's construction makes access more difficult than we anticipated. To get the hood off, you have to push in and hold a stiff pair of release buttons on the sides and simultaneously yank hard -- you almost need three hands. Fortunately, the inside of the case is a model of modular efficiency. Not only can you remove the optical drive with the press of a lever, you can also lift the power supply right out if you need to replace it or you need to access the hard drive, which resides beneath the power supply. Also, you have unobstructed access to the expansion and memory slots. Aside from the difficulty in opening the case, IT staffers will find the HP Compaq dc7100 very easy to upgrade and repair.
The dc7100's internal expansion options are better than average for an SFF system: there's one 3.5-inch internal drive bay, two RAM sockets, and two PCI slots that accommodate half-height cards. Better still, the motherboard boasts two PCI Express slots -- a 16X slot and a 1X slot -- that also accommodate half-height cards. If you want to add a full-height PCI card or two, there's an optional riser card that provides two slots, but it also blocks the PCI Express slots.
A high degree of external expansion comes courtesy of eight USB 2.0 ports, all of which were available on our test system, thanks to the PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports. Two of the ports sit on the front of the case, alongside the headphone and microphone jacks. You won't find any FireWire ports on the HP Compaq dc7100, but owners of ancient peripherals will be happy to discover legacy serial and parallel ports.
To help reduce the risk of theft, the SFF case -- in addition to the other two case options -- includes a metal loop to which you can attach a padlock to prevent hood removal, plus a Kensington slot for use with corresponding antitheft products. HP also offers a variety of optional security hardware, including a rear-port cover and a wall-mount security sleeve.
The HP Compaq Business Desktop dc7100 is so well stocked that you might mistake it for a home system. A Pentium 4 540 processor (3.2GHz) powers the machine along with 512MB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM and an 80GB Serial ATA hard drive. The latter is a rarity in business PCs, most of which come with slower IDE drives; for even more storage space, you can configure the dc7100 with up to two 160GB hard drives. HP also serves up a combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive -- overkill, perhaps, for most enterprise environments, but we certainly don't mind the added functionality of watching DVDs and burning CDs.
Another hardware highlight is the 19-inch L1902 LCD monitor that HP bundled with our test system. Although it doesn't pivot like some other HP LCDs we've seen, the L1902 serves up a bright, razor-sharp picture. The dc7100 can allot up to 256MB of system RAM to the integrated Intel 915G graphics subsystem, but our review unit was set for 128MB -- more than enough for most business-graphics applications. As a business machine, the dc1700 doesn't make graphics horsepower a priority: There's no AGP slot, and the 16X PCI Express slot can accommodate only half-height cards, which prevents you from upgrading to a new PCI Express graphics card.
The audio subsystem also seems an afterthought. The HP Compaq dc7100's built-in, internal speaker is fine for basic business audio, but it's insufficient for listening to music or anything else recreational.
To help businesses speed up and simplify the deployment of multiple systems, HP offers a choice of operating systems (Windows XP Home, XP Pro, and Linux) and custom image installation. In fact, any qualified image developed for one form factor (such as the SFF case) can be deployed in any dc7100-series model, as the hardware architecture is the same across the board.
The dc 7100's software bundle focuses primarily on backup and security, but it includes a few other handy utilities as well. Altiris Local Recovery is among the highlights -- a client-level backup tool that creates a hidden partition on the hard drive. The dc7100 also includes PDF Complete for publishing documents as PDF files, InterVideo WinDVD for watching DVDs, and Zim SMS Mail for two-way messaging between desktop and mobile phone.
The HP Compaq Business Desktop dc7100 serves up strong application performance; the system will run present-day applications and shouldn't need an upgrade anytime soon. Compared with systems that use a 3GHz Pentium 4 processor with Intel's last-generation mainstream 865 chipset, the dc7100 -- with its 3.2GHz Pentium 4 and Intel's new mainstream 915G Express chipset -- offers more than a 20 percent performance advantage. And it keeps pace with a similarly outfitted MPC ClientPro system that uses the older Intel 875P chipset but whose overall performance is aided by a dedicated graphics card. For its intended enterprise audience, the HP Compaq dc7100 is more than up to the task.
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
A business machine isn't optimised for gaming, but we were pleasantly surprised by the HP Compaq dc7100's graphics prowess. The dc7100 is the first system we've tested that features Intel's new integrated graphics subsystem -- the Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 900. Courtesy of the 915G Express chipset, the Intel GMA 900 improves on Intel's previous integrated graphics chip, the Graphics Extreme 2. The dc7100's Unreal Tournament 2003 score is more than four times as fast as systems using the 865G chipset and the Intel Graphics Extreme 2. A score of 70 frame rates per second (fps) is outstanding for an integrated graphics solution, and it represents the highest score we've seen to date on a system without a dedicated graphics card.
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit colour depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X, respectively, during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this colour depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Service and support
HP's exemplary warranty covers parts and labour for a full three years and includes next-business-day onsite service for the duration. The sole downside is that the 24/7 toll-free phone support also expires after three years. From that point on, you have to pay a per-incident fee for phone support; HP determines the fee on a case-by-case basis. Fortunately, HP's Web site features live online help, which can prove invaluable for users who can't wait for an IT person to show up.