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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  • Dr0id - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    And it needs to lose the tacky stickers on the very plasticky case.
  • marc1000 - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    this computer looks a LOT like my "ancient" mid-tower HP desktop, that i bought some 4-5 years ago. reverse-mounted motherboard, fan at bottom-back (but this time it is a liquid-cooler and pushes air out), and tilted hard-drive cage with only 2 3.5" hdd slots (but this time it is 2 2.5 and 1 3.5).

    the main difference is that this one is a bit bigger and has better looks. I can't fit a GTX580 on my case, but I have a 2500k with a 5770 here and for a small case it does a pretty nice job of keeping things cool. I just put 2 fans as intake (9cm and 12cm) on bottom back/right panels and they push all hot air out. no out-take fans for me.

    in general, i really like this design.
  • IceDread - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    I don't think I've ever seen an uglier computer.
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    I did, but that was in the 90's.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    I'm not sure if we're looking at the same case.

    It looks like any <INSERT PC MANUFACTURER HERE> generic PC in the last ~7 years or something, after they settled on fat plastic bezels that are black, and cheap looking steel panels.

    I also think the spec is a bit ridiculous.

    "When we asked why the 7970 wasn't being offered, HP's representatives said it was an issue of maintaining a price point."

    Wait, what.. you think someone who buys a 6 core Sandy Bridge-E with 16GB RAM gives two shits about the price point?

    I'd rather have a 2600K with a healthy clock bump, 8GB RAM, and a 7970.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    Sorry, that said, 16GB RAM is actually dirt cheap these days, but I still think it's basically pointless in the life of the machine for the AVERAGE user.
  • Golgatha - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    "When we asked why the 7970 wasn't being offered, HP's representatives said it was an issue of maintaining a price point."

    That confused me too. I get the part about only using a single GPU because of the form factor and power supply, but someone buying an Extreme edition socket 2011 CPU isn't exactly looking at bang-for-buck ratios.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    HD 7970 is brand new and commands a price premium. It probably means that HP couldn't get as large of a volume discount as they'd like. AMD is basically selling all of the 7970 cards they make right now for full price, so why should they sell 50K to HP at a discount when they could just continue selling them to end users for more money?
  • Herp Derpson - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    All prebuild PCs have horrible CPU\GPU ratio. In games Core i5-2500 will give you same fps and money could be spend on additional GPU. Hell, even i3-2100 will be the same in almost all games. It's like builders have no idea that GPU is always bottleneck.
    And of course nvidia bias. There is absolutely no reason to buy 580 now.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    That was one sweet case, I wish they sold that as a standalone. Also the last Voodo Omen. The Firebird wasn't as appealing since it had a smaller upgrade path but it could have been interesting to some people. Sucks that HP shut all of that down after buying Voodo out.

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