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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  • gdinero79 - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    The last-generation SSD seems like an odd choice for a system like this.
  • spencerp - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    That sucks. I really like my Blackbird and was hoping to continue its lineage.
  • cjs150 - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    3G SSD?
    What were they thinking of

    No overclocking

    Limited GPU options

    No crossfire/SLI (not that I am a fan of either)

    What market is this aimed at?

    And how noisy is it
  • dave1_nyc - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    There are cases that I don't personally find attractive, but I understand why others do, and I'm sure the same. And if one likes this case, then one likes this case, and that's one's right.

    But I've been looking at the photos for the last 10 minutes, trying to figure out how one could like this case, assuming of course that you would remove all the stickers. And I don't get it.

    This is too trivial to bother with, but I'd like to suggest a "who likes, who hates" survey - something that would help me suspend disbelief.
  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    Very tactfully worded. Personally, I don't think many people would find this case more appealing than your average, cheap-looking $20 computer case. There are uglier cases, but this certainly isn't a looker.
  • GuyIncognito_ - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    > This is too trivial to bother with, but I'd like to suggest a "who likes, who hates" survey -
    > something that would help me suspend disbelief.

    I vote <hate>.
  • Blibbax - Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - link

    If anyone is thinking of buying one of these, please get in touch with me. I can match the performance and beat the looks with an OCd 2600K and a 7950 in a Casecom matx case, for a substantially lower price...
  • bhima - Thursday, March 1, 2012 - link

    For those that don't build their own machines there are other options than this proprietary HP. Just did a quick google, found Ironside Computers and built up a HAF 922 with an i7-2600k, SSD, regular HDD, 8GB ram, AMD 7970, Corsair Enthusiast 650w for about $1,900.

    Of course I would personally never purchase bleeding tech like the 7970 because the cost isn't worth its performance, but hell... for $600 cheaper than that HP you have a system with parts that aren't proprietary and the best single GPU on the market.
  • softdrinkviking - Thursday, March 1, 2012 - link

    cases are too plastic and boring. not really bad looking exactly, but not so interesting either.
    i'd rather have an old grey 386 case with it's clean minimalist look.
    also, HP uses a bunch of proprietary SD card readers and they put an a$$ load of metal brackets and header patch cables inside, the end result being that the inside is extremely cluttered and it's difficult to work on.
    they are not upgrade friendly. :(

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