HP Pavilion a1640n & a1630n: Intel vs. AMD?

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MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

Each of these recording have 10 seconds of silence to let you hear the ambient sound of the room, followed by 10 seconds of the product's noise.

  • HP Pavilion a1640n at Idle / Load — 29 dBA@1m
  • HP Pavilion a 1630n at Idle — 27 dBA@1m
  • HP Pavilion a1640n, HDD defragging — 36 dBA@1m
  • HP Pavilion a 1630n, HDD defragging — 28 dBA@1m

Sound Recordings of Other PC Systems

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one meter, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

CONCLUSIONS

AMD should be pleased that we can confirm their point. The performance of the Intel-based integrated video graphics in the HP Pavilion a1640n is inferior to the nVidia-based integrated video graphics in the HP Pavilion a1630n. The fact that this AMD processor system actually sold for some 10% less is also worthy of note. Neither system is marketed as a gaming PC, so the fact that the a1630n allows an occasional casual game to be enjoyed is a bonus.

The lower clarity, legibility and sharpness of the Intel graphics with text is actually a more serious fault, in our view. (Obviously we're not gamers.) While the folks who buy such computers may occasionally play games, almost everyone types and reads emails or documents with a computer quite frequently. The a1640n surely meets the minimum requirements for text legibility, but it could do better.

Keep in mind that the video performance of either of these systems could be dramatically improved with a fairly small investment in a discrete graphics video card. Many nVidia GF7600 series or ATI Radeon X1600 series cards can be found for $100 or less, and these cards would make most computer games much more playable than with the integrated graphics in either of the two systems.

The acoustics differences of the two systems is somewhat surprising. No difference was expected, but it is there, in slight favor of the AMD-based system again. This, we believe, is something of a fluke. Neither system is particularly quiet, but they're not beasts either. In a family home with children, neither would be perceived as terrible sources of noise.

Can these systems be made quieter? Yes. All the fans would have to swapped out for smoother sounding, quieter ones, and the hard drive would have to be soft mounted. A bit of electrical tape in key mechanical junctions may also help stop some of the chassis vibrations. For a manufacturer, these changes would not be onerous. For an end user, they're a pain.

When SPCR attended the Jan 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we found that... "Nearly everyone in the PC hardware business wants to talk about acoustics now. SPCR is no longer an evangelical voice in the wilderness. The concept of “quiet equals good” is now widespread." What the acoustics of these PC systems tell us is that talk about quiet is not the same as quiet itself.

The two systems are both impressively featured, considering the price. For their intended market and use, they're pretty good. (Yes, lower acoustics would be nice, a power supply with Active PFC would be good, and only if they could just soft-mount those hard drives -- and let's not forget getting rid of all the "free" and "trial" software.)

Most interesting are the power assessments. There's little doubt that the AMD-based system, with its much lower idle power, has a substantial energy efficiency advantage over the Intel-based one. The very low <50W idle power achieved is impressive. So impressive, that out of curiosity, we swapped out the stock Bestec power supply for a new 350W Seasonic model that's been in the lab for testing. The substitution caused the AC power to drop a further 3W, to 44W. This Seasonic, on the test bench, is about 70% efficient with that level of AC input. It means that the motherboard, CPU, memory and hard drive are pulling around 31W DC at idle. Using this data, we can calculate that the stock PSU is about 66% efficient at this low power load. This system has the lowest idle power demand we've seen from any system using a desktop processor thus far.

The CPUs are certainly a big portion of the idle power differences between the systems, but the chipsets of the two boards also come into play. Unfortunately, there is no easy way of determining the relative power demand of the Intel G965 and the nVidia 6150 chipsets. An Anandtech article has shown that the P965 is a bit more efficient than the P975 and nVidia 570 chipsets (for the C2D processors); the G965 is virtually identical in power characteristics to the P965. As for the 6150, there does not appear to be any definitive study on its power efficiency. We'd guess that it has to be pretty good.

It's surprising that in stock form, the HP a1630n exceeds the most stringent energy requirements for Energy Star Computer Spec 4.0. This makes one ask, again, whether the new spec is too lax. It could also be good strategy by HP to be completely ready to exceed all the new requirements by a healthy margin so that even higher configured systems can be Energy Star qualified.

The energy savings of the a1630n over the a1640n in real use will probably be at least 20%, and considerably more if the computer is powered on more than four hours a day, the conservative figure used for our calculations. For typical home or office use, as long as the AMD CPU performance remains within 10~20% of Intel's, it's the lower idle power that looks compelling to us. For a corporation running hundreds or thousands of PCs, >30% energy savings is nothing to scoff at in this day of rising energy and environmental costs.

Our thanks to AMD for the opportunity to examine these HP systems.



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17" Apple iMac
EnergyStar Computer Spec 4.0 Finalized

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