WHAT'S HOT: The latest entrant in HP's Vectra line of corporate PCs, the HP Vectra VL420 we tested purred its way to a PC WorldBench 4 score of 97. That number falls below the benchmark score of 100 established by our baseline system (a 1.2-GHz Athlon with 128MB of RAM), but it's still impressive for a compact desktop system. Powered by a 1.8-GHz Pentium 4 and carrying 256MB of PC133 SDRAM memory, our Vectra VL420 outperformed a similarly configured Dell OptiPlex GX240 by six points (7 percent).
Aimed squarely at the corporate workplace, the Vectra runs Windows XP Professional and ships with a solid suite of client management software, including HP's Toptools and EDiagtools and Rembo's Auto Deploy and Auto Backup for deploying software and creating and restoring backup sets. Other corporate features include chassis intrusion detection (at boot-up, our system reported when it had last been opened) and a Kensington lock slot (the lock is an optional extra). The VL420 puts two USB ports up front--an unusual plus in a corporate PC. Two more USB ports are situated on the box's back panel, and all ports can be locked out through the BIOS to prevent users from connecting unauthorized devices.
And it's truly a value system: $1259 is a great price for a corporate system with convincing performance.
WHAT'S NOT: To rein in the price on this system, HP had to install some low-budget components. Our review unit came with a 20GB hard drive (adequate for average business users, but leaving little room to grow), a slimline 10X-24X CD-ROM drive, and integrated audio and speakers.
Like most compact desktops, the VL420 has a cluttered interior with little expansion room. There are no open drive bays, though there are open PCI slots.
WHAT ELSE: The bundled 17-inch HP P720 display delivers good enough image quality to have made our Top 10 17-Inch Monitors chart in the past. In our tests, the P720 displayed crisp, easily legible 12-point Arial text with only minor ghosting of characters. Colors were rich and flesh tones looked very natural in our test photo, though in past tests of this monitor, some images' colors have appeared too dark.
Opening the small, white-and-blue desktop model requires you to flip up a switch on the back of the top panel. The sturdy panel pops off easily but takes some aligning and effort to snap back into place.
You can easily swap out the floppy, CD-ROM, and hard drives without tools, by snapping off the system's front bezel and then sliding the drives out the front. Three available slots ,which accept half-height PCI cards, can also be accessed sans tools. But removing the slot cover wasn't an easy task.
Thanks to HP's Ultraflow cooling system, the VL420 runs very quietly. Between the system's small stature and its lack of noise, you can place it almost anywhere and it won't intrude.
Documentation consists of a color setup poster and a skimpy user's guide, but more extensive docs--including technical manuals and troubleshooting guides--are available on HP's Web site.
UPSHOT: Small size, moderate power, and a solid list of IS management features make this Vectra right at home in the land of cubes.
By Joel Strauch