Both Dell and Gateway launched Core i7 PCs in time with Intel's announcement of its new chip family last November. We don't know why HP has waited to make the switch, but with today's announcement of the Pavilion Elite m9600 desktop series, a quad-core Core i7-equipped HP can be yours starting at $949.
We've found Intel's Core i7 chips very fast, especially in the most demanding tasks like consumer-level digital media editing and multitasking. Core i7 has also been hailed as an expensive platform, as Intel is the only source for the necessary motherboard chipset, which also requires DDR3 memory, a pricier standard than more common DDR2 RAM. Those extra expenses are largely why AMD's Phenom and Phenom II, and Intel's own Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad chips are still common in lower-end retail desktops, although it remains likely that Intel will continue to ease pricing throughout 2009 to ensure wider Core i7 adoption.
Options for HP's new configurable Pavilion Elite m9600's are otherwise unremarkable. The only exception might be that the default 3D card, an Nvidia GeForce 9600GS, has 768MB of RAM, and all of the step-up models are 1GB cards. And here we'd just gotten used to the proliferation of 512MB cards. The larger video memory allotments won't guarantee fast PC gaming for all, but they will certainly help.
If you want to purchase a Core i7-based Pavilion Elite, HP's Web site is your only source for the moment, although we're sure the retail models won't be too far behind. That said, Dell's Core i7 Studio XPS systems start at $799. Dell's 3D card offerings include only 256MB and 512MB options, so you do lose a step in gaming performance, but if all you want is raw CPU power at the best price, it's hard to justify the HP's $949 starter price tag when Dell has such an aggressive bargain.