The high saturation of the mid-range PC market is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the sheer number of PCs available makes it difficult to make a buying decision, but it also means you can pick up bargains such as this Presario SR1729. It's by no means the sexiest of PCs, but it is a competent all-rounder that Compaq has blessed with a generous specification and modern components.
We found the Presario SR1729 for £799 from PC World's Web site, going under the name Compaq 1729.
The Presario SR1729's design does little to stir any emotion. The base unit is a dull-looking, generically styled midi-tower unit finished in mainly black, with silver highlights. There's a large-ish silver power button, a silver-fronted memory card reader, and a silver outer bezel with an embossed Compaq logo.
The silver and black colour scheme is also seen in the bezel of the accompanying 19-inch TFT screen and on the Compaq keyboard, but despite the contemporary colours, the PC is nothing special to look at.
The SR1729 has the usual set of front-facing line-in, microphone and headphone audio jacks, a FireWire port and two vertically-stacked USB ports, all of which are extremely easy to access.
The unit ships with a single optical drive shielded by a plastic flap. This helps to maintain the smooth lines of the PC, but as with all base units that tread this path, there's a slight danger of the flaps breaking accidentally during drunken CD-insertion mishaps.
The bottom of the base unit has an unusual pattern that makes the PC look a tad like the ghost creatures from Pac-Man. This is not a good thing unless, that is, you're a fan of Inky, Blinky, Pinky and the rest of the colourful 80s fraternity.
You can impress your geekier friends with the Pentium D logo at the front of the PC, which indicates its dual-core processing innards. But more usefully there are a further four USB ports at the rear, two FireWire and a LAN port, six discrete audio jacks, and a single parallel port that will appeal to users with ageing printers or scanners.
The Compaq SR1729 isn't stuffed to the gills with the trendiest third party components. There's no fancy water-cooling, no self-cooling memory and no neon lights. Instead you get the solid, reliable foundation of an Intel 945 Express-based chipset and Pentium D 920 dual-core CPU. Both the processor's cores are clocked at 2.8GHz and have access to their own 2MB of cache memory, which aids performance over single-core systems. This is paired with 1GB of DDR2-SDRAM, which is what we'd expect for a PC in this price bracket.
All good, so far, as is the 300GB serial ATA hard drive. This pleasant bonus will please anyone with a stockpile of multimedia files or anyone with the intent to amass one. It's large enough to store up to 280 hours of high-quality video or 70,000 audio files. Not all of the 300GB is usable though -- Compaq has set aside a 6GB partition for storing system-recovery files.
The positive storage trend continues with the inclusion of the aforementioned memory card reader, which supports all popular card formats, and a dual-layer DVD rewriter that can write to DVD+R media at 16x and DVD-R media at 8x -- faster than average, but not quite as fast as models that write to both formats at 16x.
The Intel 945 Express chipset-based motherboard brings the benefit of a 10/100/1000 Ethernet adaptor, which when connected to another PC with a Gigabit Ethernet adaptor, can achieve network throughput of up to 1,000Mbps -- ten times faster than a conventional 10/100 wired LAN. The PC includes a 56k modem, but there's no wireless network adaptor, so you'll need to purchase one separately if you want to add it to an existing Wi-Fi network.
We were slightly disappointed by the mediocre Nvidia GeForce 6200 card wedged into the motherboard's PCI Express card slot. It'll cope with everyday tasks like playing video and very basic games, but it was a fairly weak graphics card a couple of years ago, and it looks even weaker today.
As a result, you don't be playing many games on the accompanying 19-inch monitor. We found the screen to be of good quality. It isn't a widescreen model though, so you can't enjoy DVD movies in their full 16:9 aspect ratio glory, and the 1,280x1,024-pixel native resolution isn't ideal for users who like to have multiple windows on display simultaneously.
The monitor's integrated speakers aren't very good, so if you like to enjoy music while you listen to it, we'd recommend investing in a set of six-channel speakers. The motherboard's comprehensive Intel high-definition audio system lets you enjoy DVD movies in full surround sound.
Compaq has put together a strong software package for the SR1729. It includes the Windows XP Home Edition operating system, Microsoft Works 8 for office productivity tasks, Sonic MyDVD and Intervideo WinDVD for video playback, and Sonic RecordNow for burning discs. At the time of writing, Compaq is also offering all SR1729 customers the option of buying discounted software via an affiliate Web store.
The Compaq Presario SR1729's dual-core Intel Pentium D 920 CPU is a powerful solution, but this PC isn't as fast as others that use it. It achieved a PCMark 2006 score of 3,066, which would have been very impressive a year ago, even on high-end PCs, but it's noticeably lower than that of the similarly equipped Dell Dimension 5150c, which scored 3,241.
Its 3DMark 2006 tally of 254 is also sub-par. It managed to run Doom 3 at a frustratingly slow, but arguably playable, 17.1 frames per second, but this figure dropped to 10.8fps at 1,024x768-pixel resolution, so if you're at all interested in playing games you'll want to upgrade the graphics card with a more modern PCI Express model.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide