Best Media Center deal ever?

Update 9-Sep-2008: This deal is expired, but HP has replaced it a similar one, which you can read about in this follow-up post.

HP is running a special right now that allows you to get a fully loaded Media Center PC, complete with CableCARD-ready digital tuner, for the best price I’ve ever seen.

The HP Pavilion Elite m9300t is the top of the Entertainment Powerhouse line at HP. Until August 31, you can use an online coupon to get 30% off any system you order in this line, which starts out with some pretty aggressive pricing to begin with.

Using this coupon, you could get a quad-core system with an internal TV tuner and an external ATI TV Wonder digital cable tuner for under $850, including tax and shipping. Here are the specs for that system:

series product imageHP Pavilion Elite m9300t
customizable Desktop PC

  • Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 for digital cable tuner (32-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Quad processor Q6600 (2.4GHz)
  • 2GB DDR2-800MHz dual channel SDRAM (2 modules)
  • 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9500GS, DVI-I, VGA, HDMI
  • 750GB 7200 rpm SATA 3Gb/s hard drive
  • Ethernet LAN port on system board (10/100/1000Mbps)
  • LightScribe 16X max. DVD+/-R/RW SuperMulti drive
  • 15-in-1 memory card reader, 2 USB, 1394, video, audio
  • ATI TV Wonder external digital cable tuner + internal TV tuner
  • Integrated 7.1 channel sound w/ front audio ports)
  • HP keyboard and optical mouse

I wasn’t particularly excited to see Microsoft Works 9.0 and Norton Internet Security 2008 (a one-year subscription) on the list of configuration items that couldn’t be changed. There are probably a few other bits of crapware hanging around as well. And because you need to use this custom edition of Windows Vista to get digital cable support, you can’t wipe it away and do a clean install.

You could actually cut the price by roughly $50 if you accept the default 320GB hard drive. For a Media Center PC that is going to be used to record HD content, I think the $50 upgrade charge to bump this drive to 750GB is well worth it. The most interesting upgrade option I see on the list is for the CPU, where you can spend an extra $120 or $200 (less a 30% discount, of course) to go up to a Penryn quad-core processor (Q9300 at 2.5 GHz or Q9450 at 2.66 GHz, both with a faster bus than the Q6600, plus support for SSE 4.1). You can also throw in a Blu-ray drive for $150, which is a pretty decent price if you plan to use this PC in a living room or den attached directly to a TV and you want to be able to play Blu-ray disks.

It’s worth noting that you can’t get a second digital cable tuner as part of this order (I asked). Nor can you get Vista Ultimate or any 64-bit Vista edition with digital cable support as part of this system. If you plan to use a CableCARD tuner, you must choose the “32-bit Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 for digital cable tuner” option. (Before anyone asks: I seriously doubt whether the Media Center TV Feature Pack is included in this build.)

To get this configuration, start at the Pavilion Elite m9300t series home page at After building the configuration you want, add it to your cart and use the coupon code DT9021 during checkout to take 30% off the total. (My understanding is that this coupon expires on August 31.) Choose 5-7 day shipping to get no-charge delivery.

I’ve never seen a price this low for a fully equipped system that actually includes a digital cable tuner. Currently, the best price I can get for a similarly equipped Dell XPS 420 is about $400 more. If you’ve been thinking about getting one of these systems and you can live with a single digital tuner, this is a good bet.

15 thoughts on “Best Media Center deal ever?

  1. This is a good deal, but doesn’t seem as good as the deal you posted last April with the Dell Inspiron 530. True it didn’t have a TV Tuner or Vista, but it did have more ram and was $499.

    Although if you really want a TV tuner, like you said, this is a pretty good deal!

    Although my experience with HP has been so horrible, and I don’t know anyone with an HP that hasn’t had trouble with them, I would almost not recommend it. Most issues seem to be in HP’s laptops (although this is all stuff that’s happened to me and my family).

    I just always think twice before I go HP again, sorry!

  2. Cory, I have a fairly new HP notebook which has been exceptional to use. Well, after I RMA’d the first one I got, which had a defective motherboard. The real issue here is the digital cable support, which you can only get from an OEM in certain configurations, and this price is astonishing.

  3. Actually…. you’re right. Between that and the fact that I somehow missed the 512MB NVIDIA GeForce card when I first read this, it really is quite a good deal! Especially since it’s the 9000 series!

    Too bad you can’t get a 64 bit with digital cable though.

  4. The hardware is nice, and the price is right, but why in the world is there a custom build of Windows Vista Home Premium? Microsoft has essentially added yet another edition of Vista to the already big pile:
    Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 for digital cable tuner (32-bit).

    I like and use my Vista Media Center, but this is just ridiculous. There should be THREE Windows desktop builds: Home, Business and Ultimate. Creating even MORE builds at this stage in the game makes ZERO sense. Again, great hardware, great price, but brain dead software setup.

  5. Carl, it’s not actually a custom build. It’s a feature pack (digital cable support) that is only delivered via OEM. From a functional point of view, without the DCT, it is identical to Vista Home Premium.

    That is a requirement of Cable Labs, btw. It is absolutely not a Microsoft decision.

  6. This looks like a clearance item, if the Fiji upgrade is not included in this build. If I am interested in diving into an OEM Vista Media center machine (in order to record HD cable channels like ESPN via cablecard), why wouldn’t I just wait a few weeks and go for one of the new machines with the Fiji upgrade?

  7. No, Dana, this is not a clearance item. And if you want the TV Feature Pack, you can download it from several different sources and install it on the new system when it arrives.

  8. Thanks for posting the information. My following comments are in no way meant to disparage either the deal or your recommendation:

    1) I have to agree with the spirit of Carl’s comments, despite being mostly ignorant (myself) of the specific features and requirements (or the issues for that matter). I simply don’t want to spend a lot of time researching a product to avoid winding up in a techno cul-de-sac.

    2) I’d certainly be plenty angry if a software re-install forced me to jump through hoops to re-enable hardware I’d already paid for. Or if I were completely orphaned.

    3) Re: “Absolutely not a Microsoft requirement.” Can’t big bad Microsoft or big bad HP obtain a few concessions from little bitty Cable Labs? Not for their sake, but um, maybe for the consumer?

    4) I guess this sort of debacle is the natural result of year after year of punks stealing encoded movies and music.

    5) It’s just too complicated. Mind you, I appreciate you letting me know so I can just stay inside my apartment all day and all night.

    6) I’m probably not qualified to comment on these matters.

  9. Thanks, Ed for the tip. I had been looking to upgrade to a DCT and last time I was shopping was going to be around 2 grand. I jumped on this one going for the DCT, 512mb graphics, and 750gb storage.

    What I am going to be curious about is if it will have recovery media included, and if it is going to be os seperated from apps and drivers like they used to do it, or whether it will be an image with crapware installed.

    Also, Ed , do you know if it is possible to add another DCT not from the factory and have it be supported? If so where would one find one? Or is this another little tweak of the feature pack that mandates that it has to be installed at the factory? Which leads to me to yet another question, what does one do with a DCT system should a tuner fail? Return to the factory or scrap pile? Would love to see a feature/post on this in the future.

    Thanks again.

  10. I have one question, is this motherboard supporting Core 2 Extreme processors? I suppose it is Asus IPIBL-LB, HP page with m9340f specification is showing only Core 2 Quads, but not extreme editions…

  11. George, they sell only with the listed CPUs, which top out at Q9450. No QX models. I suspect you could upgrade it yourself, but that would eat most or all of the cost savings…

  12. Ed, that is exactly true, but later I would have possibility to upgrade in future when I am rich 🙂
    I had troubles to find any information about the card from ASUS, can I run the CPU or motherboard if I try QX in there?
    Another question I have is the Graphics card, I googled it and most of the time I received cards for laptop. Is it a small laptop card really inside this computer? Also form factor is micro-ATX: 9.6 in X 9.6 in , does that mean that card is really small one and I would not be able upgrade with some big graphics cards like 9800 GX2 or similar?

  13. Sorry, there should be “ruin” (or burn) instead run in this sentence:
    I had troubles to find any information about the card from ASUS, can I “run” the CPU or motherboard if I try QX in there?

  14. George, I have no idea about upgrading the CPU. In my experience, it is an upgrade not worth doing. You’re better off getting a barebones system with a new mobo later if you want to upgrade, then swap your other components into it.

    The 9500 GS video card is a standard PCI-e x16 card. You should be able to substitute any PCI-e card for it.

  15. Ed, thank you very much for this great deal and for all you information and comments.
    I would like to add to this, that if you choose 24in monitor with it, you will receive another $50 off.

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