Servers are typically high-end computers because they have to be fast. But end users demand excellent performance from their desktops as well. The HP Compaq dc7600 Convertible Minitower PC is HP's answer to this demand. With an Intel 2.8GHz Pentium D dual-core 820 processor, an ATI Technologies RADEON x300 PCI Express graphics card, and an 80GB 3GBps 7200 rpm Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive, the dc7600 is engineered for desktop performance. But although this latest and greatest business desktop PC will probably help your system run the next generation of software, it might be more than you need for many of today's applications.

Dual-core processors are processors with multiple execution cores on the same chip. While this technology offers obvious benefits for CPU-limited server applications, many desktop applications don't take advantage of this capability. To benefit from a dual-core processor, either a system must be running a processor-intensive multithreaded application or the user must be running two or more processor-intensive applications simultaneously. Many processor-intensive desktop applications, such as games, or audio and video encoders, are not multithreaded. Web browsers and word processors, two of the most common desktop applications, simply don't put enough demand on the CPU to make full use of even a single-core processor. Other desktop applications do make use of multicore processors, however. Graphics designers who use software such as Adobe Photoshop or AutoDesk 3D Studio Max and developers who run Web servers and databases on their desktops will likely appreciate the dual-core processor.

To test the dc7600, I used it exclusively for 2 days while Performance Monitor collected statistics about my processor, memory, and disk utilization. My 2-day trial used the version of Windows XP that the system came with, but I also installed the beta of Windows Vista to see how Microsoft's next generation OS behaved on high-end hardware. Vista took advantage of the graphics card to add nice visual effects without a performance loss.

The dc7600 was a pleasure to use, and I can attest to its fast response times, yet I hardly touched its capabilities. An analysis of the Performance Monitor log showed that my 2-day trial didn't push the system's limits. With Performance Monitor collecting data every 15 seconds, total processor utilization exceeded 50 percent (indicating that one processor was fully utilized) in only 287 out of 4022 records. To exclude the times when I was away from my computer, I threw out 366 samples for which total processor utilization was zero. The resulting average processor utilization over 2 days was 2.44 percent for the first processor and 4.22 percent for the second.

The highest processor utilization occurred during the first 2 hours of use, when I was installing software. I also used Blender rendering software and the beta version of Microsoft Expression Acrylic Graphic Designer, which caused processor utilization spikes during some operations. Google Earth didn't tax the system, however, nor did the beta version of Windows Vista, which includes many enhanced graphics features. I suspect both Google Earth and Vista offloaded processing to the video card, leaving both of my processor cores idle. Performance Monitor did show that memory pages per second and the average disk queue length counters were usually high at times of peak processor utilization, indicating that disk and memory, rather than the CPU, caused my bottlenecks most of the time.

Moving all its processors to dual-core is part of Intel's strategy for the next generation of processors (called Platform 2015), and dual-core is likely to be a feature on all processors in the near future. With this in mind, I recommend the dc7600 for users who run processor-intensive applications. At $1029, the configuration I tested isn't unreasonably priced. However, if you must choose between a faster disk, more memory, and a dual-core processor, I'd go with disk or memory unless your CPU is the bottleneck for the applications you use most often.