Most pre-built gaming desktops that we see use a familiar formula: Intel CPU, Nvidia graphics card. That’s why we were intrigued by the chance to test the HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690, which makes use of AMD silicon on both scores: a Ryzen CPU and a Radeon GPU. At $ 779 as tested (in HP’s specific model 690-0020), this PC configuration packs some impressive value. For less cash than a single Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition graphics card, you’re getting a compact desktop gaming PC that’s capable of playing the latest AAA titles at a mainstream 1080p resolution with the visual quality settings cranked up. That’s the most you can ask from a budget-priced gaming PC, and just one of the reasons that this HP model is a strong pick for getting the most for your money. That said, the lack of an SSD in this configuration puts a damper on the deal; this PC otherwise would have scored an Editors’ Choice award.
Big Impact, Small Form Factor
The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690 is a jazzed-up version of HP’s mainstream Pavilion compact towers. It isn’t big. Its 16-liter case is about half the capacity of a typical mid-tower. It measures 13.3 inches long, 10.9 inches high, and 6.7 inches wide, and it weighs about 11.5 pounds.
Aside from the green-themed ports on the front panel, the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690 has a sober look when off. When powered on, a green light strip vertically divides the space.
To its left is the slim tray-load DVD burner, and to its right the power button, an audio combo jack, an SD card reader, two USB Type-A 3.0 ports, and a USB Type-C 3.1 port. That’s as solid a collection of front-accessible ports as you can expect in a mainstream or budget PC.
The case is mostly made of metal. However, the construction doesn’t inspire confidence; the case materials are thin, and it feels hollow.
One Phillips-head screw holds on the left panel, which slides off easily enough…
The low-profile CPU cooler and the rear 80mm fan are visible, while the rest of the interior is shrouded behind the hard drive mounting panel you can see here. The panel is held in place with some nonstandard slotted screws. They’re no doubt removable, but it’s a hassle you should not have to face.
Removing the drive panel provides access to the motherboard’s two DDR4-2666 DIMM slots (they support 32GB of RAM in a two-16GB DIMM configuration) and single M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for SSDs, here empty. One 8GB memory module is installed in this test unit. (One DIMM means no dual-channel functionality, but on the plus side, you can upgrade to 16GB without ditching the 8GB you paid for.) The only storage drive is a slow 3.5-inch 1TB hard drive.
The Radeon RX 580 graphics card takes up a good portion of the interior. It’s a two-slot card but shorter than most cards I’ve seen based on the RX 580 chip, chosen or designed to fit inside the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690’s compact chassis. (See our review of another Radeon RX 580 card, from XFX, which should deliver similar performance.)
The interior wiring is surprisingly minimal. The multi-colored cables coming from the power supply look generic, but you’ll never see them unless the desktop side panel is off. Rated for 400 watts, the power supply in our unit carries a nod-worthy 80 Plus Platinum rating.
I’m not apt to complain about the unfinished look of the case’s metal posterior at this price. Microphone, line-in, and line-out audio jacks dot the top left. Further down are blocked-off video ports on the motherboard (this configuration has a dedicated graphics card, so they’re disabled), an Ethernet jack, two USB Type-A 2.0 ports, and four USB Type-A 3.0 ports…
The Radeon RX 580 graphics card has one HDMI video-out and three DisplayPort video-out connectors; bear this (and the need for an adapter) in mind if you’re still rocking a monitor with DVI and VGA inputs only. The bottom-mounted power supply means you won’t have a power cable dangling from the top.
Components and Cooling
Finding a pre-built desktop that matches the performance of the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690-0020 isn’t hard. However, finding one that does so at this price is a bit tougher. The Lenovo Legion Y520T mid-tower was the closest I found. It offers a faster Core i5-8400 six-core processor at the same price, but it takes a step down on the graphics card with just a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB. You’d need a GeForce GTX 1060 to match the Radeon RX 580 in the HP.
The AMD Ryzen 5 2400G is a quad-core processor that’s powerful enough for mainstream tasks. It’s an interesting chip because it’s one of the few Ryzen processors that has a built-in graphics solution. That functionality goes unused in this Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690-0020 configuration, however; the dedicated Radeon RX 580 graphics card in its PCI Express slot takes on those duties.
The single-channel 8GB memory setup in our test unit is adequate for day-to-day usage. It’s the minimum you’ll need for today’s AAA titles; don’t plan on doing a lot of multitasking while you’re gaming. The memory can be upgraded, as I noted earlier, with potentially no wastage.
That 1TB hard drive, though: I didn’t need benchmarks to tell me that it is the performance weak spot in this configuration. It’s painfully slow compared to a solid-state drive (SSD). Windows 10 updates took forever. Things got somewhat better after I uninstalled the McAfee anti-virus trial that came installed, but there’s no escaping the fact that in 2018, a hard drive is far from ideal for an OS drive. Once you’ve used a boot SSD, you can never go back. And in addition, the hard drive significantly held back the HP’s performance in certain of our benchmarks.
HP includes a basic USB keyboard and mouse with this desktop. They’re no-frills, as is the norm for included peripherals, but they work just fine. If you want to get serious with your gaming, though, you’ll want to invest in better. (See our picks for the best gaming keyboards, for starters.)
The active cooling exhaust in the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690 comes from an 80mm case fan, the power supply fan, and the blower-style cooler on the graphics card. These three fans are barely audible, under most usage conditions. In fact, the spinning whir and chatter sounds made by the 1TB hard drive are more prominent.
The 80mm exhaust fan and the one on the CPU cooler fan become noticeable when a demanding workload, like gaming, kicks in. Their collective motor noise is low-pitched and not likely to attract complaints. However, it’s one of those sounds that is most prominent when it’s gone; as soon as you stop gaming and the fans spin down, you realize it’s a lot quieter in the room. This HP isn’t quiet at full tilt, but it’s also not loud enough to be a deal-breaker, to my ears.
The cooling performance was adequate on a 30-minute stint in Rise of the Tomb Raider. At their peaks, I recorded the Ryzen 5 2400G processor reaching 77 degrees C, and the Radeon RX 580 at 85 degrees C. Both are within the acceptable range.
To the Test: Solid Power for 1080p
PC Labs recently revamped and modernized its benchmarking regimen, so our benchmark-results library isn’t as extensive for budget gaming PCs at the moment as in years past. Therefore, several of the machines in these comparison charts are much more powerful and expensive than the HP Pavilion Gaming 690-0020. (Then again, I always like rooting for the underdog.)
Here’s a quick core-component summary of the competing systems charted out below…
See How We Test Desktops
PCMark 10 (Productivity Test) and PCMark 8 (Storage Test)
PCMark 10 and PCMark 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a specialized Storage test that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s storage subsystem. This test also generates a proprietary score.
The lack of solid-state storage hurt the HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690-0020 badly in both PCMark tests, especially in the PCMark 8 Storage run. Even a small and inexpensive SSD boot drive would have made a world of difference.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The HP’s AMD Ryzen 5 2400G processor is predictably outclassed by the six- and eight-core Intel chips in some of the competition here. In its defense, this chip and this PC are far less expensive. And a score of 778 indicates the AMD chip has more-than-adequate grunt for most day-to-day usage. Tasks like video rendering are where you would feel the pinch.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. Lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
It’s pleasantly surprising that the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690-0020 did as well as it did given its hard drive-based storage and the much higher-end Core i7 and i9 CPUs in some of the other systems here. Its AMD processor is fast enough for this kind of bursty, start-stop work, and the RX 580 contributed its share.
3DMark (Sky Diver and Fire Strike Tests)
The extensive 3DMark test suite, also from UL, measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
The tougher Fire Strike benchmark highlights the relatively large performance gap between the HP’s Radeon RX 580 and the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti in the Lenovo Legion C530. A score of more than 10,000 in Fire Strike indicates the HP has ample power for 1080p gaming without compromising on visual quality settings.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets. These scores are reported in frames per second (fps).
Here again, the HP and its Radeon RX 580 graphics card dominate the GTX 1050 Ti-equipped Lenovo Legion C530. The difference is close to 50 percent in the GPU-limited 1080p High setting.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance.
Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. These are run on the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot for visuals and smooth performance for a given system. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11 based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for the benchmark. Bear in mind that the Trident X here has a cutting-edge GeForce RTX 2080 card inside that costs about as much as the whole Pavilion PC.
It turns out that the 3DMark and Superposition tests understated the real-world performance gap between the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690 and the Lenovo Legion C530. The Lenovo’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti is pushed to its limits in the 1080p tests, whereas the HP’s Radeon RX 580 doesn’t break a sweat. The HP is even capable of some modest 1440p pixel-pushing.
A Value for 1080p…But That Hard Drive
The right combination of price and performance is what sells the HP Pavilion Gaming 690-0020. The inclusion of a Radeon RX 580 graphics card makes it a strong gaming contender among machines in its price range, allowing it to drum up butter-smooth 1080p gaming performance in today’s demanding titles. That’s with the visual quality settings cranked, too; few desktops in this price range can claim to do that.
The pitfall of the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690-0020 configuration tested here, though, is its lack of SSD storage, relying instead on that painfully poky hard drive. That’s easy to remedy with an aftermarket upgrade to an inexpensive SSD, but we’d just as soon see HP raise the price a tiny bit and include one. The company does offer other Pavilion Gaming 590 and 690 configurations with SSDs, with Intel Optane Memory caches plus a hard drive, or with SSD and hard drive pairings, but none with the same AMD-centric core components as this one. We’ll put an SSD on the wish list for next time. This time around, though, the Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690-0020 crosses out almost everything else from that list that you could reasonably want in a budget gaming PC.