4 cores + HT is the most that Intel offers for desktops at the moment, and they outperform AMD. Clearly a top end CPU was out of the question anyway due to cost. 8GB is pretty healthy, remembering that until late last year Intel's mobile i7 CPUs didn't even support more than 4GB.
BluRay is the current generation and highest capacity optical drive available. What else is there for physical media? Or were you hoping for download-only, because I don't think many people would be happy with that.
500GB HDD... What were you planning to put on it? And how much do you want to pay? Keep in mind that it's not just the cost you as a consumer pay - MS gets bulk prices but that includes fewer rights to return faulty units (which cost them money to swap out at the service department anyway) so for them picking a single 500GB platter model that will be a bit cheaper and a few percent more reliable than a 1TB model is very much worth it.
Doubtless it will be behind the curve even at launch when compared to PCs, but this thing will be the current machine for at least 5 years so even if it was cutting edge it would only be for a fraction of its lifetime.