by Shawn Fu, Massachusetts USA
HP describes its HP Pavilion ze2000z notebooks as "value mobility" class of products on its website. Although the ze2000z can be outfitted with goodies such as the AMD Turion processor, the model in this review, Circuit City's exclusive ze2113us, is equipped with the following:
HP ZE2000z top view with lid closed (view larger image)
The Road to Purchasing
With the approach of autumn, the prospect of heading off to college loomed large on my mind. Since school was some four hundred miles away and considering the dearth of space in the family minivan, it didn't make sense to bring my cumbersome desktop CPU and 19" CRT monitor along for the ride. Finding an affordable yet functional laptop became a top priority. Specifically, I hoped to be able to do basic school-related tasks (writing papers, creating spreadsheets, e-mailing, etc.) while still having enough computing muscle to proficiently run applications such as Adobe Photoshop. Other considerations included wireless capability, style, and, as mentioned earlier, price.
Finally, after several weeks of searching, a fortuitous glance at a Circuit City circular seemed to find a laptop that fit the bill. I bought the ze2113us in person at the store, for about $650 after $250 in rebates. For the price, there was no other system that offered comparable specifications. At best, other models could match everything, except for a DVD writer, but still cost at least $50 more. I certainly felt that I received a good deal, especially when the about of rebates offered on the ze2113us decreased in the following weeks.
Build and Design
HP really did a good job with the ze2000 series. The hard, plastic silver exterior of the notebook lends it an upscale feel, making it look more expensive that it really is. A black, textured matte frames the interior and provides contrast. The keyboard flex is barely perceptible during normal typing, though hard keystrokes do cause some noticeable flex. At first I didn't really fancy the same matte black material of the interior being used on the touchpad, but I grew to like it there, provided some friction and tactile feedback as opposed to a smooth pad.
The hinges on the screen unfortunately do not hold it in place well enough to stop it from bouncing when poked, though otherwise it seems sturdy enough. It's fairly hard to bend the screen, but pushing on it from behind does cause ripples to appear in the display.
HP ZE2000z left side view (view larger image)
HP ZE2000z right side view (view larger image)
HP ZE2000z lid and back side view (view larger image)
HP ZE2000 screen (view larger image)
Having heard mixed reviews of BrightView-type screens, I was a bit concerned about how my eyes would feel after hours of staring at my laptop screen. Thankfully, after a month of use, I can report no instances of eyestrain. In fact, my eyes are much less tired after long stints working on the laptop than when I was using a CRT.
The display itself is quite pleasing to view, and the reflective surface that is characteristic of BrightView displays does not hamper my viewing experience at all. The backlighting is even and there are no dead pixels that I can find. It is truly a beautiful display and I must say that I am impressed to have gotten it for such a low price point.
The Altec Lansing speakers sit at the front edge of the bottom lip of the notebook. Though fine at low volumes, the sound that they produce at moderate to high volumes is marred by distorted bass and tinny treble. Using an equalizer to dial down bass levels would be a good idea. Investing in a pair of quality headphones or speakers would do wonders for your ears.
HP ZE2000 speaker (view larger image)
Since the ze2000 series is a value line, I didn't expect much performance out of my notebook. The shortcomings of the Sempron processor become apparent during mp3 encoding processes (converting ripped wav files to VBR mp3 files using LAME) and CPU-intensive commands in Photoshop. Startup time generally takes around 65 seconds from the time the button is pressed to the time you hear the Windows startup ditty through the speakers.
My main concern with the laptop is its lack of RAM memory. Since the video card takes 128mb of the total memory, only 384mb remains for running applications. Performance can get rather sluggish when multiple programs are run simultaneously. During normal operation, running iTunes (playing mp3s), AOL Instant Messenger, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Outlook at the same time does not slow things down too much. However, it all depends on how much is being done in these programs, so your mileage may vary. In any case, a memory upgrade should be your first order of business when you have some extra cash.
We use Super Pi to get a benchmark of processor speed. The Super Pi program (download: ftp://pi.super-computing.org/windows/super_pi.zip) simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy. Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark:
Comparison of notebooks using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):
|HP ZE2113 (1.6 GHz, AMD Sempron 2800+)||2m 20s|
|Fujitsu S6231 (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 6s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Pentium M)||1m 57s|
|HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)||1m 53s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
Keyboard, Touchpad, and Shortcut Keys
HP ZE2000z keyboard and touchpad view (view larger image)
I've been satisfied for the most part with the controls on this laptop. The keyboard is responsive and easy to type on, with plenty of tactile feel and acceptable noise. There is almost no flex during routine typing and getting acclimated with the key layout was fairly painless. The touch pad is easy to use and the textured surface offers surprisingly good feedback. There are customizable vertical and horizontal scrolling regions, along with the requisite special tapping areas, all of which can be set up through the software. There is no way to disable the touchpad with an external button anywhere on the laptop, unlike on some of the Compaq laptops, for example. There are keys for volume up and down; mute; and toggling the wireless card on and off. Since I am listening to music all the time, I really miss the inclusion of playback controls to start, pause, and skip tracks in music programs. HP did include shortcut keys for those operations on the keyboard (they are accessible by pressing a combination of the function key and the F keys), but the music application must be the active app for these keys to work, rendering them useless since I could just use the mouse to complete whatever function was required. However, for the money, I'm happy with what this laptop has got.
HP ZE2000 touchpad and front side view (view larger image)
HP ZE2000 top of keyboard view (view larger image)
Cooling and Noise
As far as noise goes, this notebook is neither rudely loud nor whisper quiet. Its fan noise pales in comparison to that of my roommate's two-year old Dell laptop, which sounds like a small turboprop throttling up its engines. I suppose I would describe the noise that the HP makes as a calm whooshing sound. The fan tends to come on quite often when processor-intensive applications are run, but otherwise only comes on periodically. Heat is not a problem when the notebook is used in a cool, well-ventilated area, but when it sits on a desk in a stuffy room, it can run a bit hot. Still, it doesn't seem to be hotter than my roommate's Dell.
Input and Output Ports
Nothing really stands out as far as ports are concerned for this laptop. Located on the left side are the PCMCIA (PC card) slot, one USB port, 56K modem port, Ethernet port, VGA output port for connecting to an external monitor, and AC adapter port. The right side houses the notebook lock port, an S-video out port, and another USB port. The headphone and microphone ports are located on the front of the notebook, to the right of the latch. Some might bemoan the lack of a Firewire port, parallel port, or extra USB ports, but personally I am fine with the current configuration. I have so many USB devices that I ended up buying a seven-port hub anyway. If you truly desire more ports, there is an upgrade for the video card that adds Firewire, an extra USB port, etc.
Wireless, of course, was one of the things I was desperately seeking in a laptop and this one certainly does not disappoint. The integrated b/g card does not seem particularly adept at picking up signals, but I can get a signal from my router from just about anywhere in the house. Alas, it does only pick up about one third of the networks that my desktop card does, but keep in mind that the latter has a bulky external antenna. In short, the wireless doesn't boast the best range, but it works.
After reading the impromptu reviews posted on CircuitCity.com, I approached these battery trials with a fair bit of apprehension. Most of the reviews pointed out the battery life as a major drawback to this otherwise feature-packed notebook. I went through a few charge/discharge cycles on the stock lithium-ion battery before actually timing the drain process. With wireless turned off, screen at its third-lowest brightness setting, and some common applications running (Microsoft Outlook, iTunes, AOL Instant Messenger, Firefox, Adobe Photoshop), the battery lasted for 2 hours and 25 minutes, blowing away the less-than-ninety minute results reported on the Circuit City website.
Operating System and Software
Initially, I felt quite strongly that the laptop I thought should run Windows XP Professional, but since my school didn't require it, I stuck with the XP Home that was preloaded on this machine. Like most retail computers, the laptop came loaded with a slew of superfluous software which I methodically uninstalled. CDs for restoring the system to its original state are included. Overall, the software package failed to impress, though it did include WinDVD (4.0) and the Sonic CD/DVD authoring suite.
I thankfully have not had the opportunity to test out HP's technical support services, though the computer did come with a one-year warranty on parts and labor, as well as one year of toll-free tech support.
Praises and Complaints
For what I paid, I received quite a bit in this laptop. I especially enjoy the classy looks, beautiful screen, and surprisingly decent battery life. The DVD burner is something that I am very excited to try out, once I obtain some media. The wireless has freed me from my desk at home, and the customizable touchpad makes browsing webpages much easier. Most of the issues I've found border on niggling, such as the placement of the headphone port on the front of the case as opposed to the side, or the lack of true shortcut keys for media players.
The ze2113us represents an incredible value for the money. The list of extras runs very long: Brightview screen, DVD burner, built-in wireless; yet it does not compromise style or quality. For me, it is the perfect size for a machine that I can tote to class and yet it also an excellent school companion for those late nights of studying.
Availability and Pricing: HP Pavilion ze2000z
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