by Jonathan Esten, Virginia USA
This is a review of the Hewlett-Packard dv4000 with the optional ATI x700 discrete graphics card. This is a mainstream 15.4" widescreen notebook weighing about 6.5 pounds. I ordered the Pentium M 750, 512 Megs of RAM, 80 gigabyte 5400 RPM hard drive, DVD-RW drive, glossy BrightView screen, and integrated wireless.
HP dv4000 Notebook with ATI X700 card (view larger image)
Reasons for Ordering
As a law student, I use my notebook computer everyday for at least eight hours. My classes and other responsibilities have me working all over the building, so that necessitates a notebook. I don't do anything too intensive; mostly word processing, e-mail, and surfing the internet (for legal research only, of course!). In fact, if the fans weren't dying on my old Dell Inspiron 4150 I would be happy to keep using that.
So, why didn't I just buy a low-end notebook for seven or eight hundred bucks that'd still be an upgrade from the more-than-three-year-old Dell? I've moved at least twice each of the past three years. My desktop machine is six years old, and since I was moving so much I didn't upgrade at all for these last three years. At this point, I need to gut that thing and essentially build a whole new gaming computer.
That's right: I needed a notebook and a gaming computer.
The siren song of Sager tempted me. I drooled over the 5320 and the 5720. The 5720's gaming performance would carry me for the next three years, I was certain. For a thousand dollars above what I ended up paying for the HP Pavilion dv4000, a smokin' 5720 could've been mine.
One and a half years from now, though, I'm going to be moving again and (hopefully) I'll be making more money than I did as a teacher before law school. I don't know if I'll need to move my computer around for work even more at that time or if I won't need one at all; maybe I'll be doing my work on a desktop. With more money coming in, I'm going to want to build a new gaming system with top-of-the-line tech, and I wouldn't be able to upgrade a 5720 to that level.
Compromise isn't easy, but I decided to find a notebook that would game well today and have enough legs to (again, hopefully) maintain decent, playable settings for the next year and a half. After that, I'll be doing my gaming on a desktop again and mobility will become more important. The 5720 would be too darned big at that point. The weight wouldn't bother me, but I've watched folks tote around Dell Inpsiron 9300s and the bulk sure would. I'd be willing to take the extra bulk in trade if the notebook is my gaming machine, but my pure work machine needs to be smaller.
For a blend of portability and gaming, I configured an HP Pavilion dv4000 as follows. With discounts, rebates, and free shipping, it came out to just over $1300.
HP Pavilion dv4000 customizable Notebook PC specs as configured:
I opted for the Broadcom Wi-Fi instead of Intel because so many people have reported issues with the Intel 2200BG. The Broadcom was also said to have better range. I added the fifteen dollar remote for watching DVDs on the road.
HP dv4000 above view (view larger image)
The first design issue I want to mention is one I actually didn't purchase: the 12-cell high-capacity battery. This battery lifts the back of the computer up and tilts the keyboard at an angle like an old typewriter. The ergonomics of this forward tilt really stink for a typist's wrists. Since there aren't any split-keyboard notebooks with a reverse tilt, the least I want is a flat keyboard. So, the 12-cell battery was out.
Personally, I like the looks of the HP line. The dv4000 has a plastic exterior with silver sides and top. The interior is a nicely textured, matte black; a step in the right direction from the glossy black of some older HP notebooks I've seen. That gloss surface looks like a fingerprint magnet. I think there is a gloss trim around the keyboard and hotkeys, but I haven't peeled off the protective stickers yet. The indicator LED lights are a pleasant blue -- not too bright. The Caps Lock and Num Lock lights are right next to their respective keys; a nice touch. A similar blue light indicates when a card in the media reader is being accessed, and yet another blue LED right above the Wi-Fi on/off button glows when the Wi-Fi is on.
Front-firing speakers look nice and don't seem to be muffled by my wrists as I type. The sound is not as nice with the Altec Lansing speakers as the HP models that used to use Harmon Kardon speakers. The volume control is good compared to the old Dell Inspiron 4150; on that, I had to have the volume maxed out in Windows to hear anything. I use headphones for gaming, but the speakers are nice enough to watch a movie on.
HP dv4000 with media remote on top (view larger image)
My big complaint in the looks department comes from the helpful labels that cover the keyboard and the surrounding area. The white labels for the ports and the bright blue arrow keys and function key guide look a little Playskool to me. My second complaint would be the bezel on the optical drive tray. This bezel wraps around to the bottom of the machine on the right side, adding to the clean lines of the computer. Unfortunately, I really wanted to pick the computer up by both sides right around the middle of the machine; this results in picking the computer up by the right side of the optical drive bezel. Flexing the drive tray like that can't be the best thing for it, so I've trained myself to pick the computer up from the front and back.
Keyboard: Antiquated ideas of ergonomics seem to prevail in notebook design today, and most notebooks seem to have at least some forward tilt. With the 6 cell battery, the dv4000 only has a few degrees of forward tilt, though, and it is comfortable enough. There is no flex, and the key travel is just about the right distance for me. I'm not a hard or a light typist, so the medium-springiness of the keys feels just right for me.
HP dv4000 Keyboard view (view larger image)
Screen: My 15.4" widescreen is evenly backlit, very bright, and has no dead pixels. Images and videos really pop with the BrightView option. The lack of other resolution options might be a bad thing for some. For me, the 1280x800 WXGA is perfect. I have enough desktop real estate, and I can run games at the native resolution with the x700 no problem. Hopefully, I'll be able to do that a year and a half from now, and I doubt that can be said about WUXGA screens.
There is some screen flex since this is a plastic-cased notebook. The flex is on par with that of a friend's Dell Latitude 810 (a business class notebook). Pressing on the back of the notebook with firm pressure does cause minor screen ripples. This certainly isn't an extra durable machine with an aluminum or carbon-fiber case. I don't beat my machine up very much, so "sturdy on a desk" is all I ask of my notebook and the dv4000 certainly is that. The hinges are firm and I hope they prove durable.
For surfing, streaming video, and the occasional movie, the built-in speakers are fine. They aren't anything to write home about, and I would definitely recommend getting headphones for gaming. For action movies on DVD, I use headphones as well. The output from the headphone port is very crisp and clean. Listening to music with headphones, I'm hard-pressed to tell the difference between the sound quality of the dv4000 headphone port and my iPod.
Touchpad and Ports
The touchpad is slightly recessed into the palm rest, so I don't find my thumb accidentally brushing it when I type. A slight texture on the touchpad provides a different feel than the smooth surface of my old Dell touchpad. It seems to give better control of the cursor. The big triumph in texturing, though, is the textured scroll bar on the right side of the touchpad. The little ridges provide great control when scrolling; I can scroll line-by-line, at top speed, or somewhere in between. I thought I would want the pad to be a little larger with a similar scroll-bar on the bottom. The wide screen doesn't have me scrolling side-to-side very much, though.
HP dv4000 front side view (view larger image)
The dv4000 comes with a wide array of ports (marked with the somewhat annoying labels around the keyboard). Along the left side, starting at the back, we have: the power port, modem port, LAN port, Expansion Port 2 (for a port replicator or docking station), two USB 2.0 ports, firewire port, 6-in-1 media card reader, PCMCIA card slot and ExpressCard slot.
HP dv4000 left side view (view larger image)
Along the right side, from the front, we see: the optical drive (a DVDR/W), the headphone jack, the mic-in jack, two more USB ports, a VGA port, an S-Video out, and the slot for a Kensington-style lock.
HP dv4000 right side view (view larger image)
The back of the notebook is port-free, as most is taken up by the battery and what remains is used for a vent. Along the front, we have the two speakers and the power, charge, and HD access lights. Next to these lights is the IR port.
HP dv4000 back side (view larger image)
I chose the Broadcom 802.11b/g wireless adapter because it is reputed to have a little better range than the Intel b/g card. The integrated card has much better range than the PCMCIA card I used in my previous computer. I don't have any need for Bluetooth, but that is an option for an extra charge.
I can get just under three hours of normal use on a fully charged battery. Normal use for me includes using Word, Outlook, surfing the web, and Google Talk; at least three, usually all four at a time. I keep the screen at 50% brightness when on battery. That's enough time for me, so I didn't get the optional 12-cell battery as my second battery. The 12-cell tilts the computer up at a bad angle and juts out in a way that would make it more difficult to get the notebook in a bag.
I had a copy of XP Professional, so I would've been happy to order the system with no O.S. Since that wasn't an option, I just did a clean install of Pro. HP does include an O.S. disc and a disc with all of the factory-installed drivers and programs. Many of these programs are the standard bloatware -- ISPs like AOL and MSN, for example. A copy of Microsoft Works is included, a trial of Norton Internet Security with Antivirus was a surprise inclusion, and trial versions of several Zone games like Text Twist provided a few distractions.
HP also includes some proprietary programs, and I installed those just to see how they worked. The manager for the QuickLaunch buttons doesn't do anything for me; I don't want to change them from their default functions. The included "Wireless Assistant" is a waste of time and slows down the boot process -- as far as I can tell, all it does is let me know whether my Wi-Fi is on or off. Funny, the light above the on/off button for the Wi-Fi right below my screen does that just fine! Another included program, HP Software Update, is useful. It duplicates Windows Update, but it also checks for new HP approved versions of the drivers for all the hardware installed. From the web interface, there are also a slew of diagnostic tools for the screen, processor, optical drive, hard drive, ports... The screen diagnostic cycles through colors (a great way to check for dead or stuck pixels) and geometric patterns that will let you know if your aspect ratio is screwy.
While the update program is useful, it doesn't need to be running in the background or at start-up. Changing these defaults frees up some system resources. Like Microsoft Update, I just run the HP program every week or two manually.
I used the computer for quite a while before writing this review to make sure that I had some real-life performance to report instead of just some benchmarks. As already mentioned, this computer performs incredibly well for my daily tasks. My dv4000 boots to Windows in 49 seconds; not great, but anything under a minute is okay by me. I'm sure I can shave a few seconds off with a little registry cleaning. The performance bottleneck right now is the amount of RAM I have at the moment, the 512 Megs ordered. Since that was a promotion at the time I ordered, I decided to stick with that until the new year before upgrading the RAM with some SO-DIMMs off of NewEgg.com.
Almost any computer can run Office, e-mail, and surf the internet today. The fact that the dv4000 does it without breaking a sweat is no surprise. How does the dv4000 perform when put to the test? I ran SuperPi, Futuremark's 3DMark05 and PCMark04, and HDTune. The results follow.
Notebook Time HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 39s Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 39s 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
HD Tune benchmark results (view larger image)
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||3.33 MB/s||3.36 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||27.19 MB/s||27.7 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||23.4 MB/s||24.3 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||10.88 MPixels/s||11.04 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1914.17 MB/s||1986.89 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||2.82 KB/s||2.95 KB/s|
|File Decryption||54.11 MB/s||55.58 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2496.87 KB/s||2555.25 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||5.27 Pages/s||5.44 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||51.71 FPS||52.4 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||159.19 FPS||186.5 FPS|
|Graphics Memory - 64 Lines||868.44 FPS||1830.06 FPS|
|Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores|
|3DMark Score||727 3DMarks||2,536 3D Marks|
|CPU Score||3414 CPUMarks||3557 CPUMarks|
|GT1 - Return To Proxycon||3.3 FPS||10.3 FPS|
|GT2 - Firefly Forest||2.2 FPS||8.0 FPS|
|GT3 - Canyon Flight||3.4 FPS||12.6 FPS|
|CPU Test 1||1.18 FPS||1.3 FPS|
|CPU Test 2||2.9 FPS||3.1 FPS|
For real-life gaming, I've run through FarCry at medium settings at the screen's native resolution without a problem. Medium settings for Doom3 also don't seem to challenge the dv4000 or the x700. The just-adequate amount of RAM I have installed now is likely the only problem I would encounter with this configuration. I haven't tried cranking the settings of FarCry or Doom3 up to maximum settings because I'm not gaming to stretch my hardware to the limits; I just wanted to play the games I've missed the last couple of years! With exams looming, I haven't purchased Half Life 2 or F.E.A.R. yet, so I don't know how playable they are with my current configuration. When I install additional RAM after December, perhaps I'll try seeing just how far I can crank the settings.
Heat and Noise
When the dv4000 fan comes on, it comes on at full speed. This sudden burst is quite noticeable, but once the fan throttles down it is almost imperceptible. The fan has a slightly low pitch instead of a whine, so it blends easily into any background noise. Under prolonged use or heavy use such as gaming, the bottom of the notebook does get warm to the touch. Not hot, just warm. The black surface around the keyboard doesn't heat up much at all; a slight warming of the left palm rest is the only perceptible heating of this area I have noticed. The warming is so slight, I'm not even sure that it isn't mostly because that's where I lazily rest my hand all the time!
The drives on this machine are also fairly quiet. The optical drive does have a noticeable whir when it spins up, but not a high-speed whine like some drives. Really listening for the hard drive, I can hear it accessing. When I'm sitting at a comfortable distance using the computer I can only make out the drive noise when I'm listening for it in a quiet room.
My complaints about this computer are really minor issues for me, but they may carry more weight with other users.
Obviously, I'm very pleased with the dv4000. Let me summarize the major points:
Conclusion (who should buy?)
This was just the right computer for my needs. If I hadn't purchased the extra 6 cell battery and the remote, I would have a machine that is capable of playing all modern games for less than $1,200. For anyone looking for a mainstream notebook, the dv4000 deserves at least a good look.
The Hewlett-Packard dv4000 with x700 graphics is frequently and properly recommended for people shopping for a portable, affordable gaming notebook. This is the perfect computer for a person looking for the most bang for each buck spent. The Pentium M 750 is widely regarded as the sweet spot on the price/performance scale and the x700 is a very capable and cool graphics solution. The 5400 RPM drive is a performance must, and the RAM really should be pumped up to one gigabyte for gaming. If the promotion for a free upgrade to 512 MB was not going on at the time of my purchase, I would have purchased the minimum 256 Megs and upgraded to a Gig before even powering the computer on. With the upgrade, though, the computer is very useable for now until I have the spare cash to upgrade to 2 GB.
Someone looking for an ultraportable or for a very durable machine should look elsewhere. The extreme gamer will demand even more GPU power and higher resolutions than the dv4000 offers. This computer is good for the notebook gamer on a budget or for a student who wants good gaming performance while still retaining some of the portability that notebooks were designed for in the first place. The added multimedia features of the QuickPlay controls and remote are icing in this cake: we've got a pretty neat media notebook, too.
No computer can be the best at everything, and few are the best at more than one thing. The dv4000 is the best at something, in my opinion: The dv4000 does everything pretty darned well at a price point that most computer purchases should be able to reach.
Pricing and Availability: Hewlett-Packard dv4000
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