by Dustin Sklavos
At this point, I figure I change hardware as often as I change my underwear. Such was the case when my ASUS F9Dc-A1, which I just reviewed here, turned out to be a dud for me. It's by no means a bad laptop - quite the opposite in fact - but the battery life was wrist-slashingly frustrating, the 12" screen proved too small for me (scaling up fonts in Windows Vista makes the whole experience stunningly Speak-and-Spell), and honestly I'm just interested in having a nicer looking notebook.
Since I had a friend interested in buying the Asus off of me for most of what I paid for it, I found myself in the position to rectify my mistake.
Realizing I go through these things so fast, I figured I should probably curb my spending as much as humanly possible and just go for a "functional" notebook. Living on campus means no great need for a gaming notebook since my obscene desktop is always just a few minutes away. What I really need is something enjoyable to use that can last for more than five seconds on the battery. Can it take notes? Can it run Final Draft? Excellent, hired.
But it needed to be portable, too. When I had my ASUS A8Jm, I'd been profoundly hateful of the 14.1" screen and its (lack of) quality. So the market didn't seem terribly interested in finding me a new, cheapo laptop to do the job and do it right. Two models I expressed interest in were the Gateway T-1616 for $649 at Best Buy, and the Toshiba Satellite U305 for $899 at Best Buy and Fry's. I was particularly excited about the Gateway, but reviews online noted poor battery life - in the neighborhood of 2.5 hours tops. I'm a fan of Gateway after having the awesome 7510GX; I like their designs and they're always well-priced, and the T-1616 was frankly pretty sexy. But...the battery life kills, and without being able to confirm the existence of an extended battery available for purchase online, I had to sadly rule it out.
The Toshiba U305, at 13.3", is beautiful on the inside, but the outside shell is hideous, with that massive TOSHIBA logo on the lid. Elegant lines are woefully lacking on the unit, and the gorgeous keyboard has flex you can really feel when you type on it. Plus, online reports of battery life were all over the map.
With nothing compelling but a need to go to Fry's to get a new wireless adaptor for my desktop, I found "the one." I'm a big big fan of the styling of HP's current notebooks, and the dv2610us on display seemed to fit the bill. Oh, and what's this? All this can be mine for $699? And there's a $50 rebate on top of that? Surely you have none in stock! But wait...you say you have twenty-four, and that because you're the best retail store for computer nerds in the world, you keep massive stocks of most of your stuff?
SIGN ME UP.
The price was right, the specs were right, and with 2GB of replacement notebook RAM in hand for just $50, the dv2610us came home.
The HP dv2610us is specced out as follows:
Ordinarily not terribly exciting, but at $699 ($649 after rebate), come on. That's a lot of power for a low price, although the 1GB of RAM it ships with is grossly underpowered for Windows Vista. But given the RAM upgrade brings it to a still respectable $749 ... let's be realistic, it's the pricetag that's winning this war.
BUILD AND DESIGN
Glamour shot. (view large image)
I love HP's notebook designs. The lines are sleek, the imprint finish is beautiful, and even if it's a fingerprint magnet, it's still attractive.
Honestly, most of you guys have seen this shell before. HPs are incredibly popular and you've probably already formulated your own opinions on it. For those less familiar, I'll just say that ports are well arranged, vents are well placed, and the whole notebook feels very sturdy.
For a 14.1" notebook, the dv2610us is definitely on the portlier side, and is close to being as heavy as many 15.4" notebooks. Still, it feels pretty portable.
As a sidenote for the nerdier folks: the shell appears to be very similar to HP's 15.4" notebooks, and the keyboard and batteries are actually identical. I have a good friend who fried her dv6258se when she spilled soup on it, but the keyboard and 12-cell battery are perfectly intact.
When I get the chance, I'll be swapping in that shiny silver keyboard, which is an absolute dream to type on, thus doing my first mod of a notebook!
Surprisingly attractive. (view large image)
The 1280x800 resolution 14.1" screen on the dv2610us is surprisingly attractive. Viewing angles are less than impressive, but laptop viewing angles usually stink. This is nothing new. But the glossy finish renders colors crisp and bright.
One nice thing to point out is how sturdy the hinges are. Most people are used to a little bit of give or wobble on the hinges, but these babies are solid. You'll find that with most laptops you can flick or tweak the screen half and it'll wobble a couple times, kind of like the shocks in your car. HP's lids don't really do that. In fact, I can barely even tweak it to start the nonexistent wobble.
That said, it's still very easy to open and well-balanced.
At the top of the screen is the webcam, with two built-in microphones flanking it.
Abnormally good speakers. (view large image)
Laptop speakers are generally good subjects of ridicule. Tinny, bass-less, and really devoid of anything resembling desirable qualities.
While I'm not sure the Altec Lansing logo on the speakers of this unit are much more than a label - and my experiences with Altec Lansing desktop speakers have left a lot to be desired - I will say that these are some of the best speakers I've heard in a notebook this size. Sound is crisp and clear, and while you don't get the bass you want (that I doubt you'll really get in a notebook anyhow), they're plenty loud. This does seem to come with the territory with HP's mainstream notebooks, as I remember my old dv6258se having equally good sound quality.
PROCESSOR AND PERFORMANCE
Let's not set ourselves up for disappointment here: there's a reason most of the cheap notebooks use Turions. I'm platform agnostic, but AMD's Turion 64 X2s seem to always run hotter, less efficient, and play hell on battery life.
That said, the one in this notebook is based on newer process technology, drawing less power and thus producing less heat. At 1.9GHz for a dual core, it's also plenty for the average user and the occasional gamer. I'm going to dodge the typical benchmarks that get listed here and just say "it's more than fast enough." At this speed, it's probably competitive with a 1.5GHz or 1.6GHz Core Duo.
As for the RAM, if you don't upgrade to at least 2GB, you deserve all the heartache you experience, especially with RAM as cheap as it is right now. So the less said here the better.
Now ... the GeForce 7150M. I cannot possibly be the only person here interested in the performance of modern integrated graphics parts, but unfortunately this part is really the achilles heel of the notebook. Having the user interface of Windows operating smoothly is vital to the experience of using the notebook, and the 7150M just does not seem to cut it for Aero Glass.
I've reformatted the notebook. I've tried multiple different drivers from laptopvideo2go (to wit: they either never installed or they blue-screened the computer on boot) and had to stick with HP's for the 7150M. The sad fact is that Aero Glass runs horribly on the 7150M. Moving windows and scrolling within them is just plain choppy, and despite all my best efforts I cannot get them to render well. While most of you probably won't care, I'm too used to the silky smooth performance of Vista on my desktop. The pathetic performance of Aero Glass on the GeForce 7150M is damning and more than that, just plain inexcusable. I don't know if I should blame nVidia or Microsoft, but it's pathetic.
And unfortunately, this gets into the real meat of the problem with this notebook and why I wouldn't recommend it for most consumers: unless you reformat the computer - which most consumers don't even know how to do - you're in for a world of pain. Simply put, the notebook as it ships is ungodly, dog slow. Even with the RAM upgrade, it's horribly slow and unresponsive.
I know all the bloatware that comes with a notebook is what knocks the price down, but in the process it can render a unit borderline unusable, and that seems to be the case here. If you're a bit more of a do-it-yourselfer like me, or you know someone like that, you can probably comfortably buy the notebook, reformat it, and unlock its true performance. But if you don't know what you're doing, this thing's gonna be a dead end for you.
And no, the "tune up" the guy in the store tries to sell you is worthless. You need a straight up clean install of Windows Vista with none of the bloatware that comes with the notebook.
Oh, and the hard drive runs well. Seriously, what did you expect? It's a 5400rpm notebook hard drive, these things are standard these days. It's just fine for your needs. It stores your files and it lets you access them.
KEYBOARD AND TOUCHPAD
The two big stars of HP's lineup. (view large image)
The keyboard and touchpad of the dv2610us are, much like the rest of HP's lineup, fantastic. The keyboard is a joy to use, and the touchpad is very smooth and comfortable. It's a little smallish, but given the size of the notebook, that's livable.
The keyboard on my unit does seem to have a little trouble with being too clicky toward the bottom right, feeling like it's catching on something a little, but other than that it's quite nice to use.
Now what I've always loved about HP's notebooks is the inclusion of a touchpad disable button just above the touchpad itself. This little toggle is really a great inclusion, and is much better than a Function and F-key combo toggle. The one on my notebook, however, is stuck in a little bit, and I have to push it with my fingernail. I checked this against the ones in stores and they were all a bit recessed like mine, though not quite as difficult.
Your mileage may vary and it's a minor thing in the grand scheme of things anyhow. The fact that the button exists at all is a great touch on HP's part.
INPUT AND OUTPUT PORTS
(view large image)
Left side: S-Video, VGA, HP Expansion Port 3 connector, Ethernet, USB port that might as well just say "flash drive goes here," a very welcome FireWire port, ExpressCard slot used to house media remote, and a 5-in-1 flash memory reader supporting SD, MMC, Memory Stick and Memory Stick PRO, and xD card.
The left side of the notebook is pretty much a "who's who" of useful ports ... and HP's expansion port connector, which I'm sure will be handy for the accessorizing user or the user who will be using this as their only computer.
(view large image)
Front: Wireless switch, IR port, two headphone jacks and a mic jack.
The two headphone jacks have always been a nice touch, and the wireless switch uses an appealing blue LED. Note that there's no latch for the lid; I've come to really appreciate latchless notebooks and it's something that works well here.
(view large image)
Right side: DVD-RAM w/ Lightscribe, 2x USB, modem, and power jack.
The optical drive is a bit loose and be warned, gripping the notebook from the bottom here may result in pressing in on it. The power jack has a nice blue glow around it when the power cable is plugged in.
The rear just includes a small vent.
There's pretty much something for everyone here, and the wide range of connectivity was one of the things that really appealed to me about this unit.
Wireless connectivity is handled by the standard Broadcom 802.11b/g wireless adaptor. It does its job, but it's not terribly remarkable. The notebook also includes built-in Bluetooth, which feels like it's living a toggle-free lifestyle since the only way to disable it is abstracted through a bunch of different settings in HP's Wireless Manager, which doesn't even have a start menu entry and pretty much only pops up when it feels like it.
BATTERY AND HEAT
With a custom power profile in Windows Vista, wireless enabled, bluetooth disabled, and brightness at about 20 percent, this thing'll hit three hours pretty easily. That was part of the reason I went with an HP: battery life was pretty much guaranteed, and if it wound up being bad, their 12-cell batteries are available in retail.
As for heat, the notebook gets a little toasty, but it's never too bad and it's not worse than any of the other notebooks I've used. Fan noise is pretty minimal.
OPERATING SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE
This appears to be where the notebook is made to fail, and as I mentioned before, the bloatware choking the machine out of the box is staggering and murders performance. It's embarassing.
And then there's Windows Vista itself. While I've really warmed up to it over the past month or so, an experience like the one I've had with the dv2610us is the kind of thing that sends you right back to January 2007, when Microsoft dropped a miserably performing operating system into our laps and then expected us to all upgrade because it was pretty. The fact is, in my opinion, this notebook is just ill-equipped to handle Vista. While the processor is decent enough, the 1GB of RAM it ships with coupled with the GeForce 7150M isn't quite up to the task. While most of you aren't just bored out of your minds and trying to drag your windows around the screen as rapidly as humanly possible, the minor lag in Vista on this computer will gnaw at you.
As for the rest of the notebook, the wireless manager - when it feels like making its presence known - and a couple of other HP programs give it a nice feel.
I want to point out that making the recovery media on this notebook was a long and drawn out nightmare. My first burn of the first disc left me with a coaster, though mercifully I was able to burn a new one. But the sheer amount of time this thing takes - about two to three hours just to get to the point where it'll consider putting together the recovery discs themselves - is pretty baffling.
CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SUPPORT
While I've never personally had to deal with HP's support, I've heard horror stories. Mercifully, software bloat notwithstanding, the notebook seems well-made enough that this shouldn't be an issue for you.
HP's website is also pretty complete driver-wise, at least if you're planning to run Vista. XP and 2000 users are up the creek without a paddle. This is especially disappointing given that about the only way you're going to get smooth performance out of the operating system is a downgrade to XP.
I desperately want to like the HP dv2610us. The specs are pretty nice for the price, I love the design, and it's got the battery life I want. Maybe I'll be able to get past how sluggish Vista feels on the GeForce 7150M.
It's hard to say. There's a lot to like here, but my laptop buying history is checkered with mistakes. Maybe I'm just the type that'll never be satisfied. And while I joke that pretty much everything at Fry's is "for rent" given their outstanding return policy, I really don't want to return this notebook. It smacks of dishonesty to me to buy a notebook, review it, then return it, but at the same time how else are you - the potential consumer - gonna know this thing has problems unless someone says so?
As a geek, it often completely slips my mind that the average user doesn't just reformat when they get a new machine, that they actually use it pretty much as it came out of the box. I think that's a mistake a lot of us here make when we write our reviews. And the fact is, out of the box, this laptop is a dog. If you have the knowledge or know someone who does, that's not a problem, but if you don't...
Bottom line: if you can live with a slightly sluggish Aero Glass, and you know someone who can give you a fresh install of Windows, the dv2610us is nice for the price and will serve you very well.
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