Screen and Speakers
The 17.3-inch display is one HP's "Radiance" screens with LED backlighting. There is just one screen resolution; a full 1920x1080 but you can configure the ENVY 17 with either the standard Radiance display or a "3D Radiance" version that delivers 3D video and still image playback along with an included set of HP-branded 3D active shutter glasses. As with most of HP's consumer laptops, the ENVY 17 uses a display with an "edge-to-edge" glass protective layer. This helps improve contrast and color saturation but also makes the screen extremely prone to reflections. Translation, the screen isn't great outdoors or in a room with bright lights.
As with all TN panels, the viewing angles on the ENVY's screen are pretty average: The screen looks great when viewed from straight on or from a modest horizontal angle, but the colors appear washed out when viewed from above and colors look inverted when viewed from below. Considering that this is HP's top-of-the-line consumer notebook we would have been happier if HP offered an optional IPS display with near perfect colors at all viewing angles.
In terms of audio, let's just come right out and say the ENVY 17 probably has the best built-in speaker setup of any current 17-inch notebook. You get four speakers (two above the keyboard and two on the front edge of the notebook) and a built-in subwoofer located on the bottom of the ENVY 17. These speakers and subwoofer work together with the Beats audio software to deliver fantastic sound with distortion-free highs, midtones and base. To make the listening experience that much more enjoyable, the ENVY 17 also features a physical volume dial on the right side which allows you to instantly adjust your speaker volume. HP calls this an "analog volume dial" but it's actually a digital "fly by wire" dial. By that, we mean there is no "hard stop" at the lowest or highest volume setting; you can spin the volume dial in either direction forever ... it's the software that knows when you've reached the lowest or highest volume setting.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size chiclet-style keyboard with LED backlighting and features a simple layout. The individual keys are matte black with a single bright LED under each key (rather than a grid of LEDs under the keyboard with multiple keys relying on a single LED). The matte black keys are surrounded by the aluminum frame of the notebook. The keyboard support structure is fine, but there is a hint of flex or "bounce" on the left side of the keyboard above the optical drive if you type with significant pressure. Individual key travel and feedback (the difference you feel between when a button is pressed or not) is quite good and makes typing quiet and enjoyable.
The Synaptics touchpad is actually a Synaptics "clickpad" (a touchpad surface which lets you press down anywhere to produce a click). There are no dedicated left and right mouse buttons but HP marked the button area with a single gray line so you know where to press for a traditional left and right click.
The default touchpad settings are fine for "tap to click" use or traditional touchpad users who use one finger to move the cursor and rest a thumb or another finger on the "left button" for clicking. You can also adjust the touchpad driver settings for multi-finger gesture controls.
Our HP ENVY 17 review unit has the following specifications:
These specifications are very good for a 17-inch multimedia and gaming notebook; the quad-core i7 processor is more than fast enough for virtually any activity and the AMD Radeon graphics are powerful enough to play most modern games at good frame rates with mid-to-high detail settings. Our test configuration comes with a single 750GB hard drive but you can configure the ENVY 17 with up to two 1TB hard drives and the notebook also has a mSATA slot so you can add a small form factor SSD as a cache drive for extremely fast Windows boot and system resume.
Performance and Benchmarks
The ENVY 17 delivers some of the best performance you'll find in a 17-inch laptop priced between $1,200 and $1,500. The Intel Core i7-2670QM processor in our review unit provides exceptional performance for everyday use and basic office productivity but also has plenty of muscle for transcoding massive files if you're into making videos and music.
The AMD Radeon HD 7690M XT dedicated graphics aren't the most powerful option in this price range but this graphics card can still handle 3D video playback and most of the latest games. Not only that, but the thermal performance of the 7690M helps keep temperatures low while still providing a great visual experience.
The previously mentioned the 750GB hard drive in our test system is reasonably fast but you can improve the overall system performance by either replacing the hard drive with a standard SATA solid state drive (SSD) or you can add a small mSATA SSD as a cache drive and essentially turn a standard hard drive into a high-performance hybrid drive.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark which measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 is a newer measure of overall graphics performance in DirectX 11 games (higher scores mean better performance):
Heat and Noise
The cooling fan inside the ENVY 17 stays running most of the time and remains relatively quiet during all but the most demanding activities. The fan gets pretty loud (loud enough to disturb other people in a small office or classroom) when you're playing a graphically intense game such as Batman: Arkham City or The Witcher 2. If you aren't running benchmark tests or playing the latest games on high detail settings then you'll probably never notice the fan.
External temperatures are all pretty modest with the exception of a hot spot near the fan intake (the heat sink for the CPU is located in this area).
The ENVY 17 lasted for five hours and 12 minutes of continuous web surfing during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This isn't as good as some of the less powerful 15-inch premium multimedia notebooks such as the Dell XPS 15z, but it is among the best battery life for 17-inch entertainment PCs. You'll probably have trouble getting the "7 hours" of battery life that HP claims unless you let the notebook occasionally go into sleep mode, but you should be able to get around six hours of continuous battery life if you turn the screen brightness down and aren't using the Blu-ray/DVD drive.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
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