HP Pavilion dv2 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (288,192)

by Jerry Jackson

The newest 12-inch notebook from HP is no ordinary ultra-portable laptop. Featuring the new AMD Athlon Neo processor, the HP Pavilion dv2 (dv2z) promises to bridge the gap between low-performance netbooks and higher-priced ultra-portable notebooks. This thin and light laptop can handle 1080p Blu-ray movies or even get you to the next level of your favorite video game. But at a price of $750, will consumers buy this instead of a $300 netbook?

Our HP Pavilion dv2 (dv2-1030us) features the following specifications:

  • 1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo Processor MV-40
  • 4GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM 666MHz (1 Dimm)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit with Service Pack 1
  • 12.1″ WXGA High-Definition HP LED BrightView Widescreen Display (1280×800)
  • 320GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3410 Graphics (512MB)
  • 802.11a/b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth
  • 5-in-1 card reader
  • External Lightscribe SuperMulti 8x DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer Support
  • 6-Cell Li-ion battery
  • Dimensions: 11.50 in (L) x 9.45 in (D) x 0.93 in (min H) / 1.29 in (max. H)
  • Weight: 3.95 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
  • Price as configured: $749

Build and Design
The design of the Pavilion dv2 is brand new for HP and features the AMD “Yukon” platform designed specifically for ultrathin laptops. The body of the dv2 is smooth with rounded edges, making it extremely comfortable in your hand while carrying it around. The design is compact, but the overall footprint is almost as wide as a 13-inch notebook because of the bezel around the keyboard and screen. The screen also sports a latchless design, making it easy to open the notebook with one hand. Although the lid lacks any latch to keep it held shut, the hinges feel nice and strong, keeping the lid secure. Pressing firmly onto the back of the screen cover will produce some ripples on the screen … but you must apply significant pressure to cause this.

What might look like a giant beefy hinge for the 12-inch display is actually a standard 6-cell battery with a small hinge on either side of this thin and light laptop. The plastic covered, alloy-reinforced lid features a glossy black finish that looks subtle and stylish and doesn’t scream “LOOK AT ME!” the way that the HP Imprint Finish does on most HP Pavilion notebooks.

The magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis is quite rigid and suffers from no flex or creaks even when twisted between my hands. Granted, this is due to the fact that the dv2 is less than one inch thick … meaning there isn’t much empty space inside the notebook for anything to bend under pressure. Bottom line, this notebook can survive the use and abuse from students who will toss it into a backpack every day for several years in a row. 

In terms of upgradeability, the dv2z is much easier to upgrade than most netbooks and even some notebooks currently on the market. One panel provides access to the single RAM slot and a place for a Gobi WWAN card (available on custom configurations starting in June). Another panel gives you access to the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth card, and a final panel contains the hard drive. Although the dv2 provides easy access for upgrades, you won’t be able to add more RAM to this notebook since it comes maxed out with a 4GB RAM module.

 

Keyboard and Touchpad
Most low-priced, full-size notebooks currently on the market feature poorly built keyboards that show significant flex/bounce when typing pressure is applied. This isn’t the case with the dv2 thanks in large part to the ultrathin chassis design. There simply isn’t space inside the notebook for the keyboard to flex or bounce.

Each key press has the perfect amount of resistance with soft, quiet clicks. The keys are accurate and responsive and I enjoyed typing on this keyboard. The overall size of the keyboard looks virtually identical to what we’ve seen on other 12-inch notebooks from HP … and that’s a good thing. This keyboard is much nicer than what is featured on most netbooks. The keys are easy to read and are a good size … except for the top row of Function keys which are a little too small and not particularly easy to press without hitting another key by mistake.

The touchpad is an ALPS model and feels very responsive with little lag. The entire touchpad surface is made of a high gloss plastic, and can sometimes be hard to use depending on how dry or oily your fingertip happens to be. The surface needs to collect some of your finger’s natural oils to allow for easy movement on the touchpad. While the reflective touchpad surface looks cool HP probably would have been better off using the same type of textured touchpad surface used on the HP Pavilion tx2500 and TouchSmart tx2. The touchpad buttons are in a great location and are easy to control with your thumb. The buttons provide mild feedback with a shallow movement that gives an audible click when pressed.

Display
The 12.1″ WXGA glossy widescreen display features LED backlighting and is bright and vibrant with excellent colors for viewing images or movies. Contrast seems a little better than what we’ve seen on the larger 14-inch screens on the HP Pavilion dv4, but blacks aren’t quite as deep as we would like to see. The 1280 x 800 resolution is significantly more than what you get on the average netbook screen and is the perfect match for a 12-inch screen.

Viewing angles are average with limited vertical viewing angles that give you a sweet spot of +/- 15 degrees. Horizontal viewing angles are much better with colors staying true even out to very wide angles. Brightness levels are more than adequate for viewing in a bright office setting. Sunlight readability is limited, but as long as the sun isn’t shining directly at the glossy screen the dv2z is perfectly usable outside on a table at a coffee shop.

 
 

 

Ports and Features
The HP Pavilion dv2 comes equipped with most of the ports you need, including three USB ports and a media card reader. While three USB ports might not sound like a lot, that’s the same number of ports found on most 13-inch and 14-inch notebooks. The other thing to keep in mind is that the dv2 is between 0.93 and 1.29 inches thick. Some ultrathin notebooks like the Apple MacBook Air only have a single USB port. The really impressive thing to mention here is the addition of a HDMI port for connecting video and audio to an external monitor or HDTV.

We would have liked to see at least one USB/eSATA combo port and possibly even a docking station connector on this notebook, but given the ultrathin form factor and $750 price point we can forgive these omissions. One thing worth mentioning is that the HP website claims the dv2-1030us configuration of the dv2 doesn’t include Bluetooth. However, our review unit does indeed include Bluetooth and several new dv2 owners in our discussion forums also report that the dv2-1030us inlcudes Bluetooth. That said, here’s a quick tour of the sides:

Front: No ports, just indicator lights and the speakers.

Rear: Battery and hinges.

Left: Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, two USB 2.0 ports, and heat vent.

Right: Power switch, Wireless on/off, SDHC card slot, microphone in and headphone out, USB, power, and security lock slot.

Performance
HP offers the Pavilion dv2 with the new AMD Athlon Neo 64-bit processor. This single-core processor is bassically a scaled-down version of AMD’s current 65nm notebook processors with a lower TDP (15 watts) which means this notebook shouldn’t get as hot on your lap and should last a little longer on battery power. While the power consumption of the new Athlon Neo isn’t as low as the Intel Atom, it’s clear from our synthetic benchmarks that the 1.6GHz AMD Athon Neo is faster than the 1.6GHz Intel Atom. Likewise, the processor inside the dv2 can encode video or run Photoshop filters in a fraction of the time it takes the Intel Atom processor to perform the same task.

The only time the Athlon Neo processor seemed noticeably slower than a low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo processor was when we attempted to launch multiple applications at the same time. Multitasking in this way generally created a delay of a few seconds, but the delay was never severe enough to cause problems.

Not only does the dv2z run 64-bit Windows Vista with ease, but it’s packed with a full 4GB of system RAM in a single DIMM module. That’s four times the amount of RAM you get in a netbook! The 320GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue hard drive also gives you plenty of storage for a full entertainment library. As great as all that sounds, the big news with this laptop is the availability of discrete graphics thanks to the new ATI Radeon HD 3410 graphics and 512MB of dedicated memory.

While it’s true that a few netbooks (such as the ASUS N10) offer discrete graphics, the reality is that the Intel Atom platform lacks the muscle to truly take advantage of discrete graphics when playing games … at least based on the netbooks we’ve reviewed so far. Our own lab tests confirm that Atom-based netbooks with dedicated graphics cards only perform marginally better than Atom-based netbooks with integrated graphics when playing games. This is yet another reason that the dv2 should be labeled as a notebook rather than a netbook. For the first time ever consumers have a low-cost ultra-portable that offers flawless 1080p video playback and can even play many 3D video games at reasonable frame rates!

The dv2z was able to play Bioshock at 1280 x 800 resolution at 12-30 frames per second with detail settings at medium and at 24-40fps with detail settings at low. Likewise, the dv2 can handle Unreal Tournament III at 1280 x 800 and keep frame rates in the low to mid 30s. A newer title like Left 4 Dead only managaes an average of around 26fps, but that’s still pretty impressive. Notebooks equipped with Intel integrated graphics just can’t handle games like that.

The dv2 is at least several hundred dollars less expensive than other thin and light 12-inch notebooks that offer similar or superior processor performance and lower quality graphics, so it’s hard to find serious fault with the dv2z in the performance department.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz) 32.119 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz) 76.240 seconds
HP Pavilion dv2 (AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 @ 1.6GHz)
103.521 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (Intel Atom N280 @ 1.66GHz) 114.749 seconds
Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)  125.812 seconds
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz) 126.406 seconds

 

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600, Intel X4500) 4,298 PCmarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 2,446 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB) 2,191 PCMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,851 PCMarks
Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 1,839 PCMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,555 PCMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 1,535 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (2009) (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,478 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results against netbooks @ 1024 x 768 resolution:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB)
1,520 3DMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,417 3DMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
HP Mini 2140 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GM1 950) 118 3DMarks
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, Intel GMA 950) 92 3DMarks
Sony VAIO P (1.33GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 500, Windows Vista) 88 3DMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results against notebooks @ 1280 x 800 resolution:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP Pavilion dv4t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9200M GS 256MB) 1,741 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart tx2 (2.4GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-86, ATI Radeon HD 3200) 1,685 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB)
1,355 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz, GMA X4500) 921 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 502 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100) 470 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks

 

HDTune for the built-in hard drive:

External Optical Drive
Another important feature to consider with the dv2 is the external Lightscribe SuperMulti drive. Power and data are handled over a single USB connection so you only have to sacrifice a single USB port on the dv2 when the drive is connected. In the coming months HP will also make an identical Blu-ray drive available to consumers as well. The Blu-ray drive (which was included with our review unit) allows you to take full advantage of the the dv2′s ability to handle 1080p content over the HDMI port.

Keep in mind that the pre-configured dv2-1030us version of the dv2 only ships with a standard LightScribe SuperMulti DVD drive. The Blu-ray drive will not be available until May or June when the dv2 shows up on the custom order page on the HP website. The cost of the Blu-ray drive is not known at the time of this writing.

Regardless of whether you’re playing a DVD or a Blu-ray disc, the most important thing is that it works … without complications. The HP MediaSmart software that comes pre-installed on the dv2 instantly recognizes when we insert a DVD or Blu-ray movie into the drive and begins playing with a single click. This type of ease of use makes the Pavilion dv2 an excellent choice for college students who need a mobile entertainment center.

Speakers and Audio
The speakers on the dv2 are pretty impressive for a thin and light 12-inch notebook. The two Altec Lansing stereo speakers located on the front edge of the netbook produce fantastic volume levels with minimal distortion and acceptable range. However, it’s worth complaining about the less-than-ideal placement.

Since the speakers are located on the front edge of the notebook the sound isn’t being directed up and toward the user when the dv2 is used as a laptop. In fact, our staff usually refers to laptop speakers with this type of placement as “crotch speakers” because the speakers are directing sound to your lap rather than your ears. Given the compact design of the dv2 there weren’t many other places for the speakers to go unless HP made them smaller, but we’d like to see a different speaker location on next year’s model. Nevertheless, the speakers sounds great if you’re using the dv2 on a desk.

The headphone jack on the dv2 works well with the two different brands of earphones I used during the test. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself. The other benefit to having an HDMI port on the dv2 is that you can connect this video/audio port to an HDTV and home entertainment system speakers as well.

Heat and Noise
Nothing spoils a great notebook like heat. A “laptop” needs to keep external temperatures under control so it can be used on a lap. Unfortunately, notebooks equipped with AMD processors typically run just a little hotter than notebooks with Intel processors. Thankfully the new AMD Athlon Neo processor keeps heat under wraps.

The hottest spot on this netbook was the area around the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth card … meaning AMD deserves some credit for the lower thermal output of the the new Yukon platform. The external temperature readings below (listed in degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded while browsing the Web and running two HDTune tests in a row after approximately 30 minutes of use:

 

 

In terms of noise, our review unit of the dv2 remained quiet during the testing period … even during the synthetic benchmark tests. When the system was stressed during our review the internal cooling fan kicked into high gear, but the fan noise was barely noticeable.

Battery
Under normal use, backlight at 50 percent and using wireless for web browsing and Vista set to “Power Saver” mode, the 6-cell battery managed to deliver four hours and 12 minutes of battery life. This is pretty good for a $750 ultra-portable notebook, but the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE netbook was able to deliver almost nine and a half hours of battery life with similar settings. If you switch to the “High Performance” mode in Windows Vista and boost the screen brightness to maximum then the battery life of the HP Pavilion dv2 drops to a modest two hours and 24 minutes.

Conclusion
I started this review with an important question, “at a price of $750, will consumers buy this instead of a $300 netbook?” The answer is, yes … or at least I hope so.

The HP Pavilion dv2 satisfies an important need that low-cost netbooks never could. When netbooks originally hit the market at the end of 2007 every notebook industry analyst was certain that netbook sales would cannibalize the notebook market. Why would consumers buy a regular laptop if they can buy a $300 netbook? What ended up happening is that 95% of consumers who purchased a netbook purchased a netbook in addition to a notebook. Netbooks are great for travel but just don’t have the performance and features needed to replace a regular laptop for most consumers.

The HP Pavilion dv2z is thin and light enough that it can replace a netbook, and it has enough performance to replace a full-size notebook. The only people who might need more performance are extreme gamers and people who need extreme processor speed and multiple cores for multitasking work like encoding two or more video formats simultaneously.

If you want to connect your laptop to your HDTV and watch 1080p video, the dv2 can handle it. If you want to edit high-resolution images in Photoshop while you’re on vacation, the dv2z can handle it. If you want to play new video games and don’t need extreme detail and frame rates, the dv2 can handle that too.

Pros:

  • Excellent value
  • Impressive graphics performance
  • Good speakers (see below)
  • Optional Blu-ray drive works extremely well
  • Lots of RAM and storage … and easy to upgrade
  • Thin, light and well built

Cons

  • Battery life is OK but not the best
  • No eSATA or ExpressCard for high-speed expansion
  • Bad location for speakers
  • Processor performance good but not great at multitasking


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