by Ryan Knaus
I purchased an HP Pavilion dv9700t directly from the Hewlett-Packard website in March of 2008. It is a 17" desktop replacement, weighing in at 8.2 pounds (it is one half pound heavier than usual because I chose dual backlights in my screen).
The exact specs are as follows:
- Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 (32-bit)
- Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T8100 (2.10 GHz, 3 MB L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB)
- 17.0" WXGA+ High-Definition Ultra HP BrightView Widescreen Display (1440 x 900)
- 2GB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm)
- 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GS
- HP Imprint (Radiance) + Fingerprint Reader + Webcam + Microphone
- Intel PRO/Wireless 4965AGN Network Connection and Bluetooth
- 250GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
- LightScribe SuperMulti 8X DVD+/-RW with Double Layer Support
- High Capacity 8-Cell Lithium Ion Battery
HP offers an array of customizable options when you order a laptop from their website. I started with the base dv9700t model, which cost a shade less than $1,000, and customized my way up to just over $1,400. There was a special coupon (which might still be available…check around on NotebookReview) that deducted $500 from any Pavilion notebook that cost $1,400…so you can see the appeal. After taxes the total was almost exactly $1,000. I think it was a terrific buy, and so far I am thrilled with the purchase.
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Things I chose to upgrade/not upgrade, and why:
Processor: This was a no-brainer, upgrading from a Intel T5550 (1.83GHz) to the Intel T8100 (2.10GHz, 3 MB L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB) cost about $125 extra, but was well worth it for the boost in performance (see bench scores below).
Screen: The standard screen is a 17" WXGA+ High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Display (1440 x 900), which is probably fine for most customers. For an additional $125, I received the 17" WXGA+ Ultra BrightView. It is the same screen, but outfitted with two backlights (instead of one), providing superior brightness and color. The extra cost is, for me, justified by it’s amazing clarity even in direct-light situations (important since the screen is glossy). The second backlight adds a half pound to the computer’s weight. I am not sure what effect it has on the battery life, but I offset the extra power usage by upgrading to a high-capacity battery. (HP also offers a higher resolution 1680 x 1050 screen, but I had more use for the Ultra Bright )
Video Card: For $50 (HP was offering 50% off), I upgraded from an Nvidea GeForce 8400M GS to an Nvidea GeForce 8600M GS. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I’ll ever need the extra juice. Mostly I was swayed by other user reviews and recommendations, which encouraged upgrading the video card to extend the useful life of the computer. The 8600 offers 512MB of dedicated memory (as opposed to 256 for the 8400), and would rock if I had opted for the BluRay drive (I knew I would spend too much on BluRay discs, so I avoided that option).
Wireless: For another $50, I upgraded to an Intel(R) PRO/Wireless 4965A/G/N Network Connection with Bluetooth. I recommend this option to anyone interested in ease of connectivity. My job is predicated upon a fast internet connection, so it was an easy decision to upgrade and have the newer N networks available to me. Bluetooth is another life-saver. I immediately ordered a Bluetooth mouse (the terrific Logitech V470) and a Bluetooth earpiece, both of which make my life easier on a daily basis.
Hard drive: The 250GB hard drive is more than adequate for my needs. It features 5400RPM, which is fast but not lightning quick. There is an available 240GB, 7200RPM drive, and other drives can store as much as 640GB. Again, for my less-intensive purposes the stock 250/5400 is perfectly adequate.
Outer shell: The "Imprint Radiance" finish is lovely, and comes standard. The glossy finish (black on the outside, gray on the inside) is subtle but beautiful. It’s more fun to look at than a typical matte-finish, though it also recklessly collects fingerprints. A soft cloth (or even a tee shirt) clears the smudges off without risking the gorgeous finish.
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Speaking of fingerprints…the built-in Fingerprint reader is wonderful as well. At the time of my purchase, HP was also including a free webcam, microphone (actually two microphones) and fingerprint reader. (It said that the FP reader cost an extra $25, but that never reflected on the bill…just for the record). I was skeptical, but now I use it for a host of applications. With the prevalence of stored passwords these days, it’s not a must-have for all consumers, but it offers ease and security if you either share your computer with others or simply prefer not to have passwords automatically saved. One caveat: as far as I can tell, the fingerprint reader’s software is only compatible with Internet Explorer, so all Firefox users must type in passwords the old-fashioned way.
The webcam is good. It handles low-light situations admirably, but of course we’re not talking about camcorder quality. The software that is packaged for use with the webcam is similarly impressive, though it pales in comparison to Apple’s smooth and easy Photobooth application.
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The SuperMulti 8x DVD+/- RW drive (with dual layer support) is as quick and quiet as you could ever ask for. HP includes their LightScribe technology, though personally I find it useless. I own an external HP DVD drive that also has LightScribe, and this is my experience: the "LightScribe capable" discs are more expensive and less reliable, the process takes twice as long as strictly burning a DVD, and the images that it creates are woefully dim. I have read of users copying the same image multiple times, just to get a reasonably defined image. Again, they include the LS for free, so it’s just a matter of whether to use it or not (I vote no!).
There is an optional BluRay drive. I can only imagine how gorgeous BluRay would look on my Ultra BrightView screen, but couldn’t justify the investment (I bought my laptop primarily for work).
HP generously starts the computer with 2GB of RAM (Note: they are currently offering a free upgrade to 3GB). I felt no need to immediately increase the memory, since my computer use is mostly limited to internet/music/movies/word processing.
Beyond it’s aesthetic appeal, the computer feels well built. It is a solid 7.7 pounds (8.2 w/ Ultra BrightView), which seems just right considering the 17" screen and status as a "desktop replacement." If portability and battery life are your main concerns, this might not be the laptop for you.
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The 17" WXGA+ Ultra BrightView Widescreen display is a wonder to behold. Zero dead pixels. Crisp contrasts, bright, full colors … really vibrant and just a pleasure. Again, I got the Ultra BrightView which has two backlights–this not only makes it brighter, it improves colors and (this is just my assumption, based on using the machine) seems to distribute light more evenly, thus decreasing light leakage and uneven lighting. Viewing angles are adequate but not spectacular.
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The screen also appears to be built exceptionally well. There are no ripples on the screen no matter how hard you push on the outer shell, and the hinges are rock-solid. There is a tiny bit of wobble during routine typing, but you cannot tell unless there are reflections visible on the screen.
Speakers and Audio
The speakers are Altec Lansing, and they are quite nice. It’s a laptop, so owners should forgive the paltry bass. There is admirable sound quality and the speakers are loud enough to comfortably watch a movie across the room. Sound does not degrade when turned up very loud. One complaint I have is the headphone inputs. There are two inputs, each of which gives slight feedback as soon as you plug in your headphones. It isn’t overwhelming, and you have to strain to hear it during quiet parts in a song, but it’s still annoying. Turning off wireless does nothing to change the slight noise. Routine acts like scrolling down a webpage can actually change the frequency of the sound, as I have accidentally discovered. (I have nice headphones which do not have similar problems in any other device). Overall, not a big deal and I am satisfied with the sound quality.
Performance and Benchmarks
Super Pi: The dv9700t calculated pi to 2 million digits in 58 seconds. With numerous applications running, the time rose to 1 minute and 11 seconds.
|HP Pavilion dv9700t (2.1GHz Core 2 Duo T8100)||0m 58s|
|HP Pavilion HDX (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500)||0m 54s|
|Dell Latitude D830 (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, 800MHz FSB, 667MHz RAM)||0m 53s|
|Zepto 6024W (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 with 800MHz FSB and 667MHz RAM)||0m 59s|
|Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 with 667MHz FSB & memory speed)||1m 02s|
|Dell Vostro 1500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5470 1.60GHz)||1m 16s|
|Samsung Q35 (1.83MHz Core 2 Duo T5600 with 667MHz FSB and 533MHz RAM)||1m 16s|
|Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 with 533MHz FSB and memory speed)||1m 23s|
|Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300)||1m 24s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo (T2300) with 533MHz memory speed)||1m 29s|
|Sony Vaio TZ90HS (1.2GHz Core 2 Duo ULV U7600)||1m 50s|
|HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz Turion 64×2 TL-52)||2m 05s|
|Fujitsu S6120 (Pentium M 1.6GHz)||2m 29s|
|Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz)||4m 05s|
3DMark06 returned a scored of 2,889 3DMarks. I have no idea if that is good or bad, but the videos seemed (except during the "CPU test") to play pretty smoothly.
3DMark06 comparison results:
| HP Pavilion dv9700t (2.1GHz Core 2 Duo T8100, Nvidia 8600M GS 512MB)
|HP Pavilion HDX (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB)||4,205 3DMarks|
|Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,408 3DMarks|
|Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU)||1,069 3DMarks|
|Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB)||2,344 3DMarks|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB||2,183 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB)||2,144 3DMarks|
|Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB)||1,831 3DMarks|
|Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)||1,819 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||827 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||794 3DMarks|
|Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU)||476 3DMarks|
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is excellent. There is a small but consistent amount of sag throughout the keyboard, but you really have to be hammering away at the buttons to notice at all. They strike quickly and feel firm, and my only complaint is that sometimes my right index finger catches under the bottom left corner of the "H" key. This is probably a result of my typing style, but I’m worried that over time it will lift up the key and become a real problem. There is a full numerical pad, which is either nice or useless, depending upon the individual. One complaint, which I knew about before buying the computer, is that for some reason HP has shortened the right Shift key to half its usual length. Apparently they were trying to squeeze in the up arrow, but it was the wrong decision. I have already adjusted (meaning I now use the left Shift key for almost every letter other than "A"), but still find myself with some dashes where I wanted a capital letter.
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Above the keyboard is a strip of touch-activated buttons, controlling volume, mute, and controls for the Quickplay media program (launch, DVD, play, stop, forward and back). The volume buttons are awesome, but it would be nice to have another button which disabled the whole strip. Sometimes I inadvertently hit the Quickplay button, which then launches a window on top of anything you happen to be doing.
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Another complaint is the rather chintzy mouse tracking pad and buttons. The pad itself is the same smooth, hard plastic material as the outer shell (at least it feels and looks the same), which makes it less responsive to movements than a regular textured pad. The left/right buttons have no divider between them and they do not respond very well to pressure, frequently resulting in non-responsive clicks. The buttons are large, but do not respond evenly across their surface, adding to the frustration.
On the plus side, they have included a separate scrolling bar which is convenient. Though again, the scrolling bar could be more sensitive. There is also a button which toggles the tracking pad, eliminating accidental clicks and movements. I recommend buying a top-notch wireless mouse along with this laptop. It is a good, cheap way to negate one of the computer’s only design flaws — a lousy mouse apparatus.
Ports and Features
This laptop has a ton of ports. Three USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 Firewire, expansion port 3, TV out (S-video), Integrated Consumer IR (remote control receiver), 5-in-1 digital media card reader, microphone in, RJ-11 (modem), RJ-45 (LAN), VGA, HDMI external port. There is also an ExpressCard slot, which supports optional TV service, broadband wireless and more.
Front view. (view large image)
Rear view. (view large image)
Left side view. (view large image)
Right side view. (view large image)
The HDMI port on the left side is a sweet touch, vital if you opt for the BluRay drive. Another thing you’ll notice is the Infrared remote control, which tucks away in the ExpressCard slot when you’re not using it. This is convenient, though I haven’t once used the Quickplay feature which the remote controls.
The battery that comes stock is an 8-cell, but I upgraded to the high-capacity 8-cell, which is the only other option. With the brightness turned up all the way, the battery lasted just about three hours before kicking off. Owners can reasonably expect 3 ½ hours, if they take steps to reduce power consumption. HP also offers a convenient and effective power management tool, which automatically switches the power settings depending upon the power source (or user preference).
Heat and Noise
This computer excels in regards to noise and heat. I have had it running for 20 hours straight, and can still comfortably rest it on my lap (at least while clothed). The fan has at least three speeds, none of which are annoyingly loud, and it kicks on infrequently. (I don’t play games, so I can’t say whether this would hold true during a marathon session of Unreal Tournament). Most of the time I keep a large book between my lap and the computer, but that is to make it easier to type, not because of excessive or uncomfortable heat.
The pre-packaged software is decent. There is a large suite of family-friendly video games, mostly middle-of-the-road type stuff. The HP Photosmart application is a nice addition. Microsoft Works comes standard, Microsoft Office/Word costs extra (I did not pay extra for Office). There is also an HP Advisor built in, which helps new owners quickly and simply customize their computers.
I have not contacted HP customer service, though Consumer Reports seems to list HP as below average in that department. Hopefully I’ll never need to find out.
Overall, the HP Pavilion dv9700t is terrific. Any junkies fixated on high-end gaming or intense graphics/editing might find this computer lacking some muscle. For everybody else, it combines power, beauty, speed and solid design at a cost that can’t be beat (I comparison shopped for a very long time before reaching this conclusion). Just don’t forget to look for coupons!
- Great keyboard
- Good performance with T8100 processor
- Excellent screen with dual backlights
- Minor feedback on the headphone jacks
- Not the best touchpad and buttons