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HP dv9000z Review

Highs

  • Beautiful screen; HD-DVD playback; HDMI output; attractive design

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 7

Lows

  • Dismal battery life; quirky 64-bit software/driver issues
The HP Pavilion dv9200z offers everything you need in a well thought out media system.

Summary

The HP Pavilion dv9200z laptop is the first Vista Ultimate pre-loaded portable we’ve had a chance to look at up close for any appreciable time. That in itself is a factor in the review that follows, and we will try to provide a perspective of how this laptop measures up to XP-loaded machines and concept designs for Vista machines available in the near future.

Features and Design

We were first struck by the size, weight, and layout of this computer. Like other 17” notebooks, the dv9200 is a bit large for everyday portability, but generally preferred for media playback and desktop replacement. Here, we see the same market direction from HP, bundling an HD-DVD player and remote with the system. Unlike a few years ago, when these systems weighed 10 to 11 lbs, the dv9200z is a “svelte” 7.8 lbs.

The screen has very little bevel around it, meaning no space was wasted in the case design. All the corners of the case are smoothly curved, and everything about the case flows nicely. The keyboard is inset with a smooth curve, the bottom screen bevel swoops into the base, and the resin material that makes up the body was made using a unique technique to print subtle wave patterns across the flat surfaces. The surfaces are all glossy, making them a magnet for fingerprints and dust, but that seems to be a forgivable tradeoff in modern chic electronics. Of course, a microfiber cloth is included to keep your new beauty shiny and looking like new.

The wide format screen measures 17” diagonally and uses the Ultra BrightView technology which enhances contrast and color tones. The WXGA+ screen resolution (1440 x 900) is the most expensive option offered by HP due to the Ultra BrightView technology, but for those who want more screen real-estate, there is a WSXGA+ (1680 x 1050) option with normal/non-Ultra BrightView technology. Above the screen, the top edge includes the latches that hold the notebook closed, dual microphones, and the integrated 1.3-megapixel camera (more on this later). The pixels are pushed with the help of an Nvidia GeForce Go 7600 with 256MB of dedicated DDR2 memory.

Port layout is straightforward and well thought out. The left side includes three video output options: s-video, VGA, and HDMI. You’ll also find a dock connector, gigabit ethernet, modem, two USB 2.0 ports, and one mini IEEE 1394 port. There’s also an SD/MS/MMC/XD slot, but CF owners are out of luck. The front edge includes the activity lights, wireless switch, IR receiver, microphone input, and two headphone ports (one of which supports S/PDIF for surround sound system connection). The right side houses two more USB 2.0 ports, the HD-DVD/DVD±RW DL drive, and ExpressCard slot. An optional ExpressCard TV tuner is available during product configuration. The power adapter plugs into the right side and has a blue, glowing ring to indicate that there is power flowing through the cable.

HP dv9200z
The left side of the HP dv9200z HP dv9200z
The right side of the dv9200z

The work surface holds a full keyboard, complete with number pad and functions keys. A row of touch-sensitive keys above the keyboard provide quick access to media controls. There are two buttons dedicated to HP’s Quickplay media front end and DVD/HD-DVD sub-component, the second of which is somewhat unnecessary, because the DVD player is the first option when QuickPlay opens. Other buttons include play/pause, stop, next, previous, mute, and a volume slider. These controls work within QuickPlay or Windows Media Player. There is no software included to customize the functions of the buttons, which we generally like to see. The Altec Lansing speakers are concealed under a mesh-like resin covering and pump out respectable audio, though it’s somewhat distorted at higher volumes (as is the case with most laptop speakers).

HP dv9200z
The Keyboard and trackpad

The trackpad feels almost too smooth, but it is responsive. The dedicated scrolling area is continuous with the rest of the trackpad, making it easy to accidentally trigger the virtual scrolling function. We had to tweak the Synaptics control panel to get a more natural feeling while scrolling. Even then, some applications (such as Firefox) refused to recognize virtual scrolling. Annoying? Yes, but it is an issue with the Synaptics drivers we have seen on other systems as well. The keyboard is comfortable, but feels slightly flimsy. There is also a dedicated hard button to turn off the track pad when using an external mouse, though we fail to see any situation where this would be helpful. The trackpad is off center compared to the case, but centered on the space bar of the keyboard.

Our system came configured with an AMD Turion 64 X2 clocked at 2.2 GHz — the top of the line offered in this series of notebooks. There is also a separate model number with Intel Core 2 Duo processors topping out at the T7200 (2GHz). The other differences between the two lines are the optional WLAN capability in the AMD line and a 512MB GeForce Go 7600 in the Intel line. Given the option between the two series, we would recommend the Intel line. We tried installing several applications on this test system, most of which ran without any problems. However, since the AMD series comes with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, drivers can be an issue. We found two pieces of software that required special beta drivers and executables in order to run. These were specialized applications that most people don’t use (and they required USB Secure Keys), but with our limited time testing, the chances of another such issue are likely. If you are sure of the environment you will be using this computer in and use very few titles from small vendors, it is safe to take the 64-bit jump.

Testing and Use

Overall, the system was very responsive and able to run Vista smoothly with all the eye candy enabled. The Windows Experience Index score was a 4.7 at configuration and dropped to a 4.6 by the time it reached our doors, most likely due to the very limited vendor-specific software bundled. (When you keep in mind that this score is out of a possible 6, that’s a mighty nice rating for a portable computer. Also, keep in mind that this score is based on the Experience Index as of January 2007 and will change as the Index changes.) As far as OEM systems go, the lack of gobs of bloatware was refreshing. Aside from a wireless configuration utility, QuickPlay, and a few promotional internet shortcuts, the system was pretty clean. Another performance-enhancing feature is optional RAID configuration of two internal SATA drives, up to 160GB each. Maximum RAM offered is 2GB of DDR2 memory. Still, the Turion is rated as slower than a similarly clocked Core 2 Duo.

We should note that the Quickplay application doesn’t really do anything that Windows Media Center doesn’t. In fact, it does much less, which leaves us scratching our heads as to the usefulness of two quick launch buttons that can’t be customized to perform other functions. The only real reason we could come up with was that this is provides yet another opportunity to see a big HP logo. They could have just gone with a Media Center theme that was HP-ified, but that wouldn’t have been as permanent.

There are two battery options for the dv9200; we received the high capacity model. We tested battery life using playback of an HD-DVD at full screen brightness while connected to a wireless network. Our reasoning was that this would tax the graphics card, CPU, WiFi antennae, and optical drive, and give us an almost worst-case scenario. We weren’t actively exchanging information over WiFi, but the link remained intact for the duration. The high capacity battery has a 15% boost over the standard 8-cell battery offered. For the duration of our test, the laptop was warm to the touch, but not hot. All power options were left as they were configured at the factory. We knew we were in for trouble when the battery was at 70% within 20 minutes. In the end, the battery only lasted 50 minutes under the above conditions. Yes, that is fifty, as in five-zero, minutes.

We couldn’t let it rest at that, so we ran a few other tests, but those numbers are pretty bad under any condition, especially when there is no higher capacity battery available. So, we plugged her in and juiced up the dv9200. That is, until we noticed something disturbing. When we moused over the power meter, the info pop-up said “Plugged in, not charging.” Could this be right? We waited about 10 minutes before 1% was added to the power meter and the status changed to charging. Intrigued by this, we decided to measure how long it took to charge 10% while the computer was on, but not being used, and WiFi was off. It took 11 minutes to recharge 10%, which translates into approximately 2 hours to recharge the battery fully. We put the dv9200 to sleep and waited 11 minutes, which resulted in an 11% increase in charge. The moral of the story? Feel free to tap away while this puppy recharges, since powering it down doesn’t increase the charge rate much. Once recharged, we tried plain old vanilla DVD playback with WiFi off, under the assumption that this would tax the GPU and CPU less (and probably the HD specific chips in the optical drive as well). Under these conditions, the battery lasted just under two hours. That’s not spectacular, but you can watch a DVD on a flight (if you can fit this monster on that tiny snack tray).

The dv9200 is a continuation of the dv9000 line, which was designed while Windows XP still ruled the operating system world. As such, there is nothing Vista-specific about this system’s hardware — no SideShow screen, hybrid drive/motherboard enhancement, TPS module, etc. Is that a bad thing? Not in this case. Most of these features are more useful in notebooks designed for portability. Also, the dv9200 has Bluetooth, which some early SideShow add-on products exchange information over. As of publication, no first-generation Vista-compatible notebooks contain these features, so it would be unfair for us to dock points for their absence. All major manufacturers opted to offer current notebook lines with Vista, rather than offer new models along with the new OS.

We did experience a few glitches. Several times, bringing the laptop out of sleep mode caused the screen to remain off and there was no hard drive activity. Trying to return the computer to sleep mode or hibernate failed, and the system had to be powered down.

HP dv9200z
The HP dv9200z

Conclusion

The HP Pavilion dv9200z offers everything you need in a well thought out media system. You can watch high def content on-the-go or on a big screen with full 5.1 surround. The battery life was disappointing, but when DVD drives became the norm, most laptops couldn’t make it through an entire movie either. While none of the Vista-specific hardware bling is included, no current models offer it either. Vista was responsive and smooth, but for those who want to avoid headaches, we would warn against the AMD chip and go with the Intel Core 2 Duo version.

Pros:

• Beautiful screen
• HD-DVD playback
• Attractive design
• HDMI output

Cons:

• Dismal battery life
• AMD CPU is not very impressive
• Still some 64-bit software/driver issues out there
Conclusion

The HP Pavilion dv9200z offers everything you need in a well thought out media system. You can watch high def content on-the-go or on a big screen with full 5.1 surround. The battery life was disappointing, but when DVD drives became the norm, most laptops couldn’t make it through an entire movie either. While none of the Vista-specific hardware bling is included, no current models offer it either. Vista was responsive and smooth, but for those who want to avoid headaches, we would warn against the AMD chip and go with the Intel Core 2 Duo version.

Pros:

• Beautiful screen
• HD-DVD playback
• Attractive design
• HDMI output

Cons:

• Dismal battery life
• AMD CPU is not very impressive
• Still some 64-bit software/driver issues out there

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