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HP Pavilion HDX Review

Highs

  • Awe inspiring design; tons of expansion ports; touch-sensitive controls; very powerful

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 7

Lows

  • Hard to transport; slow Vista boot times; massive power brick; no Blu-Ray option
Most importantly though, the HDX has style and attitude; we love the paint job and innovative design.

Summary

HP has been hard at work this year to bring some very unusual and exciting products to consumers. Along with a super high powered gaming rig and a cornucopia of LCD screens, HP has unleashed a new mega-laptop, the HP Pavilion HDX “Entertainment Series Laptop”, aka The Dragon. It’s a 20.1″ notebook computer – stunning in looks, impressive on specs, and fully bucking the whole “smaller, faster” tech trend of the last few decades. We spent some quality time with the HDX and have some stats and impressions to share with you.

Features and Design:

The HP Pavilion HDX is a monstrous computer. It’s freakishly big – the Robert Barone of notebooks – when compared to other portable computers. Thankfully, its huge size is equaled by its stunning looks and beautiful, logical and remarkably intuitive design.

At the time of this writing, the HDX uses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor – the T7700 – running at 2.4GHz (like the 15″ MacBook Pro). There’s a healthy 4MB L2 cache backing up the processor. The HDX also has an 800MHz bus and supports up to 4GB of DDR2 RAM. Our test model had a 2GB complement of memory.

The HDX uses the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card with 256MB dedicated DDR2 memory, and is able to utilize upwards of 2GB dedicated & shared video memory. It’s hard to imagine using 2GB of video memory, but the HDX will gladly oblige.

Need lots of storage space on your monster notebook? The HDX is sold with up to 400GB storage with two (yes, two) SATA drives. Our test model came with two 100GB drives, making for 200GB total. If one wanted to trick the HDX out, they could add two 250GB SATA drives, giving half a terabyte of storage space.

Sound System

HP endowed the HDX with a really enjoyable Altec Lansing sound system, featuring 4 panel mounted speakers and an integrated HP Triple Bass Reflex Sub-Woofer. The sound system supports up to 7.1 channel external speaker configurations as well. Unlike most laptops where the built-in speakers are meager to pathetic, the HDX actually sounds pretty good. When using headphones, the HDX sounds awesome.

HD DVD

HP gave the HDX an HD DVD drive, so you can play HD DVD movies. The “SuperMulti” DVD+-R/RW drive also burns DVDs and CDs (single and dual layer).

LCD Screen

HP has recently made dramatic improvements to their LCD screens and display technology. The Brightview screens, notable for their glossy coating and ultra-rich colors, are typically found on stand-alone LCD monitors. As time rolls forward, Brightview is becoming standard for HP laptops, and it’s a very good thing. The HDX was given a 20.1″ Brightview screen and has a screen resolution of 1680×1050. It’s gorgeous – flat out gorgeous. Colors are vibrant, life-like and accurate.

DVDs look brilliant, and digital photos are given new life on this screen. On most computers, DVDs often look pixellated when blown up to full-screen. This is due to the incongruous resolution of DVD movies and the target LCD screen. LCD displays typically having higher res than DVDs, force digital upsizing of the DVD. Because the HDX is HD DVD compatible, and because HD DVDs have much greater resolution than standard def DVDs, the final effect on screen is beautiful and super-clean, although not a true 1080p resolution.

HP Pavilion HDX
The HP Pavilion HDX on the left and a MacBook pro 15″ on the right

Wired & Wireless

The integrated network card connects at 10/100/1000, so if you have a gigabit switch, you can get full gigabit LAN connections for super fast data transfers. Additionally, the HDX has built-in wireless (802.11n capable) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networking capability.

Flash Drives

The HDX has a built-in memory card reader that supports SD, MMC, Sony Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro and xD cards. There’s no built-in adapter for CF cards or microSD, however ExpressCard adapters can be found online and in computer stores everywhere. The HDX can support either ExpressCard/54 or ExpressCard/34.

Giving You the Finger

HP includes a biometric fingerprint reader on the HDX. This is great for people who like to automate their logins and access to secure files and websites. The reader is located just above the F7 and F8 keys. The controller software is pre-installed on the HDX, so you won’t have to wade through messy setup processes.

HP Pavilion HDX
The HP Pavilion HDX w/ lid closed (notice the integrated neck)

Keyboard & Mouse

Because the body of the HDX is built to support a 20.1″ LCD screen, there’s plenty of room for a full-sized 101-key keyboard with separate number keypad, just like you’d find on standard desktop keyboards. This is very handy for folks who use Excel spreadsheets, or for those who like to continually count their stacks of cash with Vista’s calc program.

The HDX’s touchpad is seamlessly built in to the face of the notebook, dumping the old-school recessed design. The HDX touchpad has a near 16×9 shape, making it ideal for use with the widescreen LCD. The touchpad has a separate scroll pad which you can use to scroll up and down through web pages, Word docs, etc., all without using the Up or Down arrow keys. This feature is reminiscent of Apple’s two-finger scrolling function on newer laptops.

One cool thing about the touchpad is the on/off switch. Personally, I loathe typing away on my laptop only to find that the touchpad has activated and thrown my cursor to a random spot on the page. I eventually have to locate the orphaned text and reunite it with the proper paragraph. HP fixes this annoyance with brilliant simplicity – an on/off button.

Ports, Jacks and Plugs

In addition to all the components mentioned above, the HDX comes replete with four (4) USB 2.0 ports, two headphone outputs (one for you, one for sharing), digital audio out, a mic input, IR receiver, an HDMI output (one of the first notebooks in the world to offer HDMI), a VGA-out, eSATA out, TV-out, an “Expansion Port 3″, a 4-pin FireWire connector (sadly, not a full-fledged 6-pin FireWire port), S-Video input, and a Kensington lock slot. This is one of the most complete and feature-rich laptops out there.

HP Pavilion HDX
The back of the HDX reveals video and audio outputs

Webcam and Mics

The HDX makes for a super-cool web-chat system, thanks to the built-in webcam and stereo microphones. Yes, stereo mics built right into the LCD bezel. The 640×480 webcam is good to very-good in quality and records .MPG movies as well as still images (jpg). The angle of the webcam can be adjusted ever-so-slightly inside the LCD screen’s bezel.

Power & Battery

The HDX uses a 180watt AC adaptor to power its 9-cell Li-Ion battery. 180watts is a lot, especially when you compare it to the MacBook Pro’s 85watt power usage. Some smaller desktops use 200watt power supplies. Accordingly, the HDX does not perform well with battery life. It’s just not intended to be an unplugged system. It’ll power up and give you enough time to get a modest amount of work done (90-150 minutes), but it drains battery like a 12-cylinder Cadillac land-yacht burns though gas. No worries! Show those electrons who’s boss!

Warranty

As with most computers, the HDX has a 1-year limited warranty. When considering the overall cost of this system, it is very smart to get any supplemental warranty support from HP, no matter the cost. If your HDX is 12 months and 1 day old and the LCD screen or a component on the motherboard goes belly-up, it’ll be expensive to repair – much more expensive than an extended warranty plan would ever cost. Remember, this is not a cheap-o $500 laptop that you can just write off as an acceptable loss. Treat it (and your wallet) with due care.

In the Box

Along with the HDX, you’ll get the power supply, battery, IR extender cable, HD television antenna, coax cable adapter, stereo headphones (earbuds) and the HDX Media Center remote control.

As previously mentioned, the HDX comes with Windows Vista Ultimate. You’ll also find Norton Internet Security 2007, HP Total Care software, PC Recovery, Wireless Home Network, Roxio Backup MyPC, Microsoft Works, Microsoft Office 2007 trial edition, AOL Music, Vongo, HP PhotoSmart Premier, HP Quick Play, Muvee AutoProducer, Roxio Creator Premier, Serif WebPlus 10 and Adobe’s ever-popular Acrobat Reader.

HP Pavilion HDX
Image Courtesy of HP

Setup and Use:

Setting up the Pavilion HDX requires a little time and a healthy dose of patience. It’s not that the HDX is very complex, which it’s not. There are just so many functions, features and accessories to deal with. Of course, to get the HDX running in its most basic mode – straight computing – the setup is no more difficult than with most “notebook” computers.

As mentioned above, the HDX weighs roughly 15.5lbs, so be careful when lifting it from the packaging and placing it on a desk or table. You’ll also want to make sure that the surface you’ll be using is sturdy and won’t wobble or buckle under the weight of the HDX.

Unpack the HDX from its packaging. Pop the battery into the battery bay, connect the power brick and cord to the back of the HDX, then plug it into a wall outlet. Open the mondo-huge display by lifting the front lip with either one hand dead-center, or with two hands on the left and right corners of the display.

You’ll notice that the display is on a hinge. When opened fully, the bottom of the LCD releases itself from the rear arm. This allows you to pivot the LCD forward and back, giving you the best possible viewing angle based on your preferences. This feature is one that will generate lots of ooh’s and aah’s.

Remove the remote control from its bay and insert the two flat batteries. Return the remote to its bay or keep it available on your desk.

Finally, turn on the computer using the rectangular power button on the top left of the keyboard. Windows Vista will be pre-installed on your HDX, so follow any setup instructions you may be presented with. All-in-all, this is the easiest part of setting up the HDX.

Once Vista has run though its setup steps, you’ll be ready to start taking advantage of the 20.1″ LCD on the HDX. In our tests, we found that videos looked awesome, sprawling spreadsheets could be displayed with much less scrolling, and games played perfectly. Displaying home movies and digital photos is one of the most enjoyable features, thanks to the Brightview glossy screen. Colors pop and photos look really, really good – so good, that even mundane photos are interesting to look at again.

Standard programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, Picasa, Photoshop and Quickbooks all open extremely fast, some in less than 1 second. Even complex Photoshop effects render in mere seconds, if not instantly. There’s little to nothing that runs slowly on the HDX computer, save for the unfortunately long Vista boot time (roughly 145 seconds). I can boot and reboot my 15″ MacBook Pro four or five times in the amount of time it takes Vista to boot on the HDX. It (almost) goes without saying that HDX boot-up times would be significantly improved with 4GB of RAM or if XP Pro was the OS of choice. Otherwise, the HDX is a speed machine.

Windows Vista Experience Index

Surprisingly, the HDX gets a 4.8 on the Windows Vista Experience Index, Microsoft Vista’s automated rating system that profiles and rates the hardware and expected performance levels. The scores range from 1.0 (crap that belongs in a garage sale) to 5.9 (hardcore awesome).

The HDX has two low-score items that prevent it from entering the near-perfect range. The first is the hard drive index. 5,400 RPM drives just don’t have the same potential data transfer rate ats 7,200 RPM drives, and therefore garner a weak 4.9. Of course, 4.9 is not terrible in the 1.0-5.9 scale. The other score killer is the 2GB RAM compliment in the test system. That got a 4.8. If this HDX had 4GB RAM, the score probably would have risen to at least a 5.3.

Despite the 4.8 grade, the overall performance is quite impressive, especially for a “portable” system. Maxing RAM and swapping the hard drives out for 7,200 RPM drives would make the HDX flat-out amazing.

Movies and TV

If you want to use the HDX for TV or movies, you’ll need to refer to the user manual for setup steps. In short, connect the IR extender if needed (if you’ll be distant from the HDX when using the remote) and connect the TV tuner antenna if you want to receive HD and/or analog broadcast signals. Otherwise, simply connect the HDX to any coax cable outlet in your home or office to the HDX’s built-in TV tuner. Most coax cables have a male end with threaded screw tip. The HDX uses a slightly different input, so be sure to connect the little coax adapter to your coax cable before attempting to plug it into the back of the HDX.

Conclusion:

The HP Pavilion HDX is a widely impressive notebook computer. Its sheer size is enough to make people gasp and stare. The 20.1″ LCD screen is beautiful and allows for a ton of work to be done – huge spreadsheets, larger-scale photo editing in Photoshop, graphic design and multi-window web browsing. Hook the HDX up to an external monitor or TV and get even more useable screen space.

The HDX is not easily transported and it’s not cheap, therefore it becomes a bit of a niche market. That said, there are plenty of architects, city planners and other similar professionals out there who would find the HDX an indispensable asset in their every day work. It’d also make for a shock-inducing gaming rig. Most importantly though, the HDX has style and attitude; we love the paint job and innovative design. If you want your friends and/or enemies to wet their pants when they see the monstrous and powerful system you’re toting, the HDX is a great option.

Pros:

• Awe inspiring design
• 20.1″ LCD is gorgeous
• Built-in webcam and stereo mics
• Excellent components inside – super fast
• Tons of expansion ports
• Built-in TV tuner and dockable remote control
• Touch-sensitive controls
• HD DVD capable, awesome for movies and TV

Cons:

• Hard to transport
• 15.5lbs without case or massive power brick
• Slow Vista boot times with 2GB RAM
• Blu-Ray is not an option

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