At $2,149, the HDX 18 is aggressively priced for a desktop replacement with a Blu-ray drive, full HD screen with a 16:9 ratio, 4GB of RAM, and Intel’s powerful Centrino 2 platform. We don’t know of an 18.4-inch notebook that offers a greater value. The HDX 18 shares some of the weaknesses of its 16-inch cousin, but it’s still a stellar big-screen notebook.
In many ways, the HDX 18 reminds us of HP’s recently revamped dv series. Both have glossy patterned lids with matching palm rests and touchpads. They have the same glossy feel, but whereas the dv series’ sports a subdued micro-checkerboard pattern, the HDX design has more flair. Abstract silver and black lines span across a charcoal background. Contrasting that, its keyboard and touchpad are silver, and the touchpad has black and charcoal lines.
At 9 pounds, the HDX 18 is heavy, but it’s still a typical weight for this screen size; the Acer Aspire 8920G, another 18.4-incher, weighs the same. Moreover, the HDX 18 is thinner than the 8920G by 0.3 inches, and has a smaller footprint, too.
The touch buttons were quiet and easy to press but felt a bit mushy and less solid compared with the buttons on the HP Pavilion dv7. Like the HDX 16, the touchpad on our unit provided too much resistance, and we found ourselves increasing the cursor speed to compensate.
As for the keyboard, which includes a number pad, it’s equally quiet and comfortable. As a final touch, the HDX, like the dv series, has a touch-sensitive row of buttons above the keyboard that glow pale purple (a matching HP logo on the lid is backlit in the same color). These buttons, most of which control media playback, were finicky, but HP warned us this would be the case since ours was a preproduction unit.
The best reason to buy the HDX 18 instead of the dv7 (or any other 17-inch notebook) is its full HD display, which has a 16:9 aspect ratio that all but eliminates black bars on Blu-ray movies shot in widescreen. In a word, it’s stunning. When we watched the Blu-ray version of The Other Boleyn Girl, the picture looked bright, sharp, and fluid. Unfortunately, this glossy screen is too reflective, and limits the viewing angles; you can’t push the screen as far down or watch as far to the side as you can with less-reflective displays. When we reviewed the 8920G, for instance, we were able to watch movies at nearly 180-degree angles.
We also didn’t like that the CyberLink DVD Suite wouldn’t let us use the mouse and touchpad to control Blu-ray playback; we were stuck with the finicky touch controls. (With HP’s QuickPlay, however, you can use the mouse with Blu-ray menus.)
The Altec Lansing speakers, which lie above the touch panel, produced loud, theater-quality sound. It doesn’t have Dolby True 5.1 Surround Sound like the 8920G; instead, it comes with Dolby Home Theater software, which simulates the surround sound experience. Like the HDX 16, the HDX 18 has a built-in TV tuner with an external antenna. Although not as sharp as a movie, the live network TV shows we chose were still watchable.
Ports and Webcam
In addition to a DVD burner with Blu-ray playback, the HDX 18 has four USB ports; FireWire, HDMI, VGA, and eSATA ports; infrared (IR); Ethernet and modem jacks; a microphone and two headphone ports; an expansion port; and a port for the external TV antenna. It also has an ExpressCard/54 slot and a 5-in-1 memory card reader.
The embedded VGA webcam delivered fluid but off-colored video and still photos. Still, as with the HDX 16, we enjoyed the CyberLink YouCam software, which has scads of special effects, including filters, distortions, avatars, backgrounds, and animations.
Ideal for power users, the HDX 18 is powered by Intel’s new Centrino 2 platform, with a 2.8-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 CPU and 4GB RAM (upgradeable to 8GB). This combination packs a powerful punch: the system’s PCMark Vantage score of 4,014 is almost 900 points above average for the desktop replacement category. This score, as well as the gaming, wireless, and battery scores listed below, all trump the 8920G.
Although our preproduction unit had dual 7,200-rpm, 160GB hard drives, consumers will get dual 7,200-rpm 250GB drives for the same price. As you can imagine, they’re speedy: they transferred a 4.97GB file of assorted media in 4 minutes and 51 seconds, which translates to an excellent write speed of 17.5 Mbps.
Our anecdotal tests also show that the HDX 18 is fast. We were able to work smoothly within five open tabs in Internet Explorer 7—including e-mail, Google Docs, Google Talk, and YouTube—while running a virus scan in the background. However, out of the box, the machine took 1 minute and 6 seconds to boot, which is surprising given the specs (the average Vista notebook takes between 50 and 60 seconds to start up). This might have something to do with the preinstalled software our unit came with (Norton Internet Security 2008, Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student, muvee autoProducer 6.1, CyberLink LabelPrint, Power2Go, and PowerDirector, SlingPlayer, Yahoo Toolbar, and Spore Creature Creator).
Let’s not forget the HDX 18’s gaming potential. In addition to the 18.4-inch display, the Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics card and 512MB dedicated memory are ideal for more than just casual gamers. The machine’s 3DMark03 score of 12,865 is slightly above average, even in a category that includes a fair share of gaming rigs. However, its score of 4,112 on 3DMark06, a benchmark for more graphically intensive games, is about a thousand points below average.
Similarly, on our frame rate tests the HDX 18 was blazing in mainstream games but stumbled when we cranked the resolution. On F.E.A.R., for instance, the HDX 18 notched 75 frames per second on autodetect settings, but dropped to 28 fps at maximum settings. Although 75 fps is right on target for a desktop replacement on autodetect, 28 fps is about 20 points below average for maximum settings. Finally, the HDX 18 ran World of Warcraft, a less demanding game, at 59 fps, which is about average for a desktop replacement.
The bottom line: the HDX 18 delivers above-average performance when it comes to mainstream games, but as far as high-end titles, it can’t compare to a dedicated gaming rig.
Wi-Fi, Battery Life, and Warranty
Equipped with Intel’s WiFi Link 5100 wireless radio, the HDX 18 delivered consistently excellent throughput: its scores of 20.9 Mbps at 15 feet and 18.8 Mbps at 50 feet are both above average for a desktop replacement (or any other category, for that matter). The HDX 18’s eight-cell battery lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, in which we connect to a Wi-Fi network and run a script that simulates continuous Web surfing. That’s about 10 minutes longer than the average desktop replacement lasts.
The HDX 18 comes with HP’s standard warranty, which includes one-year parts and labor and 24/7, toll-free phone support.
The HP HDX 18 trumps our Editors’ Choice–winning Acer Aspire 8920G in nearly every category: graphics, wireless, battery life, and overall performance, and the HDX 18 even costs $450 less. However, the 8920G offers better viewing angles and a more-robust speaker system, even if its CineDash controls can be confusing to some. If you can live with its minor flaws, the HDX 18 is the better value.