More affordable than a traditional ultraportable notebook and more powerful and stylish than your typical netbook, the HP Pavilion dv2-1030us has a lot to offer for a reasonable $749. This 12.1-inch machine is the first laptop powered by AMD’s new Athlon Neo processor, which is designed to deliver more oomph than Intel’s Atom CPU, and it’s equipped with relatively robust ATI Mobility Radeon graphics. HP also includes an external optical drive, a shock-mounted 320GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM to handle the resource-hungry Vista. Unfortunately, a somewhat cramped keyboard and short battery life prevent the dv2 from being a top pick.
There’s no mistaking the fact that the dv2 has a more premium look and feel than most netbooks. HP decked out this ultraportable with a high-gloss Espresso black finish with silver trim around the deck. The lid picked up fingerprints quickly, but we’ve seen worse, and we like the modern-looking HP logo. Beneath the keyboard you’ll find a pinstripe pattern on the right side that leads into a graphics treatment that include bubbles and swirl patterns. Depending on your tastes, you’ll find this aesthetic chic or too busy (we’re leaning towards the latter).
At 3.8 pounds, the dv2 is a bit heavy for a 12.1-inch system without an optical drive. By comparison, the Samsung NC20 weighs 3.4 pounds. On the other hand, the sloping design on the dv2 has a sleeker profile, measuring 0.9 inches at its thinnest point up to 1.3 inches, while the NC20 is 1.2 inches all the way around. When viewed from the side with the lid closed, the dv2 is reminiscent of a sports car. And the beauty is more than skin-deep; thanks to its magnesium alloy casing, the dv2 feels sturdier than most netbooks.
All the ports on the dv2 are found on the sides of the notebook. The left side houses the Ethernet jack (10/100, not Gigabit), a VGA port, HDMI port, and two USB ports. A Kensington lock slot, the third USB port, headphone and mic jacks, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader line the right side of the machine, along with the power switch (we’d prefer a button on the deck) and a wireless on/off button.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the dv2 is certainly usable, but it feels unnecessarily cramped. This system’s layout is 92 percent of full size, which is good for a netbook, but in this case space is wasted on either side of the deck. In addition, there is very little space between the keys because the layout is flat and nearly flush with the rest of the deck, although HP did make the keys a bit concave to counteract this effect. Overall, we could type at a decent pace on the dv2, and the keys provided a firm feedback, but the keyboards on the Samsung NC20 and Lenovo ThinkPad X200 are more comfortable.
We have mixed feelings about the silver touchpad, too. The mirrored design looks cool, but it takes more effort than we’d like to move the cursor exactly where you want it—say, a link on a Web page—as well as to activate the scroll function on the right side. The touch buttons are large horizontally and relatively easy to press. HP includes a button that locks both the touchpad and buttons, which comes in handy if you decide to plug in an external mouse.
Display and Audio
Outfitted with a 12.1-inch LED screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, the dv2’s display is crisp and bright. When watching an episode of Heroes streamed from Hulu.com, the picture looked richly saturated, and we enjoyed generous viewing angles from the sides. And despite the fact that the screen is glossy, we didn’t find it distracting when surfing the Web or typing in WordPad. Our only beef with the display is that it sits higher than some competing ultraportables and netbooks, both because of the dv2’s relatively larger bezel and the way the hinges are designed, which leaves a space between the bottom of the screen and the deck. Frequent flyers worried about other passengers leaning back too far might prefer a system with a lower profile.
Underneath the front lip of the dv2 you’ll find the Altec Lansing speakers, which benefit from SRS Premium Sound technology. When we cranked the audio all the way up when streaming “Someday” by The Strokes on Slacker, the sound was loud but somewhat tinny. Dialogue came through loud and clear in the Heroes episode. This notebook could certainly double as a movie and music player when you’re on the go.
The dv2 is the first notebook equipped with AMD’s new Athlon Neo processor, running at 1.6 GHz. This CPU was designed for ultrathin notebooks, promising better performance than Intel’s Atom, as well as cool operation and long battery life. Paired with 4GB of RAM, the dv2 has enough horsepower to run Vista. This notebook notched a score of 1,430 in PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista performance); that’s nearly 350 points higher than a typical netbook running a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, such as the Workhorse PC Certeza MC10 we reviewed recently. On the other hand, the average PCMark Vantage score for ultraportables is 2,952, so the dv2 is only about half as fast as a premium system such as the ThinkPad X200 (which costs over $400 more).
The dv2 took its time booting into Vista. At 1 minute and 4 seconds, this notebook is 5 seconds slower than the average ultraportable—and that’s not counting the HP Total Care Advisor. This program, which offers shortcuts to everything from security settings to your photos and videos, took 2.5 minutes to appear on the top of the desktop. The good news is that you can prevent this app from loading when you boot the notebook by tweaking the settings.
On the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), the dv2’s hard drive took 6 minutes and 3 seconds, or a rate of 14.0 MBps. That result is in line with the category average for netbooks but slower than the average ultraportable (20.1 MBps).
So what about everyday productivity performance? Applications loaded in a respectable time frame—most in less than five seconds—and we had no problems working with multiple programs (Firefox, Windows Media Player, WordPad) open simultaneously.
We also took a 5-minute-and-5-second MPEG-4 video clip (114MB) and transcoded it to the AVI format using Handbrake. The dv2 completed the task in 22 minutes and 32 seconds, while the Samsung NC20, which has a VIA processor, took a considerably longer 30:45. Still, the $799 Gateway UC7807u, which has an 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor, took just 7:53 to complete the same task.
Something you don’t see on the typical 12.1-inch notebook is a discrete graphics card with 512MB of memory. Thanks to its ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3140 GPU, the dv2 turned in a strong score of 1,448 in 3DMark06, which is well above the averages for ultraportables (896) and netbooks (169). This system delivered smooth visuals and good detail when we created a character using the trial version of Spore’s Creature Creator and walked him around.
When it comes to more demanding games, the dv2 is better suited to older titles. When playing F.E.A.R., this notebook mustered 33 frames per second at 1024 x 600 pixels, which dropped to a still playable 21 fps at 1280 x 800. Far Cry 2 was more of a struggle; the dv2 notched only 16 fps and 10 fps at the same respective resolutions.
In terms of video performance, the dv2 more than held its own when it came to playing high-definition content at 720p resolution. The notebook had no problems keeping up with a WMV “Super Speedway” clip downloaded from Microsoft’s WMV HD Content Showcase. That same clip played without a hiccup when we output the audio and video to a Samsung HDTV using the dv2’s HDMI connection. A separate 1080p clip called “Coral Reef Adventure” would be lost on this system’s 720p display, so we only watched it on the big screen. Playback was a bit jerky at times, but the dv2 offered very crisp detail and sound that was always in sync with the on-screen action.
Heat and Fan Noise
During testing the dv2 got very warm, despite the fact that AMD claims the Neo processor is designed to make thin and light laptops run cool. While idle we measured 110 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom of the system. The keyboard measured 102 degrees, and the touchpad 94. By comparison, the Samsung NC20 registered only 86 degrees on the touchpad and keyboard, and 82 degrees on the bottom while idle. In a quiet room, the fan on the left side of the dv2 was certainly audible while downloading a TV show from iTunes, but it wasn’t too distracting.
Battery Life and Wireless
The dv2 comes with a six-cell lithium ion battery that doesn’t last very long on a charge. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which simulates Web surfing over Wi-Fi, this machine ran out of juice after only 2 hours and 31 minutes. That’s pretty poor for a notebook that’s designed to be taken everywhere; the average ultraportable and average netbook with a six-cell battery offers well over 5 hours of endurance. Less than half as much runtime is not going to cut it for many prospective buyers.
On the plus side, the dv2 delivered strong wireless performance using its Broadcom 802.11n adapter. We saw average throughput of 28.2 Mbps at 15 feet from our router and 20.8 Mbps from 50 feet. Web pages downloaded quickly in the office and at home. HP will also offer optional Bluetooth and Gobi mobile broadband connectivity in the coming weeks.
Software and Warranty
HP includes a bevy of software with the dv2. We already mentioned the HP Total Care Advisor dock, which is useful but only if you don’t let it start when you boot. Other bundled programs include HP Recovery Manager and HP MediaSmart software, Muvee Reveal, CyberLink DVD Suite, and HP Games powered by WildTangent. You also get 60-day trial versions of Symantec Norton Internet Security 2009 and Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007. HP covers the dv2 with a standard one-year limited hardware warranty and toll-free phone support for one year.
At launch, the dv2 will be sold as a single configuration, but HP will be making other configurations and options available in the near future. Pricing for these options will be announced at a later date. For starters, you’ll have your choice of Windows Vista Basic or Home Premium. An external Blu-ray drive will also be made available, although we think that’s overkill for a 12-inch notebook. And if you’re not happy with the 320GB hard drive on this configuration, you can choose from a few other capacities (160GB, 250GB, and 500GB). On the wireless front, Bluetooth and integrated Gobi mobile broadband will be available as options.
In terms of design and performance, the HP Pavilion dv2-1030us represents a step up from most netbooks. Also, the LED display is sharp and the notebook handles high-definition content well both on the screen itself and when output via HDMI. You can even play some 3D games at a decent clip. However, while we can live with the somewhat cramped keyboard and above-average heat, the dv2’s short battery life will be a deal breaker for many potential buyers. Although it’s not nearly as stylish as the dv2 and its graphics performance isn’t as strong, some may prefer the Samsung NC20. That lighter 12.1-inch notebook lasts about 5 hours on a charge, offers a more comfortable keyboard, and costs only $549. Nevertheless, the dv2 is a well-performing ultraportable at a relatively affordable price of $749.