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Help Me, LAPTOP: HP Envy 14 or MacBook Pro 13?

Recently, one of our readers, a student about to head off to college, asked us if he should get the 13-inch MacBook Pro or the HP Envy 14. He wrote:

"For everyone who will be doing graphic arts or web design projects from a dorm room, and who will also have to lug their choice around for the next few years, please help in making the decision between the HP and the new MacBook Pro 13. Is the battery life difference between the two laptops several hours, really? Is that offset by the extra "real estate" of a 14.5 display? Speaking of displays, I've read the HP Radiance Infinity display is 60% brighter than anything else. Is that true; does that include the new MacBooks?"

Putting aside the different operating systems, we'll go, round by round, through the merits of each notebook, and see which one is best suited for students.

Design, Portability, and Usability
Apple has long led the way when it comes to notebook design. Its laptops’ aluminum unibody construction is not only first-rate in terms of looks, but also feels durable too. However, the HP Envy’s bronze metal etched lid and deck is every bit as stylish as the MacBook Pro.

Both notebooks feature comfortable, island-style keyboards, but the MBP’s 4.1 x 3-inch touchpad is not only larger than the Envy 14’s (4.25 x 2.5), but is easier to use--HP’s improvements notwithstanding.

Naturally, the Envy 14’s larger screen size necessitates a bigger chassis and heavier weight. While both are roughly 1 inch in thickness, the Envy 14’s footprint is 14 x 9.3 inches to the MacBook Pro’s 12.8 x 8.9 inches. Also, the Envy 14 weighs 5.4 pounds, compared to 4.4 pounds for the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Display
In terms of sheer size and pixel count, the Envy 14 carries the day. Its 14.5-inch screen has a resolution of 1600 x 900, which is much greater than the MacBook Pro’s 13.3-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel resolution screen. However, in terms of image quality, the two are evenly matched: The HP’s Radiance Infinity screen was as bright, crisp, and saturated as the MacBook Pro’s.

Winner: HP Envy 14

Performance
The HP Envy 14’s more powerful components led it to outperform the MacBook Pro in most areas. The  Envy 14 uses a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-450M, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. The MacBook Pro has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600, 4GB of RAM, and a 250GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive.

Before we delve into numbers, a little disclaimer: The MacBook Pro’s performance scores were taken while the system was running Windows 7 in Boot Camp mode.

In PCMark Vantage, the Envy 14 scored 6,129 to the MBP’s 4,164, an obvious delta. Also, when transcoding a 114MB MPEG4 file to AVI, the Envy took 54 seconds, about 20 seconds faster than the MacBook Pro. However, the efficiencies of the Mac’s operating system allowed its slower hard drive to complete the transfer test in 2 minutes and 54 seconds, nearly as fast as the Envy 14 (2:51).

Winner: HP Envy 14

Graphics
The Envy 14 features switchable graphics in the form of integrated Intel GMA HD and a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 with 1GB of memory. By contrast, the MacBook pro has an Nvidia GeForce GT 320M GPU with 256MB of memory. Here too, the HP was a bit more powerful.

In 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics performance, the Envy 14 scored 6,876 to the MBP’s 4,754. When playing World of Warcraft at native resolution and with effects at max, the Envy notched 54 fps to the MBP’s 50 fps. Same goes for Far Cry 2: The Envy 14 saw gameplay of 27 fps at native, where the MacBook Pro got just 19 fps.

Winner: HP Envy 14

Battery Life
One of the biggest drawbacks of the Envy 14 is its battery life: On the LAPTOP Battery test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi) the machine lasted just 4 hours and 26 minutes. That’s about 3 hours and 20 minutes less than the MacBook Pro (7:48).

Winner: Apple MacBook Pro

Value and Verdict
The HP Envy we tested costs $1,289, the MacBook Pro was $1,199. So, which one should you get? Well, if you value endurance and portability, there’s no question that the lighter and longer-lasting 13-inch MacBook Pro is the better value. But if pure performance is what you’re after, then the HP Envy represents the better deal.