With its high-res 17-inch screen, built-in TV tuner, and Blu-ray drive, the HP Pavilion dv7 ($1,900 as tested) is particularly well suited for rigorous multimedia use. It offers a sleek design and strong performance, bringing a high-end computing experience to people who are willing to spend more to get the best.
Futuristic New Design
The dv7 is one of three new dv-series notebooks to usher in a fresh Pavilion design. Instead of the old Imprint pattern, the onyx lid now has a subtle grid pattern that extends to the keyboard deck. HP's logo glows brightly in the upper left corner. Inside, the shiny silver deck, keyboard, and chrome speaker strip look and feel futuristic. As we noted with the 15-inchdv5t, the one downside to this new look is that the surface picks up fingerprints easily. At 8.4 pounds, the entire package is about as heavy as we would expect for a 17-incher.
Above the keyboard is the speaker strip, with a smooth touch-sensitive panel above that. The power button and QuickPlay launch key are discrete controls that are visible at all times. Other controls--mute, volume, rewind, play/pause, fast-foward, stop, and Wi-Fi--glow white only when the computer is turned on.
Occasionally, we found the keyboard slippery, but the keys were comfortable for typing and have a bouncy feel. Although we like the quiet touch buttons and the wide orientation of the trackpad, the cursor on our preproduction unit occasionally jumped to parts of documents we weren't working on.
MORE: Best & Worst Notebook Brands 2013
Display and Sound
The 17-inch display has a native resolution of 1680 x 1050. Although we generally observed good viewing angles from the top and sides, the screen is reflective when the background is dark. We noticed excellent color and sharpness when watching the Rocky Balboa Blu-ray disc (even in the climactic fight scene), but even in High Performance mode, we wished the screen were a bit brighter. The chrome speakers, backed by a subwoofer, produced thunderous sound.
For people interested in watching TV, the dv7 also comes with a built-in TV tuner, an amenity the 18-inchAcer Aspire 8920Gdoesn't have yet. The included remote is lightweight, with buttons large enough to press easily, and it stows away neatly on the side of the notebook. When we watched television next to a window, the sound was excellent, but the resolution was pretty mediocre; then again, this was using the included detachable antenna, which is pretty mediocre itself. The tuner receives both analog and digital signals.
Ports, Webcam, and Storage
In addition to a Blu-ray drive, the dv7 has three USB 2.0 ports; one eSATA/USB 2.0 port; HDMI and VGA ports; IR; Ethernet and modem jacks; two headphone and one mic port; and an expansion port. It also has an ExpressCard/54 slot and a 5-in-1 memory card reader.
The webcam comes paired with CyberLink YouCam software, which provides more special effects than most notebook webcams, such as fun filters, avatars, animations, and frames. We love the fluid video and loud, lifelike sound, but found the images themselves to be dull and ill-lit.
Although our unit came with dual 200GB hard drives running at a speedy 7,200 rpm, this option will not be available to consumers. Instead, they can buy dual 160GB hard drives, also spinning at 7,200 rpm. We love the fact that a 3D accelerometer, which protects the drive in case of tumbles, comes standard.
MORE: 5 Best HP Laptops
Out of the box, the dv7 took a staggering two minutes to boot up--twice the amount of time a Vista system should take. We blame the boatload of bloatware, which includes AIM, Microsoft Office 2007, Norton Antivirus 2008, and Yahoo Toolbar, among other programs. And while the dv7's latest Intel processor and generous 3GB of RAM allowed for effortless multitasking, it wasn't always enough to correct Windows Vista's quirkiness. Several times, we had to restart Internet Explorer after it froze, and we had to wait for the Network and Sharing Center to open.
Slow boot-up and Vista issues aside, the dv7's Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU is a strong performer. Its PCMark05 score of 6,307 is about 1,500 points above average for the desktop replacement category (to be fair, we've been running PCMark05 on Vista machines when they can't run PCMark Vantage). The notebook was fast in our hands-on testing, too. After using it as our primary notebook for several days, we were able to watch a Blu-ray video while running several other programs without affecting video playback.
Strong Gaming Performance
Armed with Nvidia's GeForce 9600M GT graphics card and 512MB dedicated memory, the dv7 is ready for some serious gaming and multimedia usage. Its 3DMark03 score of 12,516 is more than 1,000 points above average for this category, even when you include high-end gaming machines. However, its 3DMark06 score of 3,930 is about 900 points below average for the category. That means while it's fine for mainstream games, it will deliver below-average performance for high-end games like Crysis. The Acer Aspire 8920G, which also has a T9500 processor, as well as an Nvidia GeForce 9650M GS graphics card with 512MB memory, only scored 7,403 and 2,307 on 3DMark03 and 3DMark06, respectively.
The dv7 notched 75 frames per second in F.E.A.R. at 1024 x 768-pixel resolution, compared to 37 fps for the 16.4-inch Sony VAIO FW, another new Centrino 2 notebook with discrete graphics, although that system has a lower-end ATI graphics card.
MORE: 10 Laptops with the Longest Battery Life
Battery Life and Wireless
The dv7's eight-cell battery lasted 2:47 on our endurance test, which entails scripted, continuous Web surfing. That's 46 minutes longer than the category average which, to be fair, also includes more-rigorous processor tests. Even so, we're a little surprised that a battery this large didn't last even longer.
HP equipped this configuration of the dv7 with a Broadcom 802.11n connection instead of Intel's new WiFi Link (thereby disqualifying it for the "Centrino 2" moniker), but the notebook still turned in blistering throughput. We registered data rates of 21.7 Mbps and 18.6 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively. When standing next to the router, it showed throughput in the range of 28 Mbps, by far the highest number we've observed at that distance.
The warranty that comes with the dv7 is standard: one-year parts-and-labor with 24/7, toll-free phone support. Click here to see how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
The HP Pavilion dv7 is the way to go for shoppers who want speed, lots of features, and a good-looking design. It trounces the Dell Studio 17in both design and performance. The 16.4-inch Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/Hmay be more portable, but it's $200 more and lacks the dv7's graphics muscle. If portability isn't as big an issue, but multimedia is, you'll be happy with this big-screen machine.