Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hands-on with an HP dv2 Notebook

A few weeks ago, AMD sent me an HP dv2 notebook, the first system to use their “Yukon” mobile processor. The dv2’s basic concept can be summed up as ultraportable experience at a value price point—it starts at $700. Put another way, it aims to avoid some of the compromises associated with netbooks while getting within at least sight of netbook price points.

So how does it do? Read on. This won’t be a full review but after playing around with the system for a few weeks, I think I have a pretty good feel for its capabilities.

Let me start by saying that my overall experience is quite positive. It’s small. It’s light. The touchpad doesn’t drive me crazy like many do. (My pointer tastes are a bit idiosyncratic. I favor trackpoints on notebooks and trackballs on desktops.) And the processor has been fast enough for what I’ve thrown at it.

This last point is worth digging into a bit deeper given that it’s pretty central to the dv2’s concept. I didn’t do formal benchmark comparisons, but I did open up a CPU meter on Vista’s sidebar and cranked up multimedia applications to see if things would stutter or otherwise go unresponsive on me.

I started music playing using AMD’s Fusion Media Explorer. Then I opened Firefox to Hulu and started some video playing. To round out the experience, I fired up another browser Window and went off Web surfing sites with the usual mix of Flash and other multimedia.

All this drove the CPU pretty hard as indicated by the CPU meter but both the music and the video continued to play smoothly and the system always felt responsive. I’ve no doubt that heavy-duty image or video processing would bog down the system but it seems to have plenty of performance for the sort of Web usage and general productivity work that I tend to use an ultraportable for while out of the office.

The 12-inch screen and almost full-sized keyboard were easy enough to view and type on although my personal preference is something just slightly larger. (My other notebook is a 13-inch Lenovo ThinkPad x200; the x200 is also on the order of 50 percent more expensive than the dv2.)

One thing that may bother some people is that the dv2 doesn’t have an internal optical drive. The external USB Blu-ray drive that I received with the notebook works well, but it’s one more thing to carry and and is a bit awkward if you’re balancing everything on your lap. Personally I’m largely indifferent to whether an ultraportable has an internal optical drive or not—I generally don’t travel with one—but I know it’s a sticking point for some.

As for aesthetics, it’s black and silver and shiny. To be honest, my tastes lean more towards the muted finishes of my ThinkPad that, among other things, doesn’t attract fingerprints to nearly the same degree. But it’s hard to criticize such sleekness too much.

Bottom line? If you want a budget ultraportable that’s closer to the look, feel, and experience of full-featured notebooks than it is to even a 10-inch netbook then the dv2 looks to be a pretty good choice.


Rick Brusuelas said...

Gordon, nice review, hits on almos all the bits I would be interested in a small laptop. One thing you missed... battery life (I like the ultra long batter lives of 6-cell batteries... esp. the ASUS 1000he)? Also curious as to how well it handled the power and heat... my current HP DV (a 9000) has a dying motherboard that has power up issues and the wireless worls once in a blue moon. I am thinking the Atom-based netbooks seem better suited for my travel needs due to battery life and size, but I do know I will give up processor performance and some apps by going that route. Thoughts?

Gordon Haff said...

Hi Rick,

I left out battery life because I didn't test it and don't even have an experiential feel because it hasn't left the house. The linked review suggests it's not great which is about par for the course as you shrink things. (From what I understand, a lot of the netbooks aren't great in this department either and for the same reason. Atom is lower power but the processor only plays so big a role.) You can always carry a spare battery in any case. I do that with my ThinkPad x200 when I travel.

As for size, whether vs. the dv2 or the x200, I don't find that netbooks have a particular advantage in terms of portability. Especially by the time you add in chargers and all the other miscellaneous stuff you need to carry with you the difference is pretty minimal. I had a 10-inch Fujitsu notebook for a number of years. I really liked it for a time, but with reasonably-priced, lightweight notebooks like my x200 and dv2, I find I really appreciate the extra screen size and the bigger keyboard. I find the interesting thing about netbooks is the low price--not anything about the specs or experience.