Unfortunately, like most budget notebooks, the Pavilion dm1z is stronger in some areas than others. While it offers an excellent graphics experience and decent processing power, the netbook has an awful touchpad and middle-of-the road battery life.
HP sent me a demo unit to test for a few weeks for the purposes of this review. The laptop features a 1366 x 768 pixel glossy display, 3GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. It runs Windows 7 Home Premium and features 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0 wireless technology. The laptop has a starting price of about $450. If you use the coupon code “MEGASALE” you can get $10 off through April 11, 2011.
If you took the latest version of the HP Mini 210 netbook, stretched it out, and added an HDMI port, you’d pretty much have the HP Pavilion dm1z. The 11.6 inch notebook looks like the 10 inch netbook’s big brother, with the same gray plastic body, chiclet-style keyboard, and wide touchpad. Fortunately the laptop also has one of the Mini 210’s other best features: a bottom panel that can be removed without a screwdriver.
In order to remove the base plate, just slip out the battery, slide the battery latch to one side, and pop up the tabs on the single sheet of plastic to covering the bottom of the laptop. Once removed, you’ll be able to upgrade the RAM, replace the hard drive, modify the wireless module, or add other peripherals. While many PC makers have been making it harder and harder to upgrade or fix a laptop on your own, HP gets major points for making it easier.
When the base plate is attached, the screwless design also gives the bottom of the notebook an attractive look which isn’t broken up by a series of access panels.
One design decision that I’m less enamored of is the way the lid attaches to the base of the computer. When the lid is closed, the laptop has a very slim look, but the battery sticks out from the back a bit, and the hinge for the lid attaches to the side of the battery compartment so that when the lid is open, the screen rests an inch or so back from the keyboard and rises up above the keyboard giving the laptop a bit of a bulky look.
Around the sides of the laptop you’ll find 3 USB ports, HDMI and VGA jacks, a combo mic and headphone jack. There’s also an Ethernet port which has a cover — because let’s face it, how often do you need an Ethernet port these days?
The keyboard is excellent, with nice large flat keys and a little space between each so that it’s easy to detect keys with your fingertips without looking down. I also like the way the arrow keys are arranged in the bottom right corner.
While full sized up and down keys would be nice, some computer makers *cough* *Acer* feel the need to cram six keys into this space including Page Up and Page Down keys, while HP just puts 4 arrow keys. The left and right keys also function as Home and End buttons, and the up and down keys work as Page Up and Down buttons when you hold Fn key — although none of those functions are labeled on the keyboard.
There’s also a row of special function keys on the top of row which you can use to control media playback, adjust volume, brightness, and other settings.
As much as I love the keyboard, I hate the touchpad. Wait, let me put that another way. The touchpad actually isn’t bad. It’s nice and wide and has a good texture. While I don’t love touchpads with integrated left and right click areas instead of separate buttons, HP sets the click area apart with little plastic bumps. But I find myself disabling the touchpad and using a USB mouse virtually every time I turn on the laptop.
That’s because the touchpad is positioned in a spot where my palms keep bumping against it as I type. That causes the cursor to jump around the screen uncontrollably. Text gets entered on the wrong line. Programs open and close. The touchpad becomes nearly useless if you don’t raise your palms off the keyboard or position your hands uncomfortably to the far left and right of the touchpad.
Fortunately HP makes it incredibly easy to disable the touchpad. Just double-tap on the upper left corner and an orange light will start to glow letting you know that the touchpad has been turned off.
Oddly the HP Pavilion dm1z isn’t the first laptop I’ve tested that suffers from the skipping-cursor problem brought on by awkward touchpad design. The Acer Aspire One 522 — the only other machine with an AMD Fusion processor I’ve tested so far — has the same touchpad problem. The issue is clearly design-related and has nothing to do with the AMD chips, but it’s a strange coincidence.
The HP Pavilion dm1z has an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel glossy display with excellent viewing angles for a budget laptop. Pictures and text look surprisingly good when viewed from the left or right. Colors can start to wash out a bit if you tip the screen back too far — and the ugly hinge on the laptop allows you to open the lid so wide that it touches the tablet behind the keyboard.
As I’ve come to expect from glossy displays, the screen turns into something of a mirror when the power is off — and reflects a fair bit of glare when used in a bright, sunny environment. But overall I’m pretty impressed with the display.
The speakers are located front and center on the laptop, just below the palm rest and facing forward. They’re surprisingly loud and clear — although as you’d expect from most laptop speakers, they’re a bit low on bass.
Also surprisingly loud and clear? The fan. I’ve been using the HP Pavilion dm1z on and off for about 2 weeks and not once have I turned the laptop on and not heard the fan whirring when using the laptop on its default settings. It gets faster and louder when performing CPU-intensive tasks, but the fan is always audible unless you’re in a noisy workspace. The good news is that the fan does its job and the laptop never gets uncomfortably warm.
It turns out that HP did include software to address the runaway fan issue. It’s called HP CoolSense, and it allows you to adjust the fan behavior for quiet mode, cool mode, or performance mode. Even on quiet mode, the fan continues to whir… but it does so at a much lower decibel level.
The laptop weighs about 3.5 pounds, and measures about 1.2 inches thick at the rear but less than an inch thick near the front.
The HP Pavilion dm1z is powered by a 1.6 GHz AMD E-350 dual core processor with Radeon HD 6310 graphics. The E-350 is a system-on-a-chip, with graphics and processing components on a single chip. It’s what AMD calls an APU (Accelerated Processor Unit) and the 18W chip is part of the AMD Fusion line of products including the lower power AMD C-50 chip found in the Acer Aspire One 522.
But while the C-50 chip is basically on par with a low power Intel Atom processor in most respects (if an Atom processor could handle 1080p HD video and 3D graphics acceleration), the E-350 is a much more powerful chip which can handle some CPU-intensive tasks nearly twice as fast as the C-50.
In other words, the AMD E-350 is fast… for a low power chip. In my tests, the HP Pavilion dm1z wasn’t as fast as, say, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 — a similarly sized notebook with an Intel Core i3-380UM processor.
What’s more, in my benchmarks the laptop was generally faster than the Acer Aspire 721 which I reviewed last year at tasks that could take advantage of the dual core processor — but performance was pretty much the same for single core tasks. The Aspire One 721 is an 11.6 inch laptop with an older AMD Athlon II Neo K125 single core processor and AMD Radeon HD graphics — which is not an AMD Fusion chip. As far as I can tell, the gains in the new chipset have more to do with power consumption than overall performance.
The first set of tests I ran involve transcoding audio and video files and creating a large ZIP archive with more than 2,000 files. The HP Pavilion dm1z was faster than either the AMD C-50 powered Acer Aspire One 522 or the AMD K125-powered Aspire One 721 at most (but not all) of these tests. But the differences between the Acer 721 and the HP dm1z were surprisingly small in some of the tests. The Lenovo Edge 11 came out ahead in all of these tests.
Things start to look different when you run tests which take advantage of the dual core processor, since the AMD K125 is a single core chip. For the next set of tests I swapped out the ThinkPad Edge 11 for an Asus Eee PC 1015PN. This laptop has a dual core Intel Atom N550 processor and high performance (for a budget netbook) NVIDIA ION 2 graphics.
The Cinebench test involves rendering a 3D image using OpenGL, as well as a high quality 2D image using single core and multicore processor tests. In the single core test, the Acer Aspire One 721 actually came out ahead, but when it came to multicore performance, the HP Pavilion dm1z scored much higher than the Acer Aspire One 522 or Asus Eee PC 1015PN. Clearly, the E-350 isn’t a “netbook” class processor.
The 3DMark06 test measures CPU performance as well as graphics performance to give you an overall score letting you know how suitable a PC is for gaming. The verdict? With a score of 2,222 the HP Pavilion dm1z isn’t going to replace a high-end gaming system. But it bests most of the budget machines I’ve tested.
Before you jump to any conclusions though, the results don’t necessarily indicate that the E-350 chip with Radeon HD 6310 graphics automatically trump NVIDIA ION 2. The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150 nettop with NVIDIA ION 2 graphics and an Atom D510 dual core processor scored 2,585 points in the same test, despite getting a lower CPU score.
Finally I ran the Street Fighter IV benchmark, and the HP Pavilion dm1z was one of the few laptops I’ve tested that actually got a passing grade of E. I ran this test both at 1280 x 720 pixel display resolution and again at 1024 x 600 pixel resolution so I could compare the results with the Eee PC 1015PN, which has a lower resolution display than the HP laptop.
The scores above show what happened when I ran the test at 1024 x 600 pixels… but those scores only show part of the story. It’s also worth noting that Street Fighter ran at an average of 32.79 frames per second on the HP Pavilion dm1z, and 16.96 frames per second on the Eee PC 1015PN. The Acer Aspire One 721 trailed both at just 13.61 frames per second. When I ran the same test at a higher resolution on the HP laptop, it ran at 25.99 frames per second.
The laptop has a Windows Experience Index of 3.8. The score is based on the lowest subscore in a series of tests. In this case, that’s the 3.8 given to the processor. The Acer Aspire One 522 got a CPU score of 2.8, while Intel Atom-based systems tend to range from 2.6 to 3.1.
Artificial benchmarks like these only tell part of the story. Here’s what matters most: the laptop felt responsive and had no problems keeping up with day to day tasks such as surfing the web with a dozen or more browser tabs open while listening to music in the background. The laptop can handle 1080p HD video playback, and in fact HP sent along an optional USB Blu-ray drive for me to test, and the computer can not only decode Blu-ray video, but also pump the video to an external display using an HDMI cable.
While I’d be reluctant to recommend a netbook with an Intel Atom or AMD C-50 processor as a primary computer, I can certainly envision purchasing the HP Pavilion dm1z not just as a portable laptop for using on the road — but also for use as the only computer around the house — assuming you don’t need bleeding edge graphics or CPU performance.
The laptop has a 6 cell, 55Whr battery. While AMD isn’t exactly known for making low power chips, the company has come a long way in reducing power consumption in recent years, and the E-350 processor in the HP Pavilion dm1z uses just 18W, allowing the laptop to get decent, but not spectacular battery life.
In my tests, the laptop ran for about 5 to 5.5 hours on a charge. That involves surfing the web, listening to music, watching short web videos, and writing blog posts. I suspect you’ll run down the battery more quickly if you’re watching video, playing games, or performing other resource-intensive tasks.
That’s not bad… but it’s also not all that impressive compared with Intel Atom-based laptops which get 8 hours of run time or more. The HP Mini 210, for instances, which looks like a smaller version of the Pavilion dm1z, but which has a 1.66 GHz Intel Atom N455 single core processor ran for 8.5 hours in my tests.
The HP Pavilion dm1z is probably one of the best thin and light laptops you can find for under $450. The AMD E-350 processor and Radeon HD 6310 give the laptop more kick than you’d get from any Intel Atom powered laptop, but the chipset isn’t as expensive as the lastest higher-powered chips from Intel, which helps keep the price down.
But the Pavilion dm1z isn’t for everyone. The awful touchpad can pose a major problem if you prefer to use a laptop without a USB or wireless mouse. The battery life is good, but not amazing. And the fan noise can be a problem if you prefer a nearly silent computer.
You can check out brief video review below.