What's hot: Slim and light powerhouse gaming and desktop replacement notebook with great looks.
What's not: Speakers aren't very loud, no internal optical drive (external optical drive included).
Reviewed October 25, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The HP Envy 15 is a high end notebook that's a part of HP's unique Envy line. The Envy line originates from from HP's acquisition of Voodoo PC back in 2006, a company that focused on high end, sleek gaming notebooks. Unlike the last generation HP Envy 133 that was thin and light and underpowered, the Envy 15 is a gaming and desktop replacement powerhouse masquerading as a super-stylin', thin notebook-- bringing back that Voodoo Envy heritage. The 1.04" thick Envy 15 features some impressive specs for its $1,999 price tag. That price includes an external dual layer DVD burner and a slab-style 9 cell secondary Lithium Ion battery; if you build to order you can leave these out to save cash or upgrade to an external Blu-ray drive. But we're looking at the quick ship model 1050NR which includes these items. The quick ship configuration is also available at retailers like Best Buy and Fry's in major metro regions.
The Envy 15 features Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit, a quad core Intel Core i7 720QM CPU (Clarksfield, the mobile version of Nehalem) running at 1.6GHz, 6 gigs of DDR3 RAM, an ATI Mobility Radeon 4830 dedicated GPU with 1 gig of GDDR3 memory (it can use additional system RAM if more than a gig is needed), a 500 gig 7200 RPM SATA drive, Intel WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth and a full HD 15.6" 1920 x 1080 display. Really, really nice. As well it should be for the price. It competes with high end machines that are suitable for serious gaming like the Alienware M15x and Toshiba Qosmio but it's much smaller, lighter and chic looking. At 5.20 lbs. you can actually take this baby on the plane or back and forth from the office and you can take it to a meeting without feeling sheepish.
The "b" is for BEATS stereo speakers-- the small grille next to the "b" is a speaker port.
In early press shots and HP videos, the Envy 15 and the Envy 13 looked like MacBook Pro wannabe machines but in person they have their own distinct look that's not so much Mac-like as HP gone classy with metal textured finishes, smoked colors and island keyboards. The Envy 13 (not a gaming machine but rather a stylish thin and light) has an edge to edge glass display (a layer of glass sits on top of the display for a unified look like a touch screen phone or a MacBook Pro) but the Envy 15 has a black bezel (less glare, so I'm not complaining).
The casing is made of magnesium alloy with "HP Metal Etching" technology. This isn't the easiest surface to photograph, but fear not fellas, it doesn't look like a paisley print in person, though some photos on the Net might make you think so. It's attractive, unique and doesn't show fingerprints-- isn't that refreshing? The machine has a 6 cell battery and the included accessory slice 9 cell battery attaches to the bottom. The slab battery weighs over 2.5 lbs. so it will bring up the weight of your rig considerably, but it still won't weigh as much as competing high end gaming notebooks (and will last a lot longer on battery power with 15 total cells!). The accessory battery attaches via latches front and back, but if you push hard side-to-side you can dislodge it a bit. A light touch or medium touch won't move it, you have to put some effort into it. Nonetheless, we'd prefer an even more secure latching mechanism. The machine isn't hugely thicker with the battery attached, as you can see from our photos. Windows provides separate battery status for the internal removable battery and the slab accessory battery, as well as a total percentage of charge. It takes about 4 to 5 hours to charge both batteries completely if they're both low. The slab battery has intelligent monitoring and there's a button you can push to see charge status (4 LEDs).
With the 9 cell slab battery attached (the black strip at the bottom is the secondary battery).
The HP has a Synaptics multi-touch trackpad that will drive you bonkers until you turn off two-fingered scrolling. Trust me, go for the standard edge-scrolling option and maybe keep the rotate gesture but the two fingered scrolling feature makes for a wonky trackpad. The two buttons are concealed under the trackpad surface. They're there, and they are mechanical with a nice click. The dot at the upper left trackpad corner is an electrostatic control that turns the trackpad on and off: press and hold it for 3 seconds to turn it off/on (the dot illuminates when the trackpad is off).
The machine has a lovely island keyboard with high traction keys that are slightly grippy without being sticky. The metal patterned wrist rest is comfortable and likewise resists grime.
What are you missing in the name of fashion, slimness and lightness? The optical drive is external, which might be a deal breaker for some folks, even though an external portable USB-powered drive is included (also pretty). The machine has 3 USB 2.0 ports, eSATA (combined with 1 of the USB ports), HDMI and 3.5mm audio but there's no VGA port, no ExpressCard slot, no PCMCIA slot and the card reader is a simple SD/MMC job.
The included external USB DVD burner drive. A Blu-ray external drive is optional.
The 15.6" gloss display is very bright, color saturated and it has good viewing angles. The machine features an ambient light sensor which we quickly disabled because it runs the screen too dark for our tastes (look in power settings, there's an entry in the display power settings for the ambient light sensor). HD movies look phenomenal as do photos, but glare can be annoying as it often is on glossy displays. The lid tucks behind the machine's back edge when open and this reduces range of motion for the display-- we'd like to be able to open it a bit wider when sharing the screen with folks standing behind us.
The notebook has an instant on mode with a web browser, multimedia player, Skype and a few other must-haves. When it boots up a timer runs to give you time to enter the instant on mode. If you don't appreciate the delay, you can disable instant on mode and the timer.
Performance and Benchmarks
The Intel Core i7 quad core 64 bit CPU used in the Envy 15 is new stuff for the fall of 2009. It's an impressive mobile counterpart to the Nehalem processor and it supports hyperthreading, Intel Turbo Boost (the i7 can crank a core to double speed depending on demands and temperatures), a 6 meg level 2 cache yet it's a 45nm CPU that consumes only 45 watts. That's a heck of a lot of processing power, yet thanks to Intel's excellent thermal design and HP's internal architecture, the machine runs surprisingly cool. When doing light tasks (surfing the web, working with Office documents and viewing photos), 2 cores show around 1 to 8 percent usage while the others show 0 to 2 percent and the cores run at a very cool 25 degree centigrade average temperature while the GPU runs at 40 degrees. The palm rests are warm but not hot and the underside of the machine is warm but not burning hot. This attests to HP's excellent design, with 2 fans on the left dedicated to CPU cooling and large copper ducts that pull air from the front grilles. The GPU on the right side has its own fan and a heat pipe. When playing a very demanding game like Crysis the fans are loud (otherwise they're very quiet) and the palm rests get quite warm though not burning hot. Portions of the notebook's bottom get hot-- about as hot as a MacBook Pro that's working hard. Slim designs and metal casing mean that heat is readily transferred to the casing, but overall, the Envy 15 runs surprisingly cool for a gaming class machine that's thin with a metal casing. When playing Crysis the CPU cores reach 38 centigrade and the GPU hit 48. They cooled to low demand temperatures within 4 minutes of exiting the game. This is a machine that should not suffer a short life due to thermal stress-- it runs very cool.
The Envy 15 has 4 DDR3 SODIMM slots (ours shipped with 1333MHz RAM), two of which are easily (user-accessible as HP puts it) accessible under a door that's adjacent to the battery. The other two are on the left front corner of the motherboard and you must remove the memory cover by the battery and approximately 20 screws on the bottom to lift the keyboard deck. The deck lifts up and then you have access to everything: RAM slots, hard drive, wireless module and so on.
The machine uses Intel's PM55 Express Chipset.
There's a single hard drive bay that comes standard with a 500 gig 7200 RPM SATA drive. No, there's no secondary drive bay in here. HP might have been able to fit one, or perhaps even an internal optical drive but that would have made for a very crowded design that wouldn't have dissipated heat as well. Having looked inside many notebooks and netbooks, the Envy 15 is extremely cleanly designed and it's roomy inside. The thing is held together by an absurd number of screws (over 100), so HP didn't design this to be inexpensive to assemble.
We ran PCMark Vantage and PCMark05 on the Envy 15. Vantage is tuned to Vista testing, but Windows 7 is similar enough that the numbers should be meaningful (however the utility hasn't been updated for more than a year). We've also included that old standby PCMark05 since we and other sites have benchmarked so many notebooks with it and there are thus plenty of comparisons available (keep in mind its testing methods are dated).
The HP Envy 15 had no trouble playing F.E.A.R. 2 at native HD resolution with all effects set to high. We tested Crysis at full resolution with all effects set to high but the fps were a little low at 12 to 19 on average. So we dropped to 1400 x 1050 with all effects set to high and got a more manageable 17-19 fps average (some intense firefights dropped it to 12 fps for several seconds). Crysis was running in DirectX 10 mode.
The Envy had no trouble with all manner of video formats, from Blu-ray to video ripped at 1920 x 1080 HD and high bitrates. In the gaming and video playback performance video below, the Envy 15 plays a 1920 x 1080 HD trailer encoded at 6400kbps in WMV format.
The quick ship and retail version of the HP Envy 15 (model 1050NR here in the US) ships with an internal 6 cell Lithium Ion battery that's removable. It also ships with a 9 cell slab battery that fits to the underside of the computer via slider latches. That battery weighs 2.65 lbs. according to our scale, though it's very thin-- thus it adds greatly to the weight of the total package but doesn't make the Envy thick and bulky. The world charger brick is large and heavy. It's rated at 120w and we assume a large charger is needed to charge 15 cells worth of power without taking all day.
The Envy 15 runs for about 2.25 to 2.5 hours with just the 6 cell battery. This is with WiFi and Bluetooth on, brightness set to 66% and doing light work with MS Office, web browsers, email and Photoshop CS4. Honestly, for gaming I'd suggest using the included 9 cell battery since the machine won't make it much past 1 to 1.5 hours for demanding titles. With the accessory battery (total now 15 cells), the notebook runs for 5.5 to 6 hours at the same settings when doing Office and photo editing tasks. We managed 3 hours of gaming with the brightness set at 50%. Movie playback times depend on the source (external DVD that draws power over USB), resolution and format. We played a 2 hour 720p WMV movie with just the standard battery in place and that consumed 65% of the charge (wireless off, brightness set to 50%).
We can't help but be smitten with the HP Envy 15. It's a gaming powerhouse, a desktop replacement and more than powerful enough to keep us away from shopping notebooks for a few years. Yet it's gorgeous, very thin and light. Its unique looks and Apple-chic design make this one of the few gaming notebooks that you can take to a meeting without looking like boy-gamer redux. The machine's portability is somewhat compromised by the large power brick and is seriously compromised if you do indeed need an optical drive on the road and lots of battery power. But the HP is still lighter and smaller than other desktop replacements by a mile with that slab battery attached, so we can't complain too much.
While we're waxing positive, we'll note that the machine runs quite cool for its class and is beautifully designed on the inside too: it should last well despite the high-powered CPU and GPU within. If you're looking for a portable powerhouse than can handle demanding desktop tasks, HD video playback and serious gaming but you don't want a 10 lb. behemoth, a Chernobyl-hot gaming rig or something that looks like a sixteen year old's idea of a killer flashy gaming rig, this is it.
Pro: Super performance, yet runs cool for its class. Fantastic looks, durable metal casing. Awesome gaming and HD video playback experience. Lovely HD display that's bright, color saturated and has good viewing angles. Beautifully packaged from the factory with an external optical drive and a 9 cell secondary battery in the box-- this isn't your boring HP unboxing experience.
Con: Optical drive is external, display doesn't tilt back very far. Fewer ports compared to full sized desktop replacements (e.g.: no FireWire, no ExpressCard slot, no VGA port). Speaker audio quality is excellent but not loud enough.
Price: $1,999 as reviewed, starts at $1,799 and there's a BEATS Edition that sells for $2,299.
Display:Screen size diagonally: 15.6 inches. Resolution: full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels. HP Ultra BrightView glossy display, 300 nit brightness. ATI Mobility Radeon 4830 dedicated graphics with 1 gig GDDR3 RAM. Has HDMI port (no VGA port). Display has an ambient light sensor (you can turn it off in power settings).
Battery:6 cell Lithium
Ion rechargeable battery. 9 cell clip-on external battery included as well.
Core i7 720QM 1.6GHz quad core processor. 1.73GHz available with built to order models. Supports hyperthreading for a total of 8 threads on 4 cores. Intel PM55 Express Chipset. 1333MHz FSB. 6 megs L2 cache. 6 gigs DDR3 1333MHz RAM, standard SODIMMs with 4 slots, 2 of which are easily accessible. Ships with three 2 gig SODIMMs, one user-accessible slot is empty. 16 gigs max RAM. 500 gig SATA hard drive with shock protection. External portable USB dual layer DVD burner included, external Blu-ray is optional. Single internal hard drive bay that fits standard notebook 2.5mm drives and 1.8" drives (1.8" requires bracket). Intel ICH8M-E/ICH9M-E/PCHM SATA RAID controller.
x 9.60 x 1.04 inches. Weight: 5.19 pounds with internal 6 cell battery. External battery weighs an additional 2.65 pounds.
in Beat stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth. Wired gigabit Atheros AR8131 Ethernet.
Software:Windows 7 Professional Edition. Envy Instant On Solution, HP MediaSmart software, Corel VideoStudio Pro X2, Corel Paintshop Pro X2, Stardock My Colors theme software, Skype, Intel Storage Matrix Manager and Intel console, Slingbox, Cyberlink DVD Studio and Power2Go, Norton Internet Security 2009 60 day trial.
Ports and Expansion:1
SD/MMC slot. Three USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA port (combined with one USB port that does dual-duty), Ethernet RJ45, HDMI and 3.5mm audio.