What's hot: Sleek design, AMD Fusion makes this faster than a netbook.
What's not: Noisy fan, still not as fast as an ultraportable.
Reviewed February 1, 2011 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The HP Pavilion dm1z sits in a precarious position between netbooks and notebooks. This 11.6”, attractively designed laptop runs Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit on AMD’s new Fusion APU (AMD’s term for their integrated CPU and GPU). The 1.6GHz dual core CPU and AMD Radeon HD 6310M offer significantly better performance than an Intel Atom netbook without the heat and battery life penalty that we saw in last year’s AMD Neo platform. The Fusion and HP dm1z are significantly slower than the ULV (ultra-low voltage) Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs used in today’s ultraportable notebooks. Befitting its tweener status, the HP’s price is in between a netbook and ultraportable ($450 to $600 depending on place of purchase and configuration). That price actually edges close to some of the more affordable ultraportables like the Acer TimelineX 1830T with ULV Core i5, but cheaper than the Lenovo IdeaPad U160 with its $749 starting price for the Core i3 machine. Undeniably, the latest dm1z is perfect for those of you who bought an Intel Atom netbook only to discover its speed and perhaps display resolution made the machine nearly useless. But is your money better spent on a faster and more future-proof Intel Core ULV notebook for a few hundred dollars more?
The answer depends on what you want and need from your next ultraportable pal. HP decided to make the dm1z a member of their Pavilion line of notebooks rather than a netbook in the Mini clan. And while the Pavilion dm1z is brighter than the average netbook, HP does set expectations perhaps a bit too high by putting it in their notebook family. In our tests, the HP was perfectly capable of running a web browser with several tabs, MS Office, email and a Twitter client simultaneously without slowing appreciably though CPU utilization was high. Its very capable (by netbook and ultraportable standards) Radeon graphics did a fine job with 720p content but struggled with today’s top 3D shooter games (granted that’s asking a lot from a $500, 11.6” notebook). The fact that it could do both, even with caveats for 3D gaming, puts it above and beyond netbooks but multitasking, 1080p output via HDMI and working with heavy apps puts it behind full size notebooks and ultraportables with more capable CPUs.
Before we dig deeper into performance, let’s look at specs and pricing: regardless of built-to-order or retail variation, the HP Pavilion dm1z currently ships with the AMD E-350 Zacate 1.6GHz dual core CPU with integrated Radeon HD 6310 graphics. It has a glossy 1366 x 768 LED backlit display, webcam with mic, stereo Altec Lansing speakers, an HDMI port, 3 USB 2.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, HP’s buttonless trackpad, WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1. You can get the machine with 2 or 3 gigs of RAM (max is 8 gigs), and it’s available with a 250 or 320 gig SATA hard drive (larger capacities and a $240 128 gig SSD drive are CTO options). HP is currently selling the base 2 gigs/250 gig version for $450 (with free upgrades on RAM and HD capacity), while retailers are carrying the 3 gig/320 gig version for $550-600 before a $50 HP rebate. Until retail store prices drop, we suggest you buy from HP direct: their prices are better and they have a very friendly no-restocking fee return policy. For $450 the 3.5 lb. dm1z is a very good solution, but at $600 we say go with the Core i5 ULV Acer 1830T or the Lenovo ThinkPad 120e when it comes out in February 2011 with a $399 starting price.
Deals and Shopping:
Design and Ergonomics
The HP Pavilion dm1z is a beautifully designed laptop with a contemporary look, pleasing curved lines and attractive surfaces. The mid-gloss patterned lid and bottom panel look cool and resist fingerprints better than full gloss plastics. The silver inner surfaces are also attractive, though the large silver bezel sticks out and is the only cheap-looking element. Overall, the HP doesn't look a bit like a budget notebook. The notebook has 3 USB 2.0 ports: 2 on the right and 1 on the left. The VGA port is at the right near the back and the HDMI port is on the left near the front. The Ethernet port is at the right rear corner under a plastic door that preserves the notebook's smooth lines and prevents junk from gunking the port.
The 6 cell battery is nicely integrated into the barrel hinge design and the display doesn't touch the keyboard deck thanks to slim rubber bumpers. The dm1z looks difficult to open for upgrades since there are no screws or doors on the bottom. Instead HP goes with a design that's more common on cell phones than laptops: you remove the battery and yank the entire bottom plastic cover off via 2 starter grooves. This is certainly easier (for those who are terrified of screws) but it seems a bit cheap too. Once you pull off the bottom cover you have full access to the 2 RAM slots, hard drive, wireless module and available PCI-e slot. Sweet.
Display and Keyboard
The 11.6" gloss 1366 x 768 LED backlit display is sharp and reasonably bright at 180 nits. It's easy on the eyes indoors but glare and brightness aren't good for outdoor use. Viewing angles aren't impressive, and we found the Pavilion wasn't good for sharing the view with friends. For a laptop in this price range, the display is acceptable. The display can tilt fairly far back despite the upward curved battery that meets the lower display lip when pushed back 45 degrees or more.
The island style keyboard with chiclet keys is simply wonderful. HP stretches it out edge-to-edge for maximum real estate and the keys are relatively large and well spaced. We were typing full speed after 5 minutes. The trackpad is large for an 11.6" notebook and we like the ever so slightly rough surface that improves traction without adding too much drag. We're not fans of HP's buttonless trackpads, though we live with them daily on our HP TouchSmart TM2 and HP Envy. That said, the driver is fairly good and we weren't bothered too much by jumping cursor syndrome. For those of you who haven't seen this trackpad design, the two buttons live under the same continuous plate as the trackpad area and are separated by thin raised lines that help you discern the button zone from the trackpad zone.
Here's our HP dm1z video review where we take a look around the notebook, check out CPU utilization, test YouTube 720p and Hulu full screen playback and play the demanding first person shooter Left 4 Dead 2.
Benchmarks, Heat and Fan
As mentioned, the dm1z sits squarely in between Intel Atom netbooks and ultraportables in terms of performance. It does a bit better than AMD's last generation dual core Neo found in portables like the Acer Ferrari One and Lenovo ThinkPad X100e whose performance was good at the expense of battery life and heat. The AMD Fusion marks the end of AMD's difficult battle and the HP has excellent battery life (we saw 5.5 hours with moderate use including wireless active and brightness set to 75%) and runs cool. The bottom never got more than warm, the keyboard deck stayed cool and the CPU and GPU ran at 43 to 50C. Excellent. The only drawback is HP's overzealous fan that runs constantly and not quietly at all times when using the default Performance Optimized Mode in the HP CoolSense fan control program. The optimized setting bases fan speed on current CPU/GPU demand and it "will increase fan speed less often when temperature rises" according to the app, but it runs even when doing something as simple as writing in Word or running a browser with one window open. We suspect HP was a little too cautious given prior AMD CPU heat generation issues and perhaps they'll dial back the fan settings in a future firmware update. You can select the Quietest fan setting (at the possible expense of CPU thermal throttling) to quiet down the machine. HP CoolSense has separate settings for "stationary mode" (use on a table or desk) and "mobile mode" (use on a sofa, chair or lap) and it can apparently tell when you're using it on a desk vs. on the sofa.
The AMD Radeon HD 6310M graphics processor has 384 megs of RAM permanently assigned, and uses system memory dynamically. On our 3 gig system, the GPU can use up to 1460 megs of memory (384 megs dedicated and 1076 megs of shared RAM). The 1.6GHz dual core CPU has 1 meg of level 2 cache.
Windows Experience Index: Processor: 3.8
Graphics (aero): 4.2
Gaming graphics: 5.7
Hard disk: 5.9
PCMark Suite: 1591
TV and Movies: 827
Small notebooks aren't known for their audio. Happily, the HP surprised us with plenty of volume and decent quality sound from the stereo Altec Lansing speakers that live under a grille that lines the notebook's front edge. When playing games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Mass Effect 2, it was loud enough to bother someone in the next room-- impressive. There's plenty enough volume and full enough audio to do justice to YouTube clips and even Hulu suited us well enough to forego headphones. Just in case you don't want to share your multimedia inclinations with those around you, the HP has a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.
The built-in webcam did a surprisingly good job for a VGA model built into a budget notebook. Likewise the mic worked well and our Skype video call buddies heard us loud and clear. Skype worked well when we were 20 feet from our 802.11n router, attesting to the dm1z's solid WiFi networking. Currently HP doesn't offer a 3G or 4G option, but we expect to see a Verizon LTE 4G version later this year.
The Pavilion dm1z did well with 720p video playback, both streaming from YouTube and Hulu and playing locally stored iTunes SD content, MPEG4 and WMV files. We tested the dm1z playing to the internal display and via HDMI to a 1080p TV and it managed strong frame rates (24 to 29fps) and reasonable temperatures with 50 to 80% CPU utilization. That's considerably higher CPU utilization than you'd see with a reasonably current 15" notebook, but it's remarkably good when compared to netbooks. When playing 720p content via HDMI, frame rates remained solid, but 1080p content dropped a few frames and averaged 21 to 24fps (not bad).
The HP Pavilion dm1z with AMD Fusion impresses us as a better than netbook alternative for those looking for a relatively affordable portable that can handle video playback and even light gaming. We found it capable of multitasking responsively with Office apps, web browsers and email (just don't juggle several demanding apps) and the 1366 x 768 display gives you room to work compared to 1024 x 600 netbooks. Battery life is very good at 5.5 hours and the laptop stays cool. We weren't thrilled with the constantly running audible fan when using the default fan settings though. The looks are great, it's easy to upgrade the machine and build quality is solid. For $450 to $500, this is a machine we can recommend. If the price creeps higher, as it is right now at some retailers, we say order with HP direct or consider a more powerful ultraportable in the $600 to $750 bracket if speed is more important to you than money.
Pro: Sleek and attractive, solid build, good performance from AMD Fusion. Plays 720p video content well and 1080p decently. Good selection of ports and an available PCI-e slot beckons to those who like to do their own 3G/4G module implants. Very good battery life and cool temperatures.
Con: Fan is noisy, CPU utilization runs high reminding us that this is a tweener and not an ultraportable.
Price: Starting at $449 via HP's website, also available at retailers
7 Home Premium 64 bit. MS Office 2010 Starter Edition, trial of Norton anti virus, Fences (desktop organizer software), Blio reader, Skype, HP (Wild Tangent) games, various HP utilities and more.
Expansion and Ports:1
SD/MMC/Memory Stick Duo slot, 3 USB 2.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet and 3.5mm headphone jack.