The original HP Envy 15 from 2009 was ahead of its time for performance but it lacked the things most folks want in a powerful 15.6" portable: plenty of ports, an optical drive and a decent size battery. We still have the original model and it still beats quite a few current notebooks on benchmarks and plays 3D games nicely. But it's a pain to drag out the external optical drive to install all those games, and we use it like a desktop since it's always connected to AC and a USB hub.
Fast forward to late 2011/early 2012 and the Envy 15, after a hiatus that saw only 14 and 17 inch models, is back. And it's everything we wished the first model had been: a relatively thin and light 15.6" notebook with an IPS 1080p display that truly is portable. The HP Envy 15 (3040nr model) runs on a 2.2GHz quad core Intel Core i7-2670M with 8 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 750 gig 7200 RPM hard drive. It has an internal DVD burner (no Blu-ray *sigh* ) three USB ports (two are USB 3.0), HDMI, a DisplayPort, Ethernet and a card reader. The internal 8 cell battery is good for 5 hours on charge doing business and school tasks with integrated graphics turned on. The machine has switchable Intel HD 3000 graphics and AMD Radeon HD 7690M graphics with 1 gig of DDR5 VRAM. It's a powerhouse and it's portable.
The Envy 15 competes with a small stable of powerful 15" portables that include the Samsung Series 7 Chronos we just looked at, the MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 15z. Inside, it bears an embarrassing resemblance to the MacBook Pro, but outside it's disctinctly Envy. The top and bottom lids are matte "nero" black, and the lines are very similar to the first Envy. The machine has an aluminum casing that doesn't hide fingerprints well, and a magnesium alloy frame. Build quality is typical high end Envy, and it weighs a manageable 5.8 lbs. (our digital scale measured it as 5.5 lbs.).
For those of you wondering about the IPS' display and its ability to display red properly (there's been some talk on forums about this), our retail purchased Envy 15 is a little warm but reds still look red. Here's a photo comparing a calibrated 30" Apple Cinema Display (an excellent display with a good color gamut) and the Envy just in front of it. Both are displaying a pure red image (red=255) in Adobe Photoshop CS5.
This laptop packs the power of a 17" gaming notebook into a smaller and lighter package. It scored 10,208 on PCMark Vantage and 10,355 on 3DMark06: very good numbers. It can handle Adobe CS apps easily, CAD and current 3D games on medium or high settings. If you're interested in gaming performance, be sure to check out our HP Envy 15 gaming video .We particularly like that HP added a BIOS setting so you can manually switch between integrated and dedicated graphics rather than using AMD's less than impressive auto switching plus control panel to do the job. Without the BIOS override, it's almost impossible to get the software to switch to Radeon dedicated graphics for OpenGL apps like Photoshop and Rage. For you OpenGL users, that's a big plus for the Envy 15, and it gives the HP an advantage over the Samsung Series 7 Chronos (we'll be doing a smackdown between these two notebooks soon).
The HP Envy 15 is available now, though it's just started shipping and you might not find it in your local store yet. Our config, which is sold in stores and as a quick ship model sells for $1,299. If you buy direct from HP you can get a lower res display, Core i5 or even faster Core i7 options as well as an SSD. All models come with Beats audio with 6 speakers and a cool rotary dial analog volume controller.
Here's our late 2011 HP Envy 15 video review. And don't miss our full written HP Envy 15 review.
Is it possible to hook up an external 5.1 analog system? I see the laptop has 3 jacks. 1xMic and 2xHeadphones. Can they be re-configured in the beats software so that they can be used as Center/Sub, Front, Rear? (excellent review by the way).