HP Envy 17: HP's MacBook Pro Killer?by Dustin Sklavos on December 16, 2010 12:30 AM EST
Touring the HP Envy 17
My initial take on the HP Envy 17's styling was that they were cribbing liberally from Apple's MacBook Pro series, and earlier Envy notebooks definitely lived up to this. As the series has matured, though, it's acquired a lot of its own identity. So for those of you who thought otherwise stellar notebooks like Dell's refreshed XPS lineup were too pug ugly to actually use on a daily basis, HP's Envy is for you.
The happy news to report is that barring one terrible location, the Envy is gloss free. The lid has a nice, textured finish and a glowing HP logo, and it's all fairly well understated. It's not a fingerprint magnet, and is actually remarkably easy to keep clean, boding well for the notebook's longevity.
Of course, once you flip it open you see gloss where you hate to see it, but at least HP has an excuse: the glossy finish of the screen extends from edge to edge in HP's "Ultra BrightView Infinity" display. It looks nice enough but I'm still not entirely sure it's worth the trade-off, since the screen bezel (and all this does, really, is mask the bezel) is one of the major places a notebook is liable to pick up fingerprints. Still, it's attractive and hard to harp on too much.
HP claims the body of the Envy 17 is "laser-etched aluminum" and I believe it: the inside is just as attractive as the lid, and just as comfortable to use. To look at all of it, the Envy 17 is at least a beautiful piece of industrial design, but it's here where HP screws the pooch (or at least takes it to second base.) The keyboard is comfortable with a minimal amount of flex, but the layout is questionable. HP and Dell have recently elected to switch the function keys to being shortcuts and toggles instead of F1-F12. That in itself isn't a huge crime, but the difference is that I can pop into the BIOS on my Studio 17 and switch them back to what they're supposed to do. HP doesn't make it that easy on you. The arrow keys are also a poor design; the up and down arrows are half-sized while the left and right are full-sized. I can understand not wanting to leave negative space in the keyboard design, but this wasn't the right way to do it. There's also no Num Lock, with HP squeezing document navigation keys in that way. Losing the Num Lock isn't a major sacrifice for most users, but I get the feeling there are going to be at least a couple users pulling their hair out over this.
And then there's the touchpad. Once again we have PC designers following Apple's lead without bothering to really understand it (though to be fair, I'm in the minority that hates Apple's unified touchpad to begin with). On a Mac where there's really only the one big mouse button, making the whole touchpad depress makes more sense, but PC users are used to being able to right-click. We need two buttons, and the unified design here feels awkward to use. It's a better implementation than I've seen elsewhere but it still doesn't improve on just having a touchpad and two buttons.
The rest of the body has an aluminum trim around the sides and back that's attractive and houses the Beats Audio speakers. Credit where credit is due, these are among the better notebook speakers I've heard and certainly beat how hollow the otherwise quality Dell Studio 17 speakers are, but I found when cranking up the volume that the music began to distort. It's something I've heard on other notebooks, even through the speaker jack, where it seems like the notebook is trying to boost the bass in software. When you hit the threshold of how high the system's volume can go, the whole thing distorts because the system was just selectively raising the volume at the low end. At a reasonable volume the Envy 17 sounds great if a little hollow and tinny (don't know what to tell you, they're notebook speakers), but don't push it.
Finally, the bottom is decked in the typical black matte plastic, and that's fine. What's a little frustrating is the fact that in order to get to the memory bay, you have to remove the hard drive cover first: the two plastic panels are actually layered. A minor nuisance but a nuisance nonetheless.
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Penti - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - linkNo it is just a gaming laptop, it's definitively not a MBP killer. It's not even a semi-professional setup. It's not really an alternative if you where thinking about a MBP 17 or something like that. It's as usual not even a true portable computer as with lots of these consumer HP's. It's DTR in a whole other segment and is an alternative as an alternative to MBP users. Don't really think these fit into the Envy category which is supposed to be high-end consumer stuff. It's really not that much of that. It's an replacement and alternative to a low-end gaming machine.
While it has stuff like USB 3.0, eSATA, and mini-DP it doesn't have a matte none-gloss display, it doesn't have Firewire or a ExpressCard-slot (granted MBP 17 doesn't have a antiglare screen by default, but it's just a 50 dollar add-on, and is also something available to most business or mobile workstation notebooks). It's not a prosumer product in that category. I think they should put together a great setup on the ATi/AMD mobile GPUs but this is just not it. And why wouldn't you buy this piece with the 9-cell battery? I know it's not available at retails but anyway. You might actually get 2 hours of internet use then. And you don't HAVE to have a quadcore, look at the MSI GX640. And you should be able to get through a movie on the larger battery. Simply I don't think it's worth it even if what you are after is a gaming laptop that will always be plugged into the wall.
PrezWeezy - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - linkYou asked if it was a MacBook killer but then didn't include any of the MacBook specs in the review. Can you update the charts with MacBook info? I've been very carefully considering buying a MBP 15 for the battery life and screen quality so I'm interested to see how this stacks up.
ahmed25 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - linkHi Sklavos
Any idea about the 900p screen quality?Contrast and color gamut...?
TheQuestian - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkI'm a little confused by this article. It posits whether or not the ENVY is a MacBook Pro Killer, and then proceeds to compare it not even once to said competitor. Instead? Yes, let's compare it to gaming laptops costing hundreds/thousands more. And then, let us conclude, based on these pointless tests that the ENVY is simply designed for a "different market". Wow.
Sure, expensive gaming laptops outperform the ENVY in gaming, but if you are in the market for a super high-end gamer, this is not the laptop for you. In fact, the tests in the article even corroborate that. What they don't corroborate is the disappointing conjecture put forth here as a conclusion.
I would have liked to see some benchmarks comparing performance in Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, or some other 3D modeling programs, since these are what "art students" are actually using their MBP's for. Why we are including FPS numbers for Crysis Warhead in an article "supposedly" about the MacBook Pro is beyond me.
I don't actually have a problem with conclusion, here, so long as it is founded on real numbers. But this article just smacks of preconceived notion mixed with irrelevant extracurriculars. Yes, the ENVY is a mediocre gamer that looks like a MBP. But how is it as a MBP? That is the question. As for now, it still appears to be a C-H-E-A-P-E-R (hello!) alternative to the MBP, and I have no reason to think it will underperform in that capacity. Please let's keep in mind what questions we are answering.
locowolf - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkGiven the article title and text, it's surprising that none of the benchmarks include the macbook pro for direct comparison. Can you add the macbook pro to the charts so that readers can compare the numbers and make their own determination?
Blindsay - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkOne thing that might be interesting to look at would be to see how much extra peformance you can get at overclocking the gpu, try it at what the reference clocks are and then see if you can push it further. I have a 5650 in my DV7 and it runs at 550/800 stock and i have it running at 700/1000 (on a/c only) and it made a huge difference in gaming. I bet we would see similar results with the 5850. And temps were well within spec still, i didnt go above 70c. my i7 720 was maxing at 80c and i couldnt find a way to overclock that.
IceStorm - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkI did a clean install to a Vertex 2 240GB SSD and put the included 500GB HDD into the second bay (you have to buy the second bay kit separately). I installed all of HP's patches. I installed ThrottleStop and limited the CPU to a 7x multiplier, 62.5% usage, and used AMD's GPU Tool to bring the GPU down to 150/312.
The most I could get out of it in that configuration was 90 minutes on the 9-cell battery watching a blu-ray - from the disc or from an image file on mechanical HDD. The only major change in that state was that the fan didn't kick on.
It's a DTR, no matter how you color it. To be fair, it's a very nice DTR with a beautiful screen and excellent audio (when the fan is low/off), but it's still not going to live life far from a wall socket. It's good if you don't want a proper desktop and need multiple display support (assuming you can stand the fan), but they could do so much more with a proper mobile part and switchable graphics.
Dug - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkWhy are you adding in desktop components into the mix and so many sli configurations?
It is so hard to read these things with different graphs for different components that don't even belong.
And then they completely switch on the next page.
Keep things consistent.
araczynski - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - linkhow is this an alternative to a macbook? does it run osx? does it look good?
no on both accounts, so this is just another pc notebook.
what's with the 70's paintjob?
araczynski - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - linkmind you, i'd pick this over a macbook any day though.