It's been quite a while since my last notebook review, but today I take a look at what might be the most impressive notebook I have come across - welcome the dv4-1225dx from HP. This budget notebook is available now from Best Buy for a mere $629. Cheap but useless you say? Find out here.
PROS: Extreme bang-for-the-buck, quality, usability, 12-cell battery, smart bay hard drive
CONS: Forget video encoding and serious gaming, poor speakers, lack of firewire
At 14" this is (almost) the smallest of the dv series models HP offers and comes with my favorite bronze/chrome trim. At under five pounds, it is extremely portable, yet still offers the good comfort and features of a standard notebook. The specs are as follows:
-Bronze color scheme
-Vista Premium 64-bit
-Turion X2 ZM-72 2.1GHz
-Radeon HD 3200
-250GB 5400RPM HDD
-wireless N with bluetooth
-lightscribe DVD burner
Feature and connectivity-wise there is little to complain as it is very similar to the much more expensive dv7, sans the number pad and larger screen. Indeed, for an entry level product, this is quite well-equipped and leaves very little out.
As far as overall usability is concerned, I was incredibly surprised at just how capable the AMD processor and ATI video graphics ran Vista 64. Generic tasks such as web browsing, email, blogging, IM, photo editing, music, video and office tasks ran as smooth as you could expect. For someone shopping in the $600 range needing a laptop for such every-day tasks, the dv4-1225dx is an exceptional choice.
One very cool feature I liked is the Smartbay. A latch on the bottom lets you eject the DVD burner and replace it with either a weight-saver or a second hard drive. A second hard drive is a great advantage if you need to carry tons of stuff or maintain backups, especially since this is removable (hot-swappable) and can be used in another dv4 notebook someone else might have.
In the heat and noise department, you can expect the low power AMD processor to run cool and quiet. Only under load did the fan spin on full, and it was barely audible even in a quiet room. The notebook remained completely cool to the touch as well with only the bottom being warm near the exhaust vents.
Considering the price and hardware inside, I had apprehensions concerning the benchmarks. The video encoding benchmark from VOB to WMV took just on seven hours to complete. While that is definitely quicker than my P4 zd7000, it is a far cry from the time needed by a Core 2 Duo at 3-4 hours. On the other hand, the media encoder 64 benchmark took 2 hours 22 minutes to complete, which was more in-line with the time I would accept from the hardware. Needless to say, video encoding work is NOT what this notebook should be used for, unless you can get by with the long wait.
On the graphics end 3DMark06 returned a score of 1545. That's about a third of what the top end dv7 offers and about one-eighth of what the Toshiba X305 I reviewed last year produced. Downright lousy by gamers standards, but when it came to actually playing games the dv4-1225dx ended up giving me a pleasant surprise. Civilization 4 ran extremely well, as did GTR2 and Hoyle Casino. Granted, these titles aren't that new or graphics-demanding, but it seems that for casual gaming and older games, even a $629 notebook can provide what I call a "basic to good" gaming experience.
Crysis? At 1280x800, low settings, the game worked. I did not say it worked great, but it did work.
Battery life with the 6-cell came in at 1 hour and 25 minutes during Civilization 4 on the balanced power settings. Only average. Keep in mind, the dv4-1225dx comes with the standard 6-cell battery - HP also sells a high-capacity 6-cell and an extended 12-cell battery for the dv4. I would guess the 12-cell would provide close to 3 hours of "full" use, and probably approach 3.5 hours under a more normal load. If extended battery time is what you need, I would suggest going with a 12-cell and maybe carry a second 6-cell. With two 12-cell batteries though, the dv4 becomes a powerful all-day road warriors notebook.
For $629 I can pretty much forgive any negatives the dv4-1225dx may have, but I found nothing to complain about. Everything just works, and works so well. One gripe I did have was the lack of a firewire port when I wanted to connect an old hard drive, but the eSata port fills that void nowadays. If you've got a firewire camcorder though, you're out of luck.
I was kind of surprised that a notebook labeled an entertainment PC had such terrible speakers though - there is just no bass whatsoever coming from the puny Altec Lansing drivers. Movies play fine, but not even an equalizer will improve music. Again, at only $629, you can afford a set of good headphones for music listening, if you don't have a pair already.
When you look at everything this notebook offers for the $629 price, the dv4-1225dx is an extremely capable and affordable choice that can perform surprisingly well. Add to that the fact that Best Buy lets you buy this at the moment with 18 months interest-free financing, it's a deal any notebook shopper should seriously consider, even for a second notebook.
The quality build, features, connectivity, usability and extreme value-for-money earn the HP dv4-1225dx notebook for the very first time the lgp On The Move Bloggers Choice Award.
UPDATE: HP has just released a near-identical white version of this notebook for sale at Best Buy. The dv4-1313dx comes with a slightly more powerful Turion X2 RM-74 at 2.2GHz. The really big news is the price though - only $549!!! That's definitely a steal of a deal.