Following my brief yet impressive experience with the budget HP dv4-1225dx notebook back in February, I wanted to revisit this model to see just what it was capable of in a more potent configuration. Welcome the new HP dv4t-1300 series CTO model, available directly from HP.
PROS: LED screen, styling, 12-cell battery, smart bay hard drive, gaming performance
CONS: Heat and noise, poor speakers, no firewire
In early March of this year HP did a slight refresh of their dv4 lineup. Gone unfortunately is the bronze/chrome color scheme that I was such a big fan of, but in place HP now offers a glossy black and, what they call, moonlight white color scheme. Something has me thinking someone at HP wants to mimic that "other" black and white notebook maker. Like it or not, if you want a notebook from HP now it's going to be either an all black or white unit - no bronze, no silver - so get used to it. The specs on my unit are as follows:
-Moonlight White color scheme
- Vista Ultimate 64-bit
-Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz
-1280x800 LED display
-512MB nVIDIA G105M
-500GB 5400RPM HDD
-webcam and fingerprint reader
-wireless N with bluetooth
-lightscribe BD rom/DVD burner
-integrated TV tuner
You can pretty much tell that this is an awful lot to cram into a 14" footprint, but it is indeed a potent little package. My unit was priced at over $2100 when ordered, but you can actually get this same exact deal with the Vista recovery DVD thrown in for around $1400, thanks again to HP's generous 30%-off deal they have going right now.
Unfortunately, due to a production delay by HP and a volcano in Alaska (???), my package took longer to arrive than the specified build schedule, taking exactly 18 days from order to front door. HP did offer a complimentary $50 coupon for the delay, which was nice.
Again, let me highlight the differences between what this model offers compared to the details I've given on the dv4-1225dx in my previous review.
First of all, the white color scheme is jaw-droppingly nice - the pictures on HP's website don't do it justice. On taking the unit out of the box you are treated to a smooth pearlescent-white lid with a high-quality wave imprint finish. Fingerprints and smudges are not a problem, but you may want to watch your fingers after you've laid the newspaper down, those marks definitely will show on the white. I will say that the unit is easy to keep clean with a simple wipe.
Open the unit up and you are presented with an all white keyboard/surround/palmrest, chrome trackpad/buttons and a black indicator bar along the top. The display bezel is also black. The end result is a very sexy black and white color scheme that looks great and will definitely appeal to many. It will also get you noticed in that sea of black, gray and silver notebooks everyone else around you has, which for a handsome young guy like myself, isn't a bad thing.
One of the first concerns I initially had when going for a white keyboard would be keeping the thing clean. From my observations the keys don't seem to get any dirtier than any other color keyboard I have typed on. As long as you keep your unit clean as usual, a white keyboard shouldn't present any problem.
Having used the dv7 CTO notebook last year with the 2.8GHz CPU, I was pleased to find that the 2.66GHz CPU offered just as good performance. Applications opened up just as quick as on the dv7 and everything felt just as good. It's too bad HP no longer offers the 2.8GHz option, but with the 2.66GHz processor it's near impossible to tell the difference in performance between the two sans benchmarks.
As I mentioned with the dv4-1225dx, this unit also comes with the smart bay hard drive option, making the dv4 the only 14" notebook to support dual hard drives. It's great being able to swap your optical drive for a 500GB second hard disk, especially for ISO's, backups, movie rips, software libraries or anything else that you need to have with you. It's hotswap capability is just icing on the cake.
The second reason I wanted to explore this model again was the 14" LED backlit display. LED displays differ from regular cathode tube displays in that they provide far longer backlight life, are thinner, offer less weight, more screen brightness, and most importantly, improve battery life. The display is indeed very bright on maximum, and when fully turned down lets you work in a night environment as well. The white keyboard is a decisive advantage here, since the display will let you see the keyboard in the dark without needing a second light - good for folks that like to surf in bed or work on a plane/coach without disturbing their neighbors.
The third reason for revisiting this model was the 12-cell battery option. The size and weight of the dv4 makes this notebook very portable, and the power-saving LED display made the 12-cell battery here the obvious choice. This battery is about double the height of the regular 6-cell and jutts out the bottom of the unit, raising the back slightly and slanting the keyboard. It makes for better typing comfort, but also allows the fan on the bottom to breathe better and run a notch cooler/quieter. It also lets me grab and hold the unit more securely. One great thing HP doesn't note is that the 12-cell battery has a 4-segment LED power meter on the side to tell you how much charge you have left in the battery - a nice touch indeed. There's even a power jack on it to plug in an AC adapter enabling you to charge the battery separately, without having it connected to your notebook!
BENCHMARKS AND GAMING:
Again, as consistent with previous reviews, I ran the same performance benchmarks. Encoding the near 3-hour feature "American Gangster" from VOB to WMV took exactly 3 hours 59 minutes. Using Windows Media Encoder 64 to convert the resulting file to ppc format took 2 hours 21 minutes. That's only 14/26 minutes longer than the time needed by the beefier 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo. For a small and light 14" unit, I find that kind of performance quite good.
In the graphics department, I was keen to see how nVidia's latest G105M would score. 3DMark06 came up 2216. That's not great, but definitely better than the score posted by the integrated solution on the dv4-1225dx. How does it translate to actual gaming? Surprisingly very well.
Despite the lower 3DMark06 score, the dv4 was able to hold it's own at gaming with the higher-spec dv7 CTO I looked at last year. How is that possible you ask? It's all thanks to the 14" display and the CPU. Instead of trying to push games at 1680x1050 or higher as most 17" notebooks would do and become graphics-card dependent, the dv4 is only working at 1280x800, a resolution where CPU power is more significant than graphics power. At 1280x800, framerates ran above 30fps for every game I tried, and eye-candy could be turned up with very little performance hit. Civilization 4 ran exceedingly well even on the most detailed/largest maps, playing GTR2 was just as immerse as on the dv7, and even the OpenGL-killer X-Plane ran without problem.
Crysis? 1280x800 + low settings = 25-45fps. No fancy effects but you do get a playable game.
If you're like me and have a slew of older DX8/DX9 titles like Far Cry, Doom 3, HL2, BF2, GTR2, NFS, Hoyle Casino, TW06, FEAR, etc... then a dv4 model paired with the 2.66GHz CPU and nVidia G105M will run them very smoothly with decent eye-candy, all at the native resolution. Indeed, for a 14" non-gaming notebook, this configuration runs many games quite good.
As far as noise and heat is concerned, the unit is definitely more noisy than the dv4-1225dx sister model and a lot warmer. I'm guessing the faster CPU and dedicated graphics may have something to do with that. The fan is audible at all times, and does crank up when on full load. Although I wouldn't call it a nuisance, it does become evident in a quiet setting after a while. With the hard drive located under the left palmrest the unit does exhibit more heat in that area. The design of the Pavillion notebooks with dedicated graphics means the fan will crank on full during gaming, but the internal heatsink will also pass the heat over to the hard drive, which in turn ends up under your palms. There is a vent on the hard drive cover, but I'm not sure exactly how much that helps. After an hour or more of solid gaming, the unit is definitely quite warm - not dangerous or hot, but it is warm.
So just how well does that 12-cell battery perform and is it worth the price premium over the 6-cell? I have to say it does an amazing job. Running Civilization 4 on balanced power settings I managed to get a record-setting 2 hours 26 minutes run time before the unit switched off. That's almost 90 minutes longer than the time I got with the behemoth Toshiba X305-Q708 and over an hour better than the dv4-1225dx. If your idea of gaming means being totally unplugged, then a dv4 notebook with the 12-cell battery is what you need.
But for this review I wanted to test more than just battery time with gaming - I wanted to see exactly what a 12-cell battery can do for a compact 14" LED-backlit notebook, and how far that "max battery" setting can take me.
First, I reran the Civilization 4 benchmark at the balanced power setting, but turned the LED display brightness all the way down. End result was... no difference! On further reading the specs point out that the LED backlight consumes a measly 2W, making the brightness setting irrelevant to your battery times. That could be important when you need battery power but don't want to kill your eyesight over time squinting at a dim screen.
On my next test I ran a benchmark to see how many hours of movie playback time the notebook would provide. I set the power option for max battery, yanked the cord and then fired up my WMV version of the movie "300". This movie is 1 hour 55 minutes long, after which time the battery meter showed 57% capacity. Using basic math that easily gives you over 4 hours and 20 minutes of audio/video playback on a single charge.
On my final test, I decided to see how long I could surf the web on a single charge. With nothing plugged in except my USB trackball, ethernet cable and wireless off, I started firefox and began browsing newegg.com and hp.com, clicking, scrolling and viewing different pages. After exactly one hour of non-stop surfing, I took a peek at the battery meter which displayed a healthy 80%. That's 5 hours of solid work time from a single charge on the max battery setting. Carry a 2nd 12-cell battery with you and you've got yourself a 10 hour workday. Can you say mobile web warrior?
Is it possible to get even better battery times? I don't know. Limiting the CPU to throttle speed or voltage is something I did not have time to experiment with. To be honest though, the portability of the dv4 combined with the power from two 12-cell batteries should be enough to convince even the die-hard Starbucks squatters that this is a notebook that can go the distance.
I was disappointed to find out that my $2100 purchase was now available for $1400, but sometimes that's what you get when you want to be the "first kid on the block" with the cool stuff. It seems that HP does regularly promote their 30% discount though, which is good if you happen to miss out on that killer deal.
As I pointed out in my review of the dv4-1225dx, the speakers are awful for music listening. The lack of bass should not be a factor for a notebook sold as an entertainment pc, but it seems there's only so much HP's engineers could cram into the space available. Movies play fine on the unit in general, but if you're passionate about your music a good pair of headphones are mandatory. Fortunately I got myself a pair of Sony's latest XB700 cans not too long ago, so poor notebook speakers for me will no longer be a concern.
Another small problem is the lack of a firewire port. If you've got a firewire camcorder, you'll need to invest in one of those express card firewire adapters to get a firewire connection.
One thing I didn't touch upon with my review of the dv4-1225dx is the slew of options and extras HP has available for the dv4 series notebooks. I've already mentioned the smart bay hard drive option, but one useful extra most folks are not aware of is the great docking station HP has available. Sold as the xb4 notebook media docking station, this device docks your notebook while giving you a set of better 2.1 speakers, a full set of connectivity ports, wireless keyboard/mouse and a dock to hold a 3.5 inch personal media drive. If you use your notebook as your primary computer, a docking station makes a lot of sense.
Like to have a matching mouse? HP has you covered. Need an auto/air adapter for the dv4? HP has one. Looking for extended warranty coverage for 4 years? Lost your recovery discs? Want a HP branded leather case to go with your purchase? Decided you need a matching pair of bluetooth headphones? The list of options and extras available for the dv4 notebooks from HP is impressive if not complete.
With the 12-cell battery and LED backlit screen, the HP dv4t-1300 series becomes an impressive, no-compromise 14" notebook that you can easy take around with you. With it's exceptional battery times, capable performance, stylish color scheme, dual hard drive option, gaming ability, full wireless suite, built-in tv tuner and BD drive; the HP dv4t is a very portable and potent little notebook you will find ready to use for both work and play, be it at home or on the move.
And if you can grab that 30% coupon from the HP website when you order, you'll get a great-looking and great-performing notebook for a sweet deal.
UPDATE: If you really want to get maximum battery times with your dv4, my recommendation is to go for a model with the 12-cell battery, LED display, Intel GMA 4500MHD and one of the 25W processors such as the 2.53GHz P8700. Such a configuration will not only run cooler and quieter, but still provide very good performance and add anywhere from 1 to 2 hours longer run times than the numbers I've shown with my unit. Swap your hard drive out with an SSD drive, and that 12-cell may even push 8 hours!