I was actually confused at first why HP labeled this unit as a notebook and not a netbook. As a direct competitor to Intel in the 11"-12" netbook space, however, I'm somewhat compelled to evaluate it against other Atom offerings. How does the AMD-powered dm1z stack up? Intel may have just received a major wake-up call!
PROS: barely bigger/heavier than a 10" netbook, class-leading performance, competitive price, build quality, keyboard, configuration options, sensational gaming battery life, instant-on UI, multi-touch track pad
CONS: SSD option still expensive, no extended battery, print on FN keys too small
11 inch netbooks are not new on the block, the problem in my view has been their categorization by consumers and manufacturers. Some people call them netbooks based on screen size or their processors, or label them as ultra-portable notebooks for lack of the same. Whatever you want to call them, these 11" machines blur the line between netbooks and notebooks so terribly that unless you examine the specs, it becomes impossible to determine what it is you have and make valid performance expectations.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From this point forward, I'm making the distinction between netbooks and notebooks, along with their evaluation and comparison, based on their physical size. The argument is simple - if it fits in a case designed to carry a 10 inch netbook, it's a netbook!
Light and casual users will swear by the advantages of a netbook, while the productivity focused will take nothing but a full PC notebook experience. Does an 11.6 inch device retain the mobility and cost advantages of a small netbook while offering the performance that a more feature-rich 12" or 13" notebook can provide? I definitely think so.
The specs for my dm1z, custom configured on HP's website, are as follows:
-Champagne color scheme
-Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
-AMD Turion II Neo K625 1.5GHz
-1366x768 LED display
-ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225
-wireless N with bluetooth
-Windows 7 recovery DVD
Most netbooks can't touch these specs, but the confusion continues when looking at high-end netbooks that come very near to what the dm1z has under the hood. For those wondering if buying a high-end netbook or upgrading an existing netbook is worth it, you might want to hold on to your wallet for just a little bit!
Likewise, if you've been using a larger notebook so far and have wanted to scale down to the mobility of a 10" netbook, such as a high-end model with a dual-core N550 Atom, you should also first look at what the HP dm1z, and the AMD Nile platform, is capable of.
As I showed in my exclusive Glamor Shots piece from last week, the finish is a very nice champagne imprint color scheme that is easy on the eyes and should fit in very nicely in even an executive environment. Open the unit up, and the same champagne finish covers the keyboard and trackpad/palmrest, with a glossy black bezel surrounding the display. The black does attract fingerprints, so when opening/closing the display, you will need to wipe this area often. I've always been impressed with the build-quality and finish of HP products, and the dm1z does not disappoint in that area - it looks and feels much better than average. Close observers will also note the resemblance of the dm1z chassis to the 311 Mini - it's a near clone.
The unit itself is very small and light coming in at around 3.4 lbs, making it probably just half a pound heavier than your standard 10" netbook. Feeling that weight difference is very difficult, so carrying the dm1z around won't bog you down like a much heavier notebook. Truth be told it's as easy to grab and go as any 10" netbook.
The same holds true for it's size, at only 11.4 inches wide by 8 inches deep, it's very close to a HP 210 Mini netbook. In fact, if you were to place the mini on top of the dm1z, you would have just half an inch peeking out on each side! To illustrate just how negligible that size difference is, I was able to stash the dm1z into more than one case designed to carry just a 10" netbook! Also, considering the raw CPU/GPU performance advantage you get for that half-inch gain in size, the dm1z trumps all other netbooks hands down.
Speaking of performance, the AMD Nile platform is impressive to say the very least. The K625 runs far better than any Atom processor from Intel, including the just-released N550 dual-core. How much better you ask? Running the thread-optimized 7-Zip benchmark (8MB), the HP dm1z scored 2761. For comparison, that same benchmark pulled in 2290 on the N550 Atom and 1240 for the N450. Do the math, and you will discover that while the N550 is 85% faster than the N450, the K625 is a good 21% faster than the N550 and a stunning 123% faster than the N450. That's a big jump. And while the newer N4x5 and N550 boast DDR3 capability, the K625 also offers full 64-bit OS support and 4GB+ memory support - areas where the Atom is notably lacking.
On the GPU side, AMD is offering the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics. Pulling in a 3DMark06 score of 1444, this solution is better than the anemic 3150 found in the N550 by around a factor of 10. Add to that full support for Open-GL, DX9 and DX10 graphics, alongside Flash hardware acceleration, and you can see that the AMD Nile platform offers a CPU/GPU performance package that ends up seriously spanking Intel.
I ordered my configuration with the SSD drive to see how effective it really is. Boot times aren't too exciting since the SSD HP ships is a now-discontinued and rather slow Samsung MMCRE28G5MXP. Application load times and hibernate do work near instantly, and the lighter drive power requirements should add 30-40 minutes extra to your battery times in lieu of a 7200RPM drive. But considering the high price HP charges for this option ($290), it's definitely wiser to save your money and get the dm1z with just a regular hard drive.
Another nice option on the dm1z is built-in 3G ($100 extra) that includes GPS. The SIM slot is located just under the battery when removed while the GSM radio sits shotgun with the wifi PCI module. This is nice to have for some, and makes for a full-mobile solution, but with other options now available for 3G service, I'm going to pass on this. I have GPS on my smartphone already, so I don't lose out.
The display is a roomy 11.6" 1366x768 LED backlit LCD panel. The colors were washed out somewhat but that can be remedied by tweaking the Catalyst Control Panel. While smaller 10" netbooks also come with a 1366x768 display now, the higher DPI used by these 10" screens makes reading anything but a single web page hard on the eyes, as text becomes very small. No such problem on the dm1z - I was able to display two web pages side-by-side and read both comfortably. In fact the larger size makes everything easier to see than on a smaller 10" screen and won't hamper your productivity in any manner.
Crunching VOB to WMV took 7 hours 24 minutes - that's only slightly worse than the 14" dv4-1225dx I looked at last year. The WMEx64 test wrapped up very quickly, though, in just 1 hour 45 minutes - 40 minutes faster than the dv4-1225dx, and even finishing ahead of the 2.8GHz mobile Core 2 Duo. AMD's 64-bit implementation is refined to the point that this netbook-sized device amazingly beats the beefiest dual-core notebook!
The real surprise comes when playing games. With an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225, the Atom's integrated solution has no chance. DX9 games such as Civilization IV, GTR2, Far Cry and Hoyle Casino all ran very well, as did the Open-GL favorite X-Plane. This is one of the strengths of the Nile platform which Pinetrail simply cannot match. While netbooks were never meant for gaming, the size of the dm1z makes this now a reality for casual entertainment, and adds to the value considerably.
To give you a more measurable assessment of that gaming performance, GTR2 played on stock settings at native resolution with min/avg/max numbers of 24/38/52 FPS. If you think that's respectable for a netbook, those numbers were taken with aggressive power management settings enabled! Switch back to balanced power mode, and those numbers now become a very fluid 34/45/57 FPS respectively! That's impressive.
Crysis on a netbook? It ran on the dm1z (!!!), low settings, 1024x600, and was playable! No fancy effects or fast frame-rate, but I was able to play through a whole level and actually get a kick out of it. If a netbook can do that, you really cannot complain.
Heat and noise is minimal. The fan runs all the time but is quiet enough that you will only hear it when nothing else around you is on. The unit does not get hot at all, and only warm near the vent and bottom during gaming. It helps to use aggressive power management settings here. For extended plugged-in gaming sessions though, I would consider getting a small cooling pad, since the fan and heatsink on this thing, given the size, isn't a big heat extractor.
Multitasking is a pure joy on the dm1z - evidently the larger display, more RAM and 64-bit power of the CPU/OS help make this netbook a nimble yet exceptional productivity tool. I can easily have two web windows open side by side with multiple tabs in each, run Windows Media Player in the background to listen to music while I work, and have an Office document open if I happen to be running a spreadsheet or typing something using Word. Everything feels fluid, snappy and instant, without any lag whatsoever. It all just works.
Playing back 1080p video was no sweat for the Nile platform, and the entertainment abilities of the dm1z are fantastic, especially if you plan to use it's HDMI port. 1080p WMV-HD ran with only 50% average CPU utilization, while flash 720p and 1080p performed at 65% and 70% respectively. Again, those numbers were taken with balanced power settings - move to aggressive power management settings and the CPU meter barely advances by only 10%.
I was notably impressed with the Altec Lansing stereo speakers on this small device - they are decent enough for casual music listening, and are very acceptable for watching movies. They also offer excellent volume. Of course, their size lacks any true bass (save your high-end cans) but the dm1z delivers very nice sound for something this small. As an audiophile, I have to say this is the first netbook that has speakers on it that I actually like!
Another unique feature of the dm1z is it's large multi-touch trackpad. It works just like the ones you'll find on a Macbook, allowing two-finger pinch and zoom, pan scrolling and pivot rotation. This alone sets the dm1z apart from any other netbook, and improves the user experience significantly.
|Simple, quick, convenient - QuickWeb|
Pinetrail is renowned for providing exceptional battery life, and the AMD Nile platform is yet to get those same numbers - evidently the trade-off is superior performance! Using aggressive power management settings, I was able to get a solid 5 hours of web surfing time on a single charge. That's on par with the much bigger HP dv4t using the giant 12-cell battery. WMV playback came in at 3 hours 50 minutes while VOB playback was slightly longer at just over 4 hours. What's amazing is that applying aggressive power management settings had little to no impact on system performance - something that is certainly not the case when tinkering with an Atom netbook.
HP's battery on the dm1z is a 6-cell 55WH 4910mAh li-ion that doesn't add to the dimensions at all. With a spare battery at hand, you can easily achieve 10 hours of real-world web surfing time or close to 8 hours of movie watching - plenty to get you through a day, and with the small size and weight of the dm1z, almost effortless to bring along. HP actually lets you order a 2nd battery with the dm1z for just $40, which is a great deal.
Unfortunately, HP doesn't offer an extended battery as they did on the dv4 series. A 9-cell or high-capacity 6-cell battery would place the dm1z in clear range of Pinetrail battery numbers, but it seems Atom netbooks will for the time being continue to rule the roost.
What is REALLY amazing about the dm1z is it's battery performance during gaming. Keeping the same aggressive power settings enabled, I was able to achieve a record-setting 2 hours 43 minutes of battery time playing Civilization IV. No notebook I know of can do that kind of unplugged gaming performance, yet the dm1z is more or less parading as a netbook. It shows just how power-optimized the ATI graphics solution is. If anything, the HP dm1z certainly redefines the notion of unplugged gaming given it's size, performance and battery life.
|Print on FN keys too small to make out|
11" netbooks are also notorious for finding a case that fits, since most options out there will match with either a 10" netbook or a bigger 12"-13" notebook. The former of course doesn't fit, while the latter is overkill and leaves your device wasting space inside. That's not to say 11" cases don't exist - they're just harder to find! It's also not something limited to the HP dm1z, so I don't really consider it a "con" for this review. When looking at the inventory at my local Office Depot, however, I was able to locate two netbook cases that were a perfect fit for the HP dm1z. One was the Solo TCA511-4 netbook case (review on lgpOnTheMove coming shortly), while the other was a Samsonite Netbook/iPad case. Both of these are designed to fit a 10" netbook and advertised as such, but end up being a suitable fit for the 11.6" dm1z.
The other big beef I have with my particular dm1z is the price. Configured as I had above, the total came to $860 - that's clearly higher than the category which the dm1z represents and quite overpriced. Eliminating the SSD brings things down to a more acceptable $570. Kill bluetooth and the Windows recovery disc, and you're now at $525. In fact, that $500 price-point is the main attraction of the dm1z in my opinion, since it will compete superior to high-end netbooks on performance, and offer a size/weight package that beats similarly priced notebooks.
To compare just how much more you get with the dm1z nicely configured at $525 versus a tricked-out $500 dual-core N550 netbook, and help you decide which is better, let's again look at the advantages and differences:
- Better CPU/GPU performance than any netbook
- Smaller/lighter than any notebook
- 64-bit OS with 3GB memory on board
- Gaming capability
- Minimal impact on performance with aggressive power management settings
- Better speakers than any netbook
Whatever preconceived notions or expectations you have had regarding netbooks in the past, be it performance, productivity, usability, build-quality, speakers, or value, you can throw them all out the window. The HP dm1z redefines the term netbook to the point that you forget about what it is you are using. You forget because you are doing so much. That you REALLY ARE using a netbook.
The HP dm1z is the best netbook I have ever used, and is the best netbook ever made in my opinion. That's a big statement to make, but the performance and capability is impressive any way you look at it. Being barely heavier or bigger than a 10" netbook, it's perfect for people attracted to netbooks for their size and mobility. Yet it can dish out the performance that has up until now required a much bigger and far more expensive notebook.
It's the Cadillac of netbooks, only with a Corvette engine inside, for the price of a Buick!
I'm so impressed with the HP dm1z that for the first time on lgpOnTheMove I'm giving this gem my Best Netbook Award, along with my Editor's Choice Award. It is that good.
Indeed, the Atom faces some steep competition now in the 11" netbook space. AMD have done a first-class job with the Nile platform. Should OEM's decide to push Nile further into a 10" footprint, something that is technically quite possible, the Atom may for the first time be dethroned in the netbook market. Those that may suggest I'm wrong for evaluating the dm1z as a netbook - the fact is it fits in a 10" netbook case, and is the same size/weight as other 11" units that scream "Atom inside". Don't shoot the messenger, but I believe Intel has just received it's biggest wake-up call!
Be sure to check out also my Glamor Shots article where you can see full-screen, high-res photos of the dm1z.
UPDATE: A quick search online has turned up some aftermarket options for a couple of higher capacity batteries. There's a 5200mAh version available for $60, as well as a more substantial 6600mAh battery priced at $77. These parts are listed as batteries for the HP Mini 311, but it seems the dm1z chassis is dead-on compatible. While there's no mention of it's physical size, the 6600mAh pack should provide a good 33% longer run time over the factory battery - enough to stretch your web surfing time to an impressive 6 hours 45 minutes, or run Civilization IV for over three and a half hours!