The biggest story in laptops over the past few years has been the incredibly popular Netbook. These 10- and 11-inch (and originally 7- and 9-inch) laptops came out of nowhere to capture the attention of a public tired of paying for too much computing power. After a couple of good years, however, Netbooks are being replaced by new systems that offer a little more performance for a little more money, first in the form of dual-core premium Netbooks and now in systems such as the HP Pavilion dm1z with AMD's new Fusion platform.
The trade-up makes sense for two reasons. First, Netbooks, though great for specific tasks such as basic Web surfing and e-mail, simply aren't suited to being full-time PCs, which is something many users discovered after buying one. Second, the PC makers who only begrudgingly released many of these Netbooks in the first place knew selling a low-power $299 laptop wasn't exactly a money-making proposition.
AMD has been promising a hybrid platform for years now, combining a workhorse CPU with better-than-integrated graphics in a single package. It's called Fusion, although confusingly, AMD doesn't play up that name or the processor model number, instead choosing to label laptops outfitted with the technology with a sticker that says "AMD Vision."
As the first of these systems to cross our desk, the $450 HP Pavilion dm1z is an interesting test case. It's an 11-inch laptop with a decent design, but one that doesn't hide its budget origins. It's about $100 more than an entry-level Netbook and $50 to $100 less than previous premium Netbooks that had AMD's previous low-end dual-core CPU.
In practice, it gets the job done, and it certainly feels a world away from Atom Netbooks. At the same time, there's no mistaking the experience of this computer for a high-end 11-inch, such as Apple's MacBook Air (except when it comes to battery life, where the Pavilion dm1z was easily one of the best performers we've seen).
The biggest needle-mover may be the AMD graphics, which aren't meant for serious gamers, but still offer a solid alternative to low-end solutions such as Nvidia's underused Ion GPU. We played some basic games and full-screen HD videos with no problems, which is something Netbooks typically can't do.
With Intel lacking a halfway point between its Atom processors and the mainstream Core-i-series (except for the too-expensive and underpowered ultralow voltage Core i3 ULV), there may finally be a spot at the table for AMD, which has been seriously underrepresented in laptops of late. Based on this one initial review unit, AMD-shy shoppers should at least give Fusion laptops such as this one a serious look.
|Price as reviewed||$450|
|Processor||1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350|
|Memory||3GB, 667MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 7,200rpm|
|Chipset||AMD ID1510 + SB800|
|Graphics||ATI Radeon HD 6310|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.4 x 8.4 inches|
|Height||0.8 - 1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.4/4.2 pounds|
The designs of 11-inch laptops run the gamut from plastic cheapies to brushed aluminum works of art, but the HP Pavilion dm1z is clearly more focused on what's going on under the hood. The body is made of plastic, and looks and feels it, although it has a nicely curved shape and patterned lid that fits in with HP's current design aesthetic. A large battery bump protrudes upward right at the hinge between the chassis and screen, and the entire package is thick and bulky. It isn't actually ugly at all; it just feels a bit unwieldy. But perhaps we've been spoiled by thin ultraportables from Lenovo, Apple, and others.
The available space is put to good use, however, with a large island-style keyboard that goes all the way to the left and right edges of the keyboard tray and an oversize clickpad. The keys are firm and well-spaced, with large Shift keys and no keyboard flex. Some keys, however, get slightly lost in the shuffle. The page-up and page-down keys, for example, are completely unlabeled (they're mapped to the Fn+up-arrow and the Fn+down-arrow).
The touch pad is of the same large clickpad-style seen on many recent HP laptops, and the design has its fans and detractors. We like the large surface area, but the built-in mouse buttons can be tricky to use, and the multitouch gestures don't come close to Apple's, although that's a complaint we can level at every PC maker.
The desktop is crowded with links to bloatware and HP-branded services, from Snapfish to HP's music store. After a few years of reduced screen clutter, it's disappointing to see these icons starting to crowd the display again.
The 11-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, exactly what we'd expect for a laptop this size. The display gets bright enough and off-axis viewing is decent, but the glossy screen coating causes a good bit of glare, especially near windows. A thick gray screen bezel adds to the budget look, but at least the speakers are loud enough to make headphone use optional for movie-watching.
|HP Pavilion dm1z||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
There's a basic set of ports and connections here. HP sticks to its single audio jack standard for smaller laptops, and there do not seem to be any mobile broadband options available on HPs Web site right now, although that seems like a natural fit for such a portable system.
The Pavilion dm1z represents our first shot at AMD's new Fusion platform. Launched at CES 2011, the Fusion APU (or "accelerated processing unit") uses a single die to contain, according to AMD, "a multicore CPU, a powerful DirectX 11-capable discrete-level graphics and parallel processing engine, a dedicated high-definition video acceleration block, and a high-speed bus that speeds data across the differing types of processor cores within the design." In plain English, it's a CPU combined with better-than-integrated graphics.
In our CNET Labs benchmark tests, the 1.6GHz AMD E-350 CPU performed well, beating lower-end Intel Atom CPUs, but falling behind high-end 11-inch systems such as the MacBook Air and Acer TimelineX, which have Intel Core 2 Duo and Core i7 ULV processors. The E-350 in the dm1z was slightly slower than AMD's previously comparable (but more expensive) low-end dual-core chip, the Neo X2 L625, as seen in the Lenovo X100.
In practical use, the system felt much more responsive than even high-end Netbooks, and we ran into only occasional slowdown and sluggishness. At the same time, it wasn't as smooth an overall experience as one gets with the 11-inch MacBook Air (which also costs twice as much).