Editors' note: This review is part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The HP Pavilion dv3510nr is one of the first two Best Buy Blue Label laptops. What is Blue Label, you ask? It's a new program where Best Buy takes input from its customers and then works with its vendors--in this case, HP--to create a laptop that serves up the features its customers want most. According to Best Buy, the features its customers wanted most in a laptop are longer battery life, a thin and lightweight design, but with a roomy screen, and a backlit keyboard--all backed with "superior" support. The HP Pavilion dv3510nr hits on all of these points, and it looks good doing it. Actually listening to your customers seems to be a savvy move if the Pavilion dv3510nr is any indication.
This $1,099 laptop is packed with bells and whistles but remains highly portable with its sub-five-pound weight and 13.3-inch display. Really, we have but two small caveats for this Editors' Choice award-winning laptop. One: Don't mistake the GeForce 9300M GS for full entry into the wonderful world of 3D gaming. This budget card will run many games just fine, but it has its limits. And two: Don't overlook HP Pavilion dv4-1125nr, which is a stripped down but slightly larger version of this Pavilion. It will do many of the things the Pavilion dv3510nr does and will save you $300. While the Asus X83VM-X1 delivers better performance for $50 less, the Pavilion dv3510nr is the better all-around laptop with its superior design, better battery life, and longer list of features.
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350|
|Memory||4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz|
|Hard drive||320GB, 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Intel GM45 Express|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium 64-bit|
|Dimensions (width x height)||12.6 x 8.9 inches|
|Thickness||1.2 to 1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.9 / 5.9 pounds|
Despite it being a founding member of Best Buy's Blue Label program, the HP Pavilion dv3510nr features the standard Pavilion chassis. In contrast, the Toshiba Satellite E105-S1402, the other Blue Label laptop, looks nothing like any other Satellite. The Pavilion dv3510nr is the first 13-inch Pavilion, however. And thankfully, it doesn't compromise the keyboard--it's the same full-size unit as the one found on 14-inch Pavilion dv4 models and a hair wider than the 14-inch Asus X83VB-X1 and X83VM-X1 laptops. And like both golden-hued Asus models, the Pavilion dv3510nr is decked out in an earth tone. HP calls it bronze, but it looks like more of a taupe. The lid and keyboard deck are taupe-colored, with HP's Imprint finish, which is basically a design of overlapping diamondlike shapes. A strip of chrome runs along the edges of the keyboard deck, which matches the chrome strip that houses the touch-sensitive media control keys above the keyboard and the touchpad and mouse buttons below it. As with any earth tone, the color of the laptop in understated and neutral, but it provides a unique look for this laptop without being garish.
The keyboard feels very roomy and runs nearly edge to edge, making use of every inch of this 13-inch thin-and-light laptop, and hitting the Function key and the space bar turn on the keyboard's backlights, which is unique among Pavilion laptops. (The Toshiba Satellite E105 also has a backlit keyboard.) The touchpad features the familiar glossy coating of all recent Pavilions, which creates too much drag when trying to glide your finger across it. I'd be willing to trade aesthetics here for a matte finish that offered a better feel. The mouse buttons are soft, quiet, and responsive, however, and above the touchpad is a small, convenient on/off switch. In the lower-right corner is a fingerprint reader that you can use to log in to Windows and enter password-protected sites.
The backlit keyboard will help typing in a dark room or airplane, and it looks like a natural fit with the lighted, touch-sensitive media control keys above it. In addition to the standard media transport buttons, there is a volume slider, a mute button, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, and a MediaSmart button. The buttons glow a pleasing white, and the mute and Wi-Fi buttons turn orange when you cut the volume or Wi-Fi signal. Though attractive and modern-looking, we still prefer a volume dial, as found on the Toshiba Satellite L305, because on more than one occasion the touch-sensitive volume control failed to respond to our touch. And don't mistake the MediaSmart button for an instant-on feature that bypasses Windows; it merely calls up a strip of icons when Windows is running that provides shortcuts for playing DVDs, music, videos, photos, games, or TV (should purchase an ExpressCard TV tuner for the laptop). Like most applications of its ilk, MediaSmart is of dubious value; you'll likely find it more efficient to access your preferred media apps direct from the Windows desktop or Start menu.
The screen bezel is black, which this reviewer always appreciates (a brightly colored bezel can be distracting and a source of glare and reflections). Unlike some Pavilion models, such as the dv5-1015nr, the dv4-1125nr does not feature HP's "frameless" bezel design. The display itself is an LED-backlit LCD with a 1,280x800 resolution--the same resolution that you'll typically find with larger 14- and 15-inch laptops. It has a glossy coating that makes movies look vibrant and smooth, and it's far from the worst offender when it comes to glare and reflection.
Thanks to the LED backlights, the display is very thin, helping the Pavilion dv3510nr strike a sleek profile. Weighing just under 5 pounds, however, the 13-inch Pavilion dv3510nr saves only about a quarter pound from the impressively svelte 14-inch Pavilion dv4-1125nr while being a quarter pound heavier than Apple's latest MacBook. Still, the HP Pavilion dv3510nr strikes a near optimal balance between screen real estate and portability.
The Altec Lansing stereo speakers, located on the front edge of the laptop, are adequate but can't match the audio output of the Pavilion dv4-1125nr, whose Altec Lansing speakers located above the keyboard produced bigger sound. Either Pavilion will suffice for movie dialogue and effects, but you'll want to use the headphone jacks (there are two) for music.
|HP Pavilion dv3510nr||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI, Webcam||VGA-out, S-Video, Webcam|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, dual headphone jacks, microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, eSATA, multiformat card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
About the only port missing from this laptop is a FireWire port, which may be a deal breaker for those with camcorders and other FireWire devices. (Apple leaving it off the new MacBook nearly caused riots.) We were happy to see two wireless-networking options here that aren't offered on the Pavilion dv4-1125nr, Draft N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. You also get Gigabit Ethernet; the dv4-11215nr has only 10/100 Ethernet. Lastly, HP includes a remote that provides the 10-foot interface for Media Center; you can stash the tiny remote in the ExpressCard/34 slot. Strangely, the laptop's DVD burner does not include HP's laser-etching, disc-labeling LightScribe feature.
With the Intel GM45 Express chipset, a Penryn-class Core 2 Duo processor, and Draft N Wi-Fi, the HP Pavilion dv3510nr is built on the Centrino 2 platform. In CNET Labs, the system trailed the leader of the high-end retail laptop pack, the Asus X83VM-X1, which also costs $50 less. The Asus model features a slightly faster Core 2 Duo and a more advanced GeForce graphics card with double the video RAM. The Pavilion dv3510nr turned in similar application performance scores as its Blue Label cousin, the Toshiba Satellite E105, which has a faster Core 2 Duo P8400 (the same chip as in the aforementioned Asus) but relies on integrated Intel graphics. Looking at the $800 Pavilion dv4-1125nr, you can see what the added $300 buys you (in addition to a bigger feature set and more compact chassis). The Pavilion dv3510nr was only 5 percent faster on our multitasking test, but enjoyed larger advantages on our Photoshop CS3 and iTunes benchmarks, where its faster CPU clockspeed, faster frontside bus (1066MHz vs. 800MHz), and its GeForce 9300M GS may have played a larger role in the outcome.
The Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS is a budget graphics card and it was able to produce only 17 frames per second on our Unreal Tournament 3 test at 1,280x800 resolution (with AA and AF turned off). You'll see from the chart that systems with the GeForce 9600M GS deliver playable frame rates at these settings. Still, we ran World of Warcraft at the Pavilion dv3510nr's native 1,280x800 resolution and had a consistent 60 frames per second for very smooth gameplay.
3DMark06 is not part of our standard suite of system benchmarks, but we ran it on this laptop to get a better sense of its 3D capability. It scored a 1,864, which is roughly 19 percent higher than another HP Pavilion, the dv4-1155se, that we recently reviewed with AMD's current integrated solution, the ATI HD3200. For its part, the Pavilion dv4-1125nr uses Intel's current GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics and could muster only 974 marks. Looking in the other direction, the Asus X83VM and its 1GB GeForce 9600M GS card scored a 4,189, more than double the Pavilion dv3501nr's score.
Battery life is probably the chief tenet of Best Buy's Blue Label laptops, and the Pavilion dv3510nr didn't disappoint. Using a standard 6-cell battery, it ran for 3 hours, 31 minutes on CNET Labs' video playback battery drain test. That's 77 minutes longer than the Pavilion dv4-1125nr lasted, and it uses a 6-cell battery, too. Why the discrepancy? Because the Pavilion dv3510nr's battery is rated at 55 watt hours (Whr) to the dv4-1125nr's 47Whr. Also, the dv3510nr has a more energy-efficient LED-backlit screen. Together, the superior screen technology and the higher Whr rating on its battery helped the dv3510nr run longer.