Note: This review is part of our Back-to-School 2008 roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The HP Pavilion dv5-1004nr is a slightly more powerful version of the Pavilion dv5-1002nr system we reviewed earlier this month, providing a bit more processing power, more memory, and 64-bit Vista for an additional $150. Like the lower-priced model, the Pavilion dv5-1004nr uses an AMD Turion X2 processor, which puts the laptop at a step or two behind its Intel-based competition, and also carries a considerable $150 discount at Best Buy, which makes it somewhat appealing at $849. This 15-inch mainstream laptop boasts a polished design with its glossy black lid, shiny silver interior, chrome edging, and backlit touch-sensitive media controls. Despite its sharp look, however, it earns no more than a lukewarm recommendation not because of its below-average performance, which should suffice for the majority of students, but because of its dreadful battery life. For our money, the best mainstream laptop with a price in the triple digits is the Dell Studio 1535, for students and general home users alike.
|Processor||2.1GHz AMD Turion X2 Mobile ZM-80|
|Memory||4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB, 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200 (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (width x height)||14.1x10.2 inches|
|Thickness||1.4 to 1.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.4 / 7.5 pounds|
The Pavilion dv5 is a solid machine. It feels very well built; the lid and wrist rest possess little of the flex found on other low-price laptops. The laptop's single, long hinge keeps the display firmly rooted in place. Weighing 6.4 pounds, the Pavilion dv5 is a bit on the portly side for a 15-inch, mainstream laptop; by comparison, the Dell Studio 1535 weighs 6.1 pounds and the Sony Vaio NR430 weighs 6.2 pounds. A 14-inch model, such as the Gateway T-6836 or the Sony Vaio CR510, which each weigh closer to 5 pounds, might make a better bet for daily campus travel. Should you be willing to lug the Pavilion dv5 around, you'll find a rich feature set at your disposal.
The standout feature of the Pavilion dv5 is its strip of lighted, touch-sensitive media controls above the keyboard. In addition to the standard media transport buttons, there is a volume slider, a mute button, a Wi-Fi power switch, and a QuickPlay 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.
Perhaps it's the humidity, but I don't enjoy the glossy finish on the touch pad. Sure, it improves the overall design of the laptop, lending it yet another chrome accent, but most laptop touch pads feature a matte finish material, which lets your finger move across the surface with little friction. The glossy finish here feels "grabby," a sentiment my wife also shares (I asked her to use it to remove the possibility of me having sweaty palms or fingertips). In the plus column for the touch pad are the wide and quiet mouse buttons below it, the vertical scroll area along its right edge, and a tiny on/off button above it.
The keyboard is roomy, but similar to the touch pad, the keys feature a glossy finish that aid the overall look but detract from actually typing. To these fingertips (and those of my wife), the keys felt a bit too slick (though they do feature good travel and are very quiet, as opposed to clacky). Still, this reviewer's favorite keyboard style among 15-inch laptops remains those found on the Sony Vaio NR430 and NR498 models. Prior to purchase, take a few minutes in the laptop aisle of your local electronics retailer to get a sense for the keyboard and touch pad of any laptop you're considering.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen display on the HP Pavilion dv5 has a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution--standard for a screen this size. The screen's glossy finish produces rich colors and contrast; we found it minimally distracting while surfing the Web and typing e-mail, but quite enjoyable for watching movies. A 1.3-megapixel Webcam above the display lets users conduct video chats. The Altec Lansing stereo speakers won't fill a room, but we did find that they produced less muddied sound at higher volumes compared with other laptops in this price range. They'll suffice for movie dialogue and effects, but you'll want to use the headphone jacks (there are two) for music.
An HDMI port lets you easily export audio and video to an HDTV (which we doubt is found in many dorm rooms or off-campus apartments), and an eSATA port allows for fast throughput to an external hard drive. Features absent in the Pavilion dv5 that you'll find on many mainstream laptops currently include a FireWire port, Bluetooth, and Draft N Wi-Fi.
|HP Pavilion dv5-1004nr||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, two headphone jacks and one microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, eSATA, multiformat card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner with Lightscribe||DVD burner|
Given the current performance gap between AMD's and Intel's mobile platforms, we've stated in past reviews that it makes sense to choose an AMD-based laptop only if it is offered at a deep discount. The Pavilion dv5 uses a 2.1GHz AMD Turion X2 Mobile ZM-80, but currently carries a $150 discount at Best Buy, bringing its price down to $849. As our charts show, the Pavilion dv5-1004nr offers middling performance--at best--when viewed against other laptops in its class. Similarly priced laptops that use an Intel Core 2 Duo processor outpaced it on CNET Labs' benchmarks, led by the $979 Dell Studio 1535.
Like any laptop you'll find for less than $1,000, the Pavilion dv5 relies on integrated graphics--in this case, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200. However, these graphics come courtesy of AMD's latest 780 mobile chipset, which was able to run our Quake 3 benchmark, albeit at a low 15 frames per second at a modest resolution. Still, it matched the score of a Pavilion dv5 model that uses an entry-level Nvidia GeForce graphics card.
Deep discount or not, the deal breaker here might be battery life. The Pavilion dv5 lasted less than two hours on CNET Labs' video playback battery drain test, placing it last among the mainstream group of back-to-school laptops. The similarly sized HP Pavilion dv6985 Special Edition and its honkin' 12-cell battery lasted more than 2.5 times longer on this test. Also potentially troublesome is the AC adapter's three-prong plug, which may limit your campus charging options.
HP backs the Pavilion dv5-1002nr with an industry-standard, one-year warranty. Toll-free telephone support is available 24-7 during your warranty period, and the HP support Web site includes real-time chat with a technical support representative. If you want to troubleshoot problems yourself, you can search through the site's thorough FAQ database.