Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Holiday Roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
This holiday season, the field of high-end laptops was redefined by the release of Intel's Core i7 processor, which offers improved next-generation multicore performance. While some of the initial Core i7 machines were quite expensive, the technology has already trickled down to more affordable laptops such as the HP dv7-3085dx. Is it worth your while to consider? That depends on whether you want a machine that's fast or a machine that's fast with games.
At $1,299, the dv7 remains relatively slim for a gaming laptop, but with a GeForce 230M GPU, it's not really an enthusiast machine. Instead, consider its greatest assets to be the Core i7, a massive 17.3-inch screen, and higher-end Altec Lansing speakers, making this a compelling desktop home theater.
The package sounds great, especially since, other than the GPU, it has the same specs as the HP Envy 15-1050nr, which costs $700 more. On the other hand, some unfortunate cutbacks were made on this model: there's no Blu-ray (even while the much cheaper, but slower, dv7-3065dx includes it), and the very large screen isn't 1080p, although it comes close at 1,600x900 pixels.
This laptop represents a $300 price bump up from other high-end retail machines like the Sony Vaio FW560F/T, but the addition of a Core i7, solid gaming graphics, a fast hard drive, and plenty of RAM could make this a contender.
|Price as reviewed||$1,299|
|Processor||1.6 GHz Intel Core i7 720QM|
|Memory||6GB, DDR3 1066MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 230M, 1GB|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||16.2 x 10.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||7.5 / 9 pounds|
The design of this HP Pavilion dv7 is familiar to us; we've also reviewed a lower-spec midrange model in a nearly identical chassis, the HP Pavilion dv7-3065dx. Clad in a very glossy espresso finish with chrome pattern flourishes on the outer lid and inner palm rest area, the design of the Pavilion dv7 leans more toward multimedia sleek than gamer clunky. The slightly rounded edges and chrome highlights lend a nice formal look, but the fingerprints will mount up quickly.
The keyboard and adjoining number pad that span the width of the laptop's interior use glossy-topped tapered keys. While we're not a fan of shiny surfaces on our keyboards, the responsiveness and decent key spacing on this model made up for it. The touch pad wasn't our favorite, as HP tends to top their high-end models with smooth mirrored touch pads that, while looking stark, are prone to smudging and have poor traction. It didn't ruin our experience, but this is a laptop that cries for a mouse.
Above the keyboard is a set of touch-sensitive media keys, controlling volume, basic play, fast forward and rewind, and a Wi-Fi on/off toggle. The touch controls worked better than many, and were easy to locate.
The glossy 16.9 ratio 17.3-inch LED screen on the HP dv7-3085dx has a native resolution of 1,600x900 pixels, which is better than 720p but not quite 1080p "full HD" resolution. While this machine doesn't have a Blu-ray drive, it would have been nice to get fuller resolution for HD playback on a screen this size. In its existing max-resolution settings, images were large and clear but suffered from a slight lack of crispness. Side viewing angles were decent, but the tremendous glossy-screened surface area created many opportunities for glare.
On the audio front, the built-in multispeaker Altec Lansing array, with SRS surround effects, worked well and was one of the better laptop audio systems we've heard. Overall, the HP dv7-3085dx is a compelling audio/visual hardware setup, especially for the price, but, again, we really wish this had 1080p. And it's positively baffling that the cheaper $729 dv7-3065dx includes a Blu-ray drive, while this $1,299 model doesn't.
|HP Pavilion dv7-3085dx||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI, notebook expansion port 3||VGA and HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, dual headphone jacks, microphone jack||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, SD card reader, mini-Firewire||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, modem||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner [high-end: Blu-ray]|
The 6GB of DDR3 RAM and large 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive are extra bonuses that are nice for the serious computer user, and beat the included specs in the lower-cost Sony and Asus high-end retail configurations. The dv7 also has a nice array of ports, with nothing really left to be desired except for the oddly eliminated Bluetooth. Ports are arrayed mainly on the left side of the laptop, with a few ports stuck in near the right-side DVD drive; the back is port-free, which on a laptop this wide feels a little silly.
In the laptop CPU pecking order, the Core i7 is at the top of the list performance-wise, and in this regard the dv7-3085dx is a big winner. Equipped with its 1.6GHz Core i7 processor plus a good amount of speedy RAM and a 7,200rpm hard drive, the HP Pavilion dv7-3085dx was our fastest-performing laptop in the high-end range in terms of handling multimedia like Photoshop and iTunes, as well as engaging in multitasking.
That's great news for someone looking for a speedster laptop, but the gaming benchmark scores tell a different story. Because of its above-mainstream but below-enthusiast GeForce 230M GPU, its framerates playing Unreal Tourament III were the lowest among all four high-end retail laptops in our Holiday 2009 roundup. That's not to say the dv7-3085dx is bad at gaming by any means: UT3 ran at 55fps in 1,440x900, and Street Fighter 4 achieved 60fps at 1,600x900 resolution (using SF4's built-in benchmark, with all settings set to high but no antialiasing). The dv7-3085dx should be good enough for plenty of games, but it's not a screamer.