For several months after they became a buzzed-about topic, the only 18-inch laptop we had actually seen in person was Acer's inventive Aspire 8920. Now we're seeing a miniflood of them, with new models arriving from HP, Sony, and Toshiba. These new 18-inch displays--and a handful of new 16-inch displays--differ from the 17-inch systems they aim to replace in more ways than the addition or subtraction of an inch of screen space. The displays on these new 16- and 18-inch laptops offer a 16:9 aspect ratio, which matches that of HDTV screens and works perfectly with HD content. (Most current laptop screens are 16:10, which leave you with black bars on the top and bottom of your screen when viewing HDTV programs or Blu-ray movies).
The new 18-inch HDX18 (along with the 16-inch HDX16) clearly shares a basic DNA with HP's recent 17-inch Pavilion DV7, with a similar rounded keyboard, touch-sensitive media controls, and off-center touch pad.
The new HDX laptops actually have very little in common design-wise with the massive 20-inch original HDX laptop, which hasn't seen anything other than some internal component upgrades since its introduction. That model is tremendously fun but highly impractical. The new HDX18 is a more traditional multimedia system, well-suited for the den or dorm room--and even decently tricked out, it's less expensive than similar options from Sony and Acer.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$2,149 / $1,549|
|Processor||2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600|
|Memory||3GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 7,200rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel P45 Express|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||17.1 x 11.5 x 1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||18.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||9.0/10.6 pounds|
The HDX18 will look familiar to anyone who has seen HP's recent mainstream multimedia laptops from the past year, such as the Pavilion DV7 or the Pavilion dv9925nr. The 18-inch model is about a pound heavier than those 17-inch systems, and about 2 inches wider, so you'll need a little more space for one.
The edge-to-edge glass look, where the display has a single, flat piece of glass over the entire screen and bezel, is definitely the way to go for media-friendly laptops, but HP seems perhaps a little too in love with its patterned lids and wrist rests. The subtle wavy-lined designs extend even to the touch pad itself, but it doesn't really stand out and won't be a deal-maker (or a deal-breaker) for consumers.
We've usually counseled consumers to avoid proprietary media software packages for controlling movies, music, and other digital files. Every PC maker seems to have its own version, but none are easier or offer better features than stalwarts such as Windows Media Center or iTunes. That said, there are a few noteworthy tweaks to HP's MediaSmart software, including some new Internet-streaming video content and Slingbox support. An external TV tuner antenna and a credit-card-style remote control (which tucks into the ExpressCard slot) are also included, rounding out the system's media-friendly credentials. Speakers, with a small subwoofer under the chassis, are about as good as laptop speakers get, which is to say, acceptable for movie-watching, but headphones will serve music better.
The 18.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1920x1080-pixel native resolution, which is the same as a 1080p HDTV display, making the HDX18 perfect for Blu-ray or other HD content. Surprisingly, 18-inch displays really don't feel that much larger than their 17-inch counterparts, because while wider, they're not as tall, thanks to the move from 16:10 to 16:9 aspect displays.
|HP HDX18||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader, eSATA port||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||BD-RE/DVD burner||DVD burner|
The HDX18 includes features that are considered de rigueur for entertainment-minded desktop replacements, including an HDMI out, for hooking the Blu-ray drive up to an even bigger screen and an eSATA port, for adding a large external hard drive. Note that HP has replaced our review unit's 160GB 7200rpm hard drive with twin 250GB drives (both 7200rpm and 5400rpm are available), and our Blu-ray recordable drive won't be available until later in the year--for now, only a Blu-ray playing/DVD burning drive is offered. The $2,149 price reflects two 5400rpm 250GB drives and Blu-ray playing drive.
The HP HDX18 has a powerful 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 CPU, which is similar to the T9500 found in the Acer Aspire 8920 and the T9400 in the Sony Vaio AW170. The fourth 18-inch laptop we've seen recently, the Toshiba Qosmio G55, had a slightly older Core 2 Duo T7350, but all four were fairly evenly matched in out benchmark tests. In real-world tasks, including Web surfing, working with Photoshop, or playing back HD video, you're unlikely to notice a difference, even though Sony's Vaio AW170 had a slight overall edge (it had 4GB of RAM, compared with the HDX18's 3GB).
All four of these 18-inch systems had versions of Nvidia's midrange GeForce 9600 GPU, and again the Vaio AW170 churned out a few more frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 at a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, but the difference was minimal, and getting more than 60 frames per second on a nongaming machine is pretty impressive. For gaming on the cheap, Gateway's P7811FX offers the high-end GeForce 9800 GPU for less than $1,500.
The HDX18 ran for 2 hours and 16 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is about average for a desktop replacement. Because desktop replacements spend most of their time tethered to a single location, battery life isn't usually a big factor. Toshiba's Qosmio G55-Q802, however, seriously impressed us with more than 3 hours in the same test.