HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015dx review:

HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015dx

Finding the right configuration price and bang-for-the-buck value on the new Envy ultrabook isn't easy. A ton of processor, RAM, and hard-drive configurations abound, including an optional AMD discrete graphics option. HP's site doesn't exactly make shopping easy to figure out. Even more confusingly, having an Intel processor doesn't even technically make the HP Envy 4 an ultrabook; according to HP's site, upgrading the 500GB hard drive with a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD) cache ($50) is what transforms your Envy 4 into an ultrabook, adding Intel Rapid Start technology and faster bootup times. (A 32GB SSD cache is included in this model's hybrid hard drive.)

The version of the Envy I reviewed, the HP Envy 4-1015DX, is an entry-level retail configuration from Best Buy. At $679, it undercuts most other Intel-powered ultrabooks out there, but there's a big caveat: this laptop config has a Core i3 processor that's last-gen versus current-gen (Sandy Bridge, not Ivy Bridge), along with a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive with 32GB SSD cache, and 4GB of RAM.

The Intel Core i3-2377M processor is similar to the one in the Asus Zenbook UX32A, but a little faster (1.5GHz versus 1.4GHz). And, in that sense, you're getting a better deal: the UX32A costs about $779 for that older processor plus a 320GB hard drive, while the HP Envy 4-1015DX has a 500GB hard drive for $679. It's a bigger laptop, but still easy to carry around.

On HP's Web site, upgrading to a current-gen Intel Core i3 processor over last year's version only costs $25; you can upgrade all the way to a third-gen Intel Core i5-2467M processor plus AMD Radeon 7670M graphics for an extra $150, which isn't such a bad proposition. I'd certainly take that option. RAM can be upgraded up to 16GB, but there are no SSD-only drive upgrades, only the 500GB + 32GB SSD hybrid drive option.

You can see on our comparison charts that the last-gen Core i3 processor in the HP Envy 4-1015DX is slower than the average current-gen Core i5 processor by a significant margin; it's actually pretty close to the performance of the HP Envy Sleekbook 6's AMD A6 processor. That AMD Sleekbook 6 (admittedly, a larger laptop with a 15.6-inch screen) only costs $599, which raises the question: why not get that instead? If I were comparing the to entry-level 14-inch HP Envy 4-1015DX, that's exactly what I'd do. HP does offer current versions of the Core i3 processor and faster Core i5 configurations of the HP Envy 4t, and while I haven't tried out those models, they're probably worth the upgrade if you're serious about making the Intel version your laptop of choice. The model I tested didn't feel as zippy as other ultrabooks I've recently reviewed. A cold bootup took about 30 seconds. Most everyday programs, including Web browsing and office apps, ran at a speed most users would find perfectly suitable. HP CoolSense automatic fans tended to kick in frequently, but the technology can be switched off in system settings.

Graphics do take a hit on this Core i3 configuration, because this laptop has Intel HD 3000 graphics as opposed to this year's improved HD 4000 integrated graphics. Street Fighter IV only ran at 15.9 frames per second at 1,366x768-pixel resolution. That means, except for some basic casual titles, this Envy laptop is not ready to play most games. You could upgrade to HD 4000 graphics or even discrete AMD graphics in other configurations.

The integrated battery in the HP Envy 4-1015DX lasted 5 hours and 58 minutes in our video playback test, and 6 hours for a budget ultrabook is pretty good indeed. The Asus Zenbook UX32A only lasted 5 hours and 15 minutes on the same test, although that's a smaller 13-inch ultrabook. You can at least rest easy that this particular HP Envy ultrabook's got enough juice to match more expensive models.

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HP includes a one-year parts-and-labor warranty. Warranty upgrades are confusing, with discounts that don't show up until you've added a specific plan and laptop to your shopping cart on HP's Web site. HP's service and support tools are perfectly navigable, and product manuals and software and driver downloads were easy to find. The 24-7 toll-free number can be tricky to spot, however. It's 800-474-6836.

The HP Envy 4 is a curious ultrabook: it feels too big to be perfectly portable, but it's still nicely designed considering its lower-priced configurations. At $679, the Envy 4-1015DX is a hard deal to beat for what you get, even if that means an older Intel Core i3 processor. Still, upgrading to a faster CPU is a likely bet for most people. However, even at its current price and configuration, the HP Envy 4-1015DX is a decent ultrabook-territory value.

Juice box
Off (60%) 0.35
Sleep (10%) 0.57
Idle (25%) 5.7
Raw kWh number 24.27
Annual power consumption cost $2.75

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:

HP Envy 4-1015DX
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.5GHz Intel Core i3-2377M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE / 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD

HP Envy Sleekbook 6
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz AMD A6-4455MM APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 7500G; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Asus Zenbook UX32A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core i3-2367M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio T13112FXS
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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