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HP Envy 17 3D review: HP Envy 17 3D

HP Envy 17 3D

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
7 min read

HP's second-generation Envy laptops have been favorites of ours, combining sleek design, solid construction, and high-end components, all for a reasonable price (at least compared with the first generation of Envy laptops). The latest version of the Envy 17, one might call it generation 2.5, adds 3D capabilities.


HP Envy 17 3D

The Good

Slim, attractive design; full HD 1080p display; includes active-shutter 3D glasses.

The Bad

Clunky 3D software; using 3D kills video game frame rates.

The Bottom Line

HP's upscale-feeling Envy 17 3D offers great hardware at a decent price, but its 3D implementation isn't as good as that of laptops with Nvidia's 3D Vision.

While the feature-packed Envy 17 includes a Blu-ray drive, both HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, and a USB 3.0 port, the addition of 3D hardware and active-shutter glasses isn't as much fun as it could be. Instead of using Nvidia's well-established 3D Vision platform, HP uses XpanD glasses with the TriDef 3D software we've seen on a handful of passive 3D laptops.

The implementation is clunky to say the least. The TriDef software is ugly and confusing, we weren't able to play 3D Blu-ray movies out of the box without downloading additional software, and the TriDef software wrapper for running PC games in 3D cut frame rates nearly in half in some tests.

Once we had worked through the kinks, the 3D effect was good-to-excellent, especially in 3D videos, but for a starting price of $1,599 we'd like a little more polish. Putting aside the 3D issue, the Envy 17 remains an excellent high-end desktop replacement and one of our favorites in this category. Unless you're dying to combine the Envy with 3D, look instead to the non-3D version of the Envy 17, which cuts about $300 from the price.

Price as reviewed $1,599
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM
Memory 6GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 640GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel PM55 Express Chipset
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 16.4x10.8 inches
Height 1.3 inches to 1.5 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 17.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 7.2/8.8 pounds
Category Desktop replacement

The 3D version is physically identical to the non-3D Envy 17, and our general impressions of the design and construction remain the same (and some of these observations are taken from that earlier review). With a slim, but heavy, aluminum and magnesium chassis, the Envy 17 is less of a desk-hogging system than many of its 17-inch counterparts, leading us to compare it with the (still slimmer) 17-inch MacBook Pro. The similarities even extend to the backlit keyboard and oversize clickpad.

The same subtle pattern of imprinted squares covers the wrist rest and back of the lid as we've seen on other Envy laptops, and the construction feels rock-solid and durable. Even better, this is one of the few truly fingerprint-proof laptops we've run across.

The flat-topped, widely spaced island-style keys are standard across most of the laptop industry at this point, including the majority of HP laptops. Even with a full number pad included on the right side, there's still plenty of room in the keyboard tray, and there's room for an even larger keyboard, although the one here was perfectly suitable for typing.

The large clickpad evokes Apple's version, with the left and right mouse buttons built right into the clickable surface. The size is decent, but could easily be even larger, and the multitouch functionality can't hold a candle to Apple's (which is something that can currently be said of any non-Mac laptop). The next generation of clickpads will hopefully bring added functionality and responsiveness, but they're still a ways off.

One of the system's highlights is its big 1,920x1,080-pixel display. Under edge-to-edge glass, the full-HD screen looks great, and is exactly the right resolution for Blu-ray and other HD video content. As in the other Envy laptops, HP has teamed with Beats Audio to include special bass-boosting software and hardware that purportedly works especially well with Beats-branded headphones, but also sounds clear and hefty with other headphones or through the system speakers. It won't fill the room for your next house party, but it certainly sounds very good for laptop speakers.

In 3D mode, the display stays bright and clear, but the 3D effect is particularly susceptible to problems with off-axis viewing (as with most 3D systems). The included XpandD glasses don't have a power button; when you point them at the screen with 3D content playing, they simply turn on.

We actually couldn't get 3D Blu-ray discs to play through with either the included TriDef software or HP's default media player software. Instead, we had to download CyberLink PowerDVD 10, which worked fine (as we're sure many other media-playing applications would). Onboard documentation about how to play 3D files and games, and what file formats are supported, was nearly nonexistent. For 3D newbies, we can imagine it being a very frustrating experience.

For games, one has to launch the game's EXE file through a TriDef wrapper app, which requires scanning for it automatically, and if that doesn't work, tracking down the correct EXE file and manually adding it to the TriDef app's list of recognized games. It's a cumbersome process, and not as intuitive as Nvidia's 3D Vision platform, which combines the 3D software and hardware--in this case, we're dealing with 3D software and hardware from different companies.

Most (but not all) of the games we tried launched in 3D, but the difference in quality while running in 3D mode was very noticeable. In Street Fighter IV, for example, the game ran at 59.8 frames per second in normal 2D mode, as we'd expect from this powerful collection of hardware. But running the game through the TriDef 3D wrapper app cut the frame rate to 30.7 frames per second. Still playable, but that's almost a 50 percent drop.

HP Envy 17 3D Average for category [desktop replacement]
Video VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks. Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.
Data 4 USB (1 USB 3.0, 1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive Blu-ray player/DVD burner DVD burner, optional Blu-ray player

The highlight of the Envy's ports and connections collection may be the inclusion of a still-rare USB 3.0 jack. While there are a handful of USB 3.0 portable hard drives out there, for now the combo USB/eSATA port may be more useful.

The Envy 17's performance was on par with other high-end Intel Core 17 laptops, even though its 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM will soon be eclipsed by the latest generation of Intel Core processors, formerly known by the code name Sandy Bridge. Those chips are just starting to find their way into the market, and for now, only in high-end quad-core versions.

Upgrades to the 2010-generation Core i7-740QM and Core i7-840QM are available for $100 and $400, respectively. It may be possible to find or configure a faster laptop, but for practical purposes, it's hard to imagine any multitasking situation in which the Envy 17 would run into much slowdown or stuttering.

The included GPU, AMD's Radeon HD5850, is more than fine for mid-to-high-end gaming, even with resolution cranked up to 1,920x1,080 pixels. Playing Unreal Tournament III at the full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, we got 88.9fps without using the 3D hardware or software. As previously noted, in Street Fighter IV, using the 3D system gave us about 30fps, while not using it nearly doubled the frame rate to 59fps. The Envy 17 is a fine gaming rig, but we'd probably skip the 3D most of the time in return for better performance.

Juice box
HP Envy 17 3D (Avg watts/hour)
Off (60%) 0.52
Sleep (10%) 0.95
Idle (25%) 35.66
Load (05%) 90.39
Raw kWh number 169.19
Annual power consumption cost $19.20

Annual power consumption cost

It wasn't totally surprising that this is not a laptop with fantastic battery life. In our video playback battery drain test, the earlier Envy 17 ran for 1 hour and 20 minutes. This new 3D version ran for only 1 hour and 1 minute, even with the 3D features turned off. Clearly, this is a laptop that will have to stay tethered to a wall outlet nearly all the time.

HP includes an industry-standard, one-year parts and labor warranty with the system. Upgrading to a three-year plan starts at $209, but includes accidental damage protection and onsite service. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, a well-maintained online knowledge base, and driver downloads.

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

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Unreal Tournament 3 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x800, 0X AA, 0X AF  
1,440x900, 4X AA, 8X AF  
1,920x1,200, 4X AA, 8X AF  
Asus G73Jh-A1
Alienware M15x
HP Envy 17 3D
Toshiba Satellite A665-3DV
Lenovo IdeaPad Y560D 3D

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

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

HP Envy 17 3D
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850; 640GB Samsung 7,200rpm

Asus G73Jh-A1
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm (x2)

Alienware M15x
Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-920XM; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Lenovo IdeaPad Y560D 3D
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-720QM; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5730; 500GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite A665-3DV
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.73GHz Intel Core i7-740QM; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTS 350M; 640GB Toshiba 5,400rpm


HP Envy 17 3D

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7Battery 5Support 7