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HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition review: HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition

HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition

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

For a high-end midsize Windows laptop, HP's Envy line (starting at $1,049) is probably the first place you should look. Fortunately, a lot of what made those Envy laptops so good has trickled down to HP's more affordable systems, and today many of them have, for example, Beats Audio and backlit keyboards.

HP Pavilion Dm4-3090se Beats Edition Notebook PC, Black Aluminum

HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition

The Good

The <b>HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition</b> is a sharp-looking black 14-inch laptop with a hybrid hard drive, a high-res matte display, a very cool red-backlit keyboard, and a subwoofer.

The Bad

Starting at only $150 less than the all-metal HP Envy, the dm4 has a plastic body parts of which feel cheap in comparison. With thin, lightweight laptops popping up everywhere, it's a bit hefty, and the touch pad can be finicky.

The Bottom Line

The only real knock against this chic-looking 14-inch multimedia laptop is its plastic body; other than that, this is a great midrange laptop with a unique, eye-catching design.

The Pavilion dm4 is an excellent example of this. Our fixed-configuration system, the 3090se Beats Edition model, looks almost as high-end as an Envy, but costs only $899. The body is a sharp-looking matte black, including the wrist rest, the touch pad, and even the keyboard. Offsetting this are red accents (the signature color of Beats Audio), including a unique red keyboard backlight.

The hybrid hard drive, which takes a 500GB drive and adds 20GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage for programs (on HP's Web site, that's been upgraded to 32GB), is a nice extra, but keep in mind that the Beats Edition of the HP Envy 14 is only $150 more. For that, you get the same 6GB of RAM and Intel Core i5 CPU, but a bigger 740GB hard drive and discrete AMD graphics. But more importantly, you get the Envy's superior metal chassis. The dm4 Beats Edition looks great, but is mostly plastic.

Price as reviewed $899
Processor 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M
Memory 6GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm / 20GB SSD
Chipset Intel HM65
Graphics Intel HD3000
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 13.3x8.9 inches
Height 1.0 - 1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 14.0 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 4.5 pounds / 5.3 pounds
Category Midsize

Easily one of the most distinctive laptops in recent memory, the HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition looks like a more expensive machine than it is. The back of the lid has a thin metal overlay, while the rest of the body is mostly plastic, but all the parts have a matte-black finish that looks top-notch. The Beats Audio branding includes some red accents on tiny port and button labels, as well as a large Beats logo on the back of the lid (and the letter "B" on the keyboard has been replaced with a Beats Logo).

That said, this is not an especially thin or light laptop, especially compared with the very slim ultrabook-style systems we've been seeing a lot of lately. It's not bulky per se, but our expectations are rapidly changing, even for 14-inch systems.

The most notable physical feature on the dm4 is its keyboard. This is the same flat-topped, island-style keyboard found on most consumer HP models, with the rounded corners on the four outer corner keys, separate vertical row of navigation keys (Page Up, Page Down, and so on) and the function-reversed F-keys, which control volume, screen brightness, and other features. What really makes it stand out is the red (that Beats Audio color again) keyboard backlight.

Backlit keyboards are always a welcome extra, and once you start using one, it's hard to go back to a nonbacklit model. But, the lights are almost always white (Alienware has an adjustable backlight feature), and sometimes way too bright. In this case, the deep red is not only distinctive and attractive, it's also subtle, and works much better in a dark room, where a traditional keyboard backlight might be too intense. It's easily my favorite feature of this laptop.

The touch pad isn't the large click-pad style found in HP's Envy laptops. Instead, it's a smaller pad with separate left and right mouse buttons. It's acceptable, but multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, are especially jumpy--something we find in a lot of HP laptops--and the physical mouse buttons are small and clacky.

The 14-inch display has a native resolution of 1,600x900 pixels, which is a nice step up from the 1,366x768 pixels you'll find on most 14- and 15-inch laptops. This is the idea resolution for a midsize laptop, as 1,366x768 pixels often feels restrictive, and 1,920x1080 pixels, which is found in only a handful of midsize screens, makes onscreen text too hard to read, and is often an expensive upgrade.

Also pleasing is the screen's matte finish. So many laptop screens are simply too glossy, and suffer from extreme glare under everyday lighting conditions. The antiglare finish used here certainly doesn't allow for colors and contrast as eye-catching at first as a glossy screen does, but in the long run, you get a lot more than you miss out on.

HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition Average for category [midsize]
Video VGA plus HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers with subwoofer, combo headphone/mic jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

For a laptop that sells itself on audio branding, one might expect separate headphone and mic jacks, but otherwise, this is a standard load-out of ports and connections for a midprice, midsize laptop. The two speakers are augmented by a subwoofer, a rarity in a 14-inch laptop to be sure.

The sound from those speakers is certainly heftier than you get from most other laptops, even larger ones, but there's only so much air you'll ever be able to push through a laptop speaker. The Beats Audio control panel has settings for different types of headphones, and its own EQ. Beats Audio hardware and processing can be a polarizing topic. Some love it, others find it too bass- and compression-heavy.

This fixed-configuration system includes a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M processor, a very popular part for midsize laptops that cost $1,000 or more, along with 6GB of RAM. The most interesting component is probably the hybrid hard drive, combining 20GB of SSD storage with a traditional 500GB 7,200rpm drive.

In our benchmark tests, the HP dm4 performed well, beating other similarly priced midsize systems in both multitasking and single-app tests--although most other 14- and 15-inch laptops in this price range have slightly slower Core i5-2410 or Core i5-2430 CPUs. The extra RAM and hybrid hard drive (using the SSD portion for OS and applications) no doubt helped.

You are, however, stuck with the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, which is fine for streaming HD video and playing Facebook games, but not much more than that.

Juice box
HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.45
Sleep (10 percent) 0.86
Idle (25 percent) 6.86
Load (5 percent) 48.62
Raw kWh 39.44
Annual power consumption cost $4.48

Annual power consumption cost
HP Pavilion dm4-3090se

Battery life on the HP dm4 Beats Edition was average. In our video playback battery drain test, the system ran for 4 hours and 17 minutes. That's certainly acceptable for a midsize laptop, but many other laptops in the category ran 30 to 60 minutes longer.

HP includes a one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the Pavilion dm4 (Envy laptops start with a two-year plan). There are, of course, many upgrade options available, from $229 for two years of in-home service and accidental damage protection to $329 for three years of the same. 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 Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition is an impressive-looking laptop with features you can't find in other midprice, midsize systems. But the additional investment to trade up the higher-end Envy line is between $150 and $200, which includes all-metal construction, discrete graphics, and even double the warranty coverage, making it a tough call unless you're very intent on making a smaller initial investment.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
">HP Pavilion dm4-3090se

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm4-3090se

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm4-3090se

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm4-3090se

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

HP Pavilion dm4-3090se
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 520GB Intel 7,200rpm

Dell Inspiron N411z
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 750GB Western Digital 7,200rpm

Samsung QX411-W01
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 640GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Gateway ID47H02u
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Lenovo Essential B470
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 410M; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm

HP Pavilion Dm4-3090se Beats Edition Notebook PC, Black Aluminum

HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Battery 7Support 7