HP Pavilion dv3z review: HP Pavilion dv3z

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The Good Inexpensive, highly configurable 13-inch laptop; excellent battery life.

The Bad Not as thin or light as other 13-inch systems; AMD processor lags in performance.

The Bottom Line The 13-inch HP Pavilion dv3z offers a reasonable trade-off, choosing battery life and value over performance and weight.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Battery 8
  • Support 7

An inexpensive 13-inch laptop will always get our attention, and HP's Pavilion dv3z fits the bill starting at less than $700; it is also highly customizable (our configuration was $893). We're fond of saying that 13-inch laptops are the smallest we could fathom working on for a full day, and the biggest we'd be willing to carry around on a regular basis--the popularity of Apple's 13-inch MacBook line points to this.

However, as much as we liked the HP dv3z's low initial price and customization, you can also get Apple's entry level plastic MacBook or HP's own retail-only Pavilion dv3510nr for only $999, and both offer faster Intel processors. The AMD-powered dv3z counters with a large 320GB hard drive and excellent battery life, albeit at the expense of a giant protruding battery.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $893/$679
Processor 2.3GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core ZM-84
Memory 4GB, 800MHz DDR2
Hard drive 320GB 5,400rpm
Chipset AMD RS780M
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200
Operating System Windows Vista Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.2x9.1 inches
Height 1 to 1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 4.8 / 5.6 pounds
Category Thin-and-light

Similar to other current Pavilion laptops, the HP dv3z trades the typical glossy gray-and-black look for an upscale bronze tint, with a subtle crosshatch pattern on the keyboard tray and a slightly glittery finish on the back of the lid.

The series of lighted, touch-sensitive media controls above the keyboard looks nice, glowing either white, blue, or orange depending on status (Wi-Fi on versus off, for example). There's also a volume slider, but for sensitive volume tweaks, we still prefer a physical wheel; touch-controlled volume sliders can be finicky. When the system is off or asleep, the touch-sensitive buttons literally vanish into the mirrored strip above the keyboard.

The touch pad and mouse buttons have a highly reflective mirrored finish that offsets the bronze chassis color nicely. Fortunately, this touch pad feels like it has a slicker surface than some of the mirror-finished touch pads we've tried on 14-, 15-, and 17-inch Pavilions lately, which means less finger drag and more accurate mousing.

The 13.3-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for screens 13 to 15 inches in size. The glossy finish can easily pick up stray light rays, however, and the dv3z lacks the slick edge-to-edge glass found in systems like the current 13-inch MacBooks.

  HP Pavilion dv3z Average for category [thin-and-light]
Video VGA-out, HDMI VGA, mini-HDMI or Mini-DVI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader 3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive Slot-loading DVD burner DVD burner

While very configurable, with multiple CPU, RAM, and hard-drive options, only AMD processors and ATI Radeon 3200 graphics are available on the dv3z. The starting $679 configuration includes a 2.2GHz AMD Turion X2 RM-74, 2GB of RAM (currently upgraded to 3GB at no extra charge), and 160GB HDD (also currently subject to a no-cost upgrade to 320GB). Interestingly, you have a choice of tray or slot-loading DVD burners; functionally, they're identical, but the slot-loading one costs an extra $25.

Our review unit had a 2.3GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core ZM-84 with 4GB of RAM, and, as expected, it fell behind comparable 13- and 14-inch laptops with Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs, such as Dell's midrange 13-inch laptop, the Studio XPS 13-163B, which has a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600. In casual use--Web surfing, media playback, working on office docs--you're unlikely to notice the difference. Working with more professional apps, such as Photoshop, the difference is more pronounced.

The trade-off is in excellent battery life, where the HP Pavilion dv3z ran for 4 hours and 41 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included extended battery (which sticks out from the back of the chassis and adds bulk and weight). The aforementioned Dell, for example, ran for only 2 hours and 46 minutes on the same test.