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HP Pavilion HDX review: HP Pavilion HDX

HP Pavilion HDX

Dan Ackerman
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
4 min read

Pushing the physical boundaries of the laptop form, the massive HP Pavilion HDX is clearly more at home resting on a desk than sitting in your lap. Weighing an amazing 15.5 pounds and boasting a desktop-size 20-inch LCD, the HDX starts at $2,999--but our test unit was configured closer to $4,700, with high-end extras such as an HD DVD drive and Intel's flagship Core 2 Extreme mobile processor.


HP Pavilion HDX

The Good

Massive 20-inch display; first system we've seen with the new Core 2 Extreme mobile CPU; pop-out remote control provides 10-foot interface; cool touch-sensitive controls.

The Bad

It's so big that it's a laptop in name only; expensive; HD DVD only--no Blu-ray; Core 2 Extreme CPU offers only slight performance boost; screen can't do 1080p; no DVI port.

The Bottom Line

HP's massive 20-inch Pavilion HDX is a glorious example of conspicuous consumption--overpriced, overpowered, and overwhelmingly cool.

While it makes an excellent all-in-one entertainment system for the den, dorm room, or CEO's office, the screen doesn't display full 1080p resolution (which you'll want for HD DVDs) and the expensive Intel Core 2 Extreme X7800 CPU--while impressive--isn't worth the $725 upgrade. A more realistic configuration can make the HDX a worthwhile option if you want to combine home theater, gaming, and computing into one big yet somewhat portable package. You'll still need at least $3,000 to sit at the HDX's table, however, making it more of an intriguing tech showcase than something we expect to pass spousal purchase approval.

Price as reviewed/starting price $4,705 / $2,999
Processor 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme Processor X7800
Memory 4GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 240GB 5,400rpm (120GB x 2)
Chipset Intel 965
Graphics ATI HD2600 XT
Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate
Dimensions (WDH) 19.0 x 14.1 x 2.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 20.1 inches
System weight/weight with AC adapter (pounds) 15.5 / 18.1 pounds
Category Desktop replacement

The HDX takes its design cues from HP's current line of entertainment notebooks, such as the Pavilion dv9500t and dv6500, with a similar black-and-silver color scheme and subtle abstract pattern on the back of the lid. When closed, the HDX measures a whopping 19-inches across and weighs almost 16 pounds, even without its A/C adapter. It's the heaviest laptop we've seen since Dell's similar 20-inch XPS M2010 (a model that hasn't been updated in some time), which clocked in at 18.3 pounds. We could see this being moved occasionally from room to room, or on an extended family vacation, but a commuter laptop this is not.

A system this big needs more than the standard one- or two-joint laptop hinge. Instead, it puts the screen at the end of a heavy-duty arm, hinged at both the rear of the laptop and the back of the screen. Because the hinge is attached to the middle of the lid, you can angle the display slightly, but not as much as on, say, an old iMac.

On the first preproduction version of the HDX we looked at a few months ago, when closing the lid, you had to make extra sure the rear of the screen was pushed all the way back against the hinge, or it could hit up against the body of the system and potentially crack something. A little practice had us opening and closing the lid with ease, but those first few times were white-knuckle experiences. We're pleased to report that the hinge on this new version of the HDX is much improved, opening and closing easily, with virtually no chance of accidental screen abuse.

The full-size keyboard with separate number pad is as roomy as anything you'd connect to a desktop, and it still leaves plenty of space on the keyboard tray to allow for comfortable typing. Above the keyboard sits a row of touch-sensitive buttons, including quick-launch buttons for HP's QuickPlay media software, a toggle for the Wi-Fi antenna, and volume and EQ controls. We like these capacitive controls whenever we see them, admittedly perhaps because they look very futuristic.

The system's touchpad is similar to the one on the HP tx1000 tablet and is made of the same color and material as the rest of the keyboard tray, demarcated only by small, indented dots in the shape of a traditional touchpad and scroll bar. It looks cool, but we still felt a little too much drag when moving a finger across it and repeat our admonition that there's a good reason most other touchpads are made of a smooth, slick material.

A remote control, not quite full-size, but larger than the credit-card-size ones found in some laptops, sits in a special cutout to the left of the keyboard. You can use it right there, or pop it out to control Windows Media Center and other media apps. It would be overkill on smaller laptops, but we can easily see setting the HDX up on a tabletop and watching from a distance.

A basic Webcam, fingerprint reader, and single-tuner TV tuner round out the built-in features. Fingerprint readers are usually found only in business systems, but they can be useful on a consumer system for simply remembering your various log-ins and passwords--more convenience than security. The new (but still troubled) Cable Card platform will make older TV tuners look even more archaic than they already do. HP could have cut any of these to save a few bucks, but in a system that starts at $3,000, overkill is already the name of the game, so it makes sense that the company would include everything but the kitchen sink (the sink's a $500 optional upgrade).

The clear highlight of the system is its 20.1-inch WSXGA+ Ultra wide-screen display. With a native resolution of 1,650x1,050, you don't get true 1080p HD playback (a higher-res screen is reportedly in the works), but it's the same resolution you'll find on most 21-inch desktop LCD monitors. The screen was bright and clear, and HP's BrightView glossy coating made for excellent media playback and gaming.

  HP Pavilion HDX Average for category (desktop replacement)
Video VGA-out, S-Video, HDMI VGA-out, S-Video, DVI or HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers with Subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader, eSATA port 4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader
Expansion ExpressCard slot PC Card and ExpressCard
Networking modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive HD DVD DVD burner, HD DVD, or Blu-Ray

As a home theater system, A/V ins and outs are very important for the HDX. HDMI is a must, especially if you opt for the HD DVD drive, although we think it may be time for the VGA and S-Video connections on virtually every laptop to get retired. One thing the HDX is missing is DVI, which would arguably be more useful for hooking up external monitors than VGA or S-Video. The eSATA port is a nice touch, and it means you can hook up an external SATA hard drive for additional media storage, but the 240GB of included hard drive space should be more than enough for most.

Since our review unit cost almost $1,700 more than the already hefty $2,999 starting price, you can safely assume we got pretty much every high-end extra. The base model is still fairly impressive, including an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT video card. We jacked up the price by adding the latest Core 2 Extreme X7800 CPU ($725), a total of 4GB of RAM ($475), and an HD DVD drive ($325).

While we're happy to get our hands on a system with brand-new Core 2 Extreme mobile CPU, even Intel claims it's only around 8 percent faster than the fastest Core 2 Duo CPU. The big selling point is that Intel provides the chip unlocked, so overclocking is easier to do (although for a laptop, we'd generally leave that to the trained hands at your specialty PC vendor). The HDX did indeed post some impressive scores on CNET Labs' benchmarks, especially in the Photoshop CS2 test, where it easily beat another recent powerhouse, the Alienware Area-51 m9750. In other tests, the scores were much closer, which means you can safely save several hundred dollars by skipping out on the expensive CPU upgrade. Needless to say, using the HP HDX was a pleasure, with nary a blip, no matter how many applications we opened at once, even with the often clunky Windows Vista interfaces.

The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT is one of the first DirectX 10 GPUs for laptops, but for current-generation games, we've seen better frame rates from both the twin SLI Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX chips found in the Alienware Area-51 m9750 and even the GeForce Go 7900GS in the slightly older Dell Inspiron E1705. The HDX is a decent gaming rig, especially with its huge screen and big keyboard, but it's primarily a multimedia machine.

The HP Pavilion HDX ran for one hour and 33 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, about 20 minutes more than the Alienware m9750, but still a short lifespan, even for a massive desktop replacement system. Of course, powering that 20-inch display isn't easy, nor do we expect this laptop to remain unplugged for very long.

HP backs the system with an industry-standard one-year warranty, which seems stingy for a product that costs so much. Moving up to a three-year plan with accidental damage protection is $349, and might be worthwhile for your sizable investment. Toll-free telephone support is available 24-7 during your warranty period, and the HP support Web site includes one real-time chat with a tech rep as well as an extensive FAQ and documentation section.

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

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Quake 4 performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768, 4xAA, 8X AF  

F.E.A.R. performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768 SS:on AA:off 8X AF  

DVD battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

HP Pavilion HDX
Windows Vista Home Ultimate Edition (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7800; 4,098MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI HD2600-XT; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm / 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Alienware Area-51 m9750
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX; 300GB Seagate 7,200rpm

iBuyPower Battalion 101 LX750
Windows Vista Ultimate Edition; 2.21GHz AMD Turion 64 x2 TL-64; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7600; 120GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

HP Pavilion dv9500t
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GS; 120GB Western Digital 5,400rpm; 80GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Dell Inspiron E1705
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7900GS; 120GB Toshiba 5,400rpm SATA/150


HP Pavilion HDX

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Battery 4Support 5
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