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When I first saw it at one of HP's many laptop preview events, the Pavilion m6 was intriguing, at least on paper. It was a slim 15-inch laptop, with an optical drive and optional discrete graphics that looked like the middle ground between HP's higher-end Envy line and the usual plastic Pavilions.
The version of HP's m6 that we finally got our hands on is an upgraded model, with an Intel Core i5 CPU, AMD 7670 graphics, and an extra 32GB SSD drive on top of its big HDD. On HP's Web site, that works out to around $924, although Best Buy has a retail-only version for $699 that skips the GPU and SSD.
A couple of months after I first saw it in person, the Pavilion m6 is still a good idea -- an upscale addition to HP's workhorse Pavilion line, with enough customization options to fit a wide range of budgets and needs.
That said, HP is pricing its higher-end Envy line so aggressively that I'd be sorely tempted to get one of those instead. The bigger, but more powerful 15-inch Envy 15t is a great (if not as portable) midsize laptop that starts at $1,099 for roughly comparable specs. More tempting, the Envy Ultrabook and Sleekbook lines start at around the same as the m6, and you can build a very similar configuration to this m6 for around $900, although keep in mind you would lose the optical drive.
If this full-featured configuration cost significantly less than a comparable Envy, it would be a steal. As it is, it's a solid competitor in a crowded $900-plus field, but not as slick or well-built as HP's Envy products.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$924 / $699|
|Processor||2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M|
|Memory||6GB, 1600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||750GB 5,400rpm / 32GB SSD|
|Graphics||AMD 7670 / Intel HD4000|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.0 x 9.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.2/6.3 pounds|
The Pavilion m6 is a step apart from HP's other Pavilion laptops, and seems to share more of its design DNA with the high-end Envy line instead. That includes the angular chassis, metallic design, and the island-style touch pad introduced by the most recent Envy laptops.
That's great news if you want a premium-looking laptop without paying premium prices. But keep in mind that there are now Envy models that cost even less than this. Our review unit has a silver brushed-metal lid, which is, unbelievably, a $25 upgrade over the default black lid (I thought this sort of nickel-and-diming was out of style these days). The overall look is slick, and reasonably portable for a 15-inch laptop with an optical drive, but this is not quite an ultrabook (and in fact it's a bit heavier than it looks at first).
The keyboard (which includes a separate number pad) is one of the few outright disappointments in the m6. The island-style keys feel diminutive and clacky, with a lot of wiggle under the fingers. The entire keyboard tray flexed under heavy typing, giving the system a budget air. That said, the keyboard is at least backlit, and the row of F-key function buttons are reversed, to make their more useful tasks, such as controlling volume and brightness, the default.
The touch pad comes straight from the latest Envy line, with a pad floating in the middle of a larger depression in the wrist rest. The matte, metallic finish feels good under the fingers, and multitouch gestures, such as the two-finger scroll, worked smoothly. If you prefer separate left and right mouse buttons to a buttonless clickpad, you're in luck, because that's what you get here. But I can't imagine any laptop will not move to the newer clickpad style within a generation or two.
There's no mistake -- the Pavilion m6 is a nice-looking, feature-filled laptop at a very reasonable price. Part of the reason for that might be the surfeit of promotional icons and links included with the system, a scenario that presumably puts a few extra dollars in HP's pocket (and hopefully helps keep consumers' costs down). You'll find the desktop cluttered by plugs for eBay, Wild Tangent games, HP's own online software store, and others.
The 15.6-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, and is one of the giveaways that this is a budget-minded system. For a 13-inch laptop, that resolution is fine, but on a larger 15-inch model, the screen can feel cramped, with text and icons appearing overly large. A 1,600x900- or 1,920x1,080-pixel display is preferable on a laptop this size. The screen itself looks good, but it is overly glossy, with a glossy, black plastic bezel around it, leading to a lot of glare.
Audio, as on most HP laptops, features Beats Audio software, which is basically a series of EQ presets that work especially well with Beats headphones. Through the internal speakers, you'll get plenty of volume, but not much bass.
|HP Pavilion m6||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
All the basic ports and connections are here, minus a separate mic input jack, and it's great to get four USB ports, three of which are USB 3.0. On a larger 15-inch laptop, you inevitably find lots of things, from external hard drives to game controllers, that require a spare USB port.
With a mainstream Intel Core i5 CPU, the HP Pavilion m6 easily performs on par with more expensive machines. The Core i5-3210 is a very common part, found in everything from 11-inch ultraportables to 17-inch desktop replacements, and is more than powerful enough for common tasks, from running multiple Web browsers to playing HD video.
The AMD 7670 discrete GPU is not as common in laptops as either an Nvidia GPU or just Intel's built-in HD 4000 graphics, but it's a solid performer in this price range. In our Street Fighter IV test, at 1,366x768-pixel resolution, the m6 ran at 68.5 frames per second. The more challenging Metro 2033 test ran at 13.3 frames per second, which is considered a decent score. In anecdotal testing, Just Cause 2, at the same resolution and with medium settings, ran at 30.1 frames per second. This won't be your main gaming laptop -- in part because of the low screen resolution -- but it's fine for casual gaming sessions with Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty, or other mainstream games. Note that you may have to tell the AMD graphics-switching to turn itself on when playing games; not all titles will do this automatically.
For a midsize 15-inch laptop, battery life can go one of two ways. Bigger deskbound systems, such as Dell's XPS 15 or a specialized gaming rig, can get away with short battery life, as they're unlikely to be used on the go. Slimmer 15-inch laptops, including Samsung's Series 9 15-inch and the Retina MacBook Pro, are slim enough to be truly portable, and need very long-lived batteries. The Pavilion m6 is in the middle, but leans a bit more towards portable, so its disappointing to only get three hours and 45 minutes on our video playback battery drain test.
HP's Pavilion line, including the m6, gets only basic default warranty protection. In this case, that's one year of coverage. Upgrading to two years will cost $89, while two years of accidental damage protection and on-site service (with a three-day window), is $114.
Adding a new letter, and a new look, to the long-standing Pavilion line from HP, the m6 smartly mixes some high-end design elements with budget-conscious components. The result is a reasonably priced mainstream all-around laptop that can handle some gaming as well. The catch, and there always is one, is that HP has priced its upscale Envy line of laptops so aggressively, it's hard to justify spending the same amount on this lower-tier system.
HP Pavilion m6
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1GB AMD Radeon HD V18 + Intel HD 4000; RAID 0 750GB Toshiba 5,400rpm / 32GB Samsung SSD
Dell Inspiron 15R - 5520
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Seagate 5,400rpm
Sony Vaio E15116FXS
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 750GB Seagate 5,400rpm
Dell Inspiron 17R - 5720
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 750GB Western Digital 5,400rpm
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Toshiba 7,200rpm