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HP Pavilion zd8000 review: HP Pavilion zd8000

HP Pavilion zd8000

Brian Nadel
8 min read
HP Pavilion zd8000
Editor's note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Find out more here.
Editor's note: In our original review, we mistakenly stated that HP does not accept support questions via e-mail. We regret the error. (12/22/04)
The HP Pavilion zd8000 puts entertainment front and center by combining a comprehensive collection of features for TV, video, music, gaming, and computing into one of the most powerful notebooks we've seen. This is one big laptop, even for a desktop replacement, but its size affords it room enough for a full-size keyboard and number pad, a ton of slots and ports around the edges, and a 17-inch wide-screen display (plus a top-shelf ATI graphics card), so it's great for gaming, spreadsheets, and everything in between. Though it lacks an integrated TV tuner, as found in the comparably priced Toshiba Qosmio G15-AV501, the zd8000's included external tuner has two sets of inputs. At $2,549 (as of December 2004), the Pavilion zd8000 is more expensive than shelling out for a standalone TV set, PVR, DVD player, and stereo, but it puts them all into one powerful box that you can fold up and move from room to room. Couch potatoes, rejoice! The HP Pavilion zd8000 is a home theater that can travel from room to room. But think twice about taking it out your front door: this notebook is beautiful, but at 9.5 pounds, it stretches the definition of portable. Broader than a skateboard, it measures 15.6 inches wide, 11.1 inches deep, and 2.1 inches thick at its thickest point--about as big as the supersize Dell Inspiron XPS but much larger than the svelte ABS Mayhem G3. Add in the Pavilion zd8000's huge AC adapter, which weighs about as much as the Panasonic ToughBook Y2, and you come up with a back-straining travel weight of 12 pounds. Still, the Pavilion zd8000's silver-and-black design is stylish and attractive.

This laptop's wide body affords it the room to include a variety of creature comforts, including volume up/down and mute buttons; a full-size keyboard with particularly big backspace and shift keys; a separate full-size number pad, which is relatively rare on laptops; and a large, responsive touch pad that has its own on/off button, as well as a ribbed column that runs along its right edge that lets you scroll through documents or Web pages. The zd8000 also includes configurable quick-launch keys for media applications, as well as an on/off switch for Wi-Fi--useful for preserving battery life. The Pavilion zd8000's Harman Kardon stereo speakers line the laptop's front edge so that you can play music even when the lid is closed; better yet, they sound richer than most laptop speakers. On the downside, the machine's three fans are noisy, and one is always running when the machine is on. Though not noisy enough to interfere with movie watching, they are loud enough to bother you if you're trying to sleep in the same room as the Pavilion zd8000. Also, like the previous Pavilion zd7000 model, this notebook runs hot, and there are hot spots on the wrist rest and on the bottom of the case.


HP Pavilion zd8000

The Good

Excellent performance; comprehensive feature set; powerful graphics card; 17-inch wide-screen display; dual TV tuners and digital recorder; remote control; crisp speakers; built-in FM radio.

The Bad

Huge and heavy; short battery life; noisy fans; runs hot.

The Bottom Line

A TV, a digital recorder, a stereo, and--oh, yes--a powerful computer, the HP Pavilion zd8000 is one of the very best multimedia powerhouses on the market.

While this machine is designed to remain plugged in, the Pavilion zd8000 can run on battery power. Our informal test had the 6,600mAh power pack play recorded material for 1 hour, 25 minutes, or about half of Lawrence of Arabia.

Packed with an exhaustive set of features, the Pavilion zd8000 is the first notebook we've seen with an ExpressCard slot for the new PCI Express-based modules. These modules, which are not yet available (as of early December 2004), will have similar functions to those of the PC Cards they're meant to replace and promise to deliver greater and faster throughput as well as use less power. The Pavilion zd8000 also features a traditional PC Card slot and four USB ports, along with connections for audio, FireWire, an external monitor, and S-Video. An additional flash card reader can handle Secure Digital, Memory Stick Pro, MultiMediaCard, SmartMedia, and the new xD format. The notebook can get online with Gigabit Ethernet, a built-in V.92 modem, and the one-two punch of Bluetooth and 802.11b/g data radios. In our informal test, the Pavilion zd8000 showed an acceptable indoor range of about 95 feet.

While the Toshiba Qosmio E15-AV101 is equipped with an internal TV tuner and Sony integrates a tuner into the dock that accompanies its VAIO A190, the Pavilion zd8000 comes with an external tuner that, although we generally prefer the built-in variety, is a bit more useful than the others. The HP Dual TV Tuner/Digital Video Recorder has two sets of cable-TV and audio inputs, an FM radio antenna, as well as composite video plugs and an IR receiver for the Pavilion zd8000's tiny remote control. (Far from a channel surfer's dream, the small remote control has a 16-foot range but takes a couple of seconds to advance channels, and it doesn't let you enter them directly. Worse, the notebook has no slot to stash it in, so it's sure to end up under your couch's cushions.)

With the TV Tuner's two inputs and Microsoft Windows Media XP 2005, you can record two programs at once or watch one channel while you're recording a show on another, although you can't watch two shows at once. When connected to the Internet, the included online show guide lets you pick two weeks' worth of programs for recording, but we found it to be wrong on occasion, and this TiVo-like function will definitely eat up your hard drive space quickly. Still, there's room for about 23.5 hours of top-quality video or twice that of the lowest quality.

Unfortunately, for a system with so many audio and video features, the Pavilion zd8000 lacks a DVI connector for a digital connection to an LCD or plasma screen (the Inspiron XPS has one); also missing is an S/PDIF optical connection for digital speakers (the Qosmio E15-AV101 has an S/PDIF connection). HP does offer the $130 xc2000 hydra cable, which adds a digital-audio connection and plugs for component video, composite video, and S-Video. HP's $150 Notebook Expansion Base goes a step further: besides supplying all of the hydra cable's functionality, it provides a stand for the laptop and adds a wireless mouse and keyboard to the equation.

The Pavilion zd8000 has a multiformat DVD drive, but HP does not currently offer a double-layer DVD burner (a feature found in the Dell Inspiron 9200). With ATI's latest PCI Express-based Mobility Radeon X600 video engine, plus a whopping 256MB of video memory, and a 17-inch wide-screen display that flaunts a pinpoint-sharp, 1,680x1,050 native resolution, this notebook is primed for both video and games. On the downside, the screen isn't quite bright enough for across-the-room viewing, and its shiny surface looks better in a darkened room than in daylight conditions.

In addition to Microsoft Windows Media Center 2005 and a two-month trial of Office 2003, the Pavilion zd8000 includes Zone.com's sampler of games, iPod utilities, and apps for converting digital music files.

SysMark 2004 performance
CNET tested an HP Pavilion zd8000 configured with a top-shelf 3.6GHz Pentium 4 processor, 1GB of 400MHz memory, and a 5,400rpm 80GB hard drive. The Pavilion zd8000 scored about as well as the best-in-class Dell Inspiron XPS, which runs a slightly slower 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor. However, the Inspiron XPS's CPU makes up for its lower core clock speed with two large caches--a 2MB L3 and a 512K L2--and a faster 7,200rpm hard drive; in comparison, the Pavilion zd8000 has only 1MB of L2 cache and a 5,400rpm hard drive. (Caches are small pockets of memory on the CPU that can be accessed more quickly than retrieving information from main memory.) The ABS Mayhem G3 houses a much slower 2.2GHz Athlon 64 3400+ processor, but it's extremely efficient, and it held pace with the higher-clocked Pentium 4 CPUs. Though each has its own individual strengths, all three systems delivered great performance in CNET's SysMark test, and all will run office and Internet-content-creation apps at very fast speeds.
SysMark 2004  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
Dell Inspiron XPS
HP Pavilion zd8000
ABS Mayhem G3

To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Find out more about how we test laptops.

Unreal Tournament 2004 performance
Our Unreal Tournament 2004 performance test evaluates video adapter prowess and, in particular, CPU speed. The HP Pavilion zd8000 came in just a few percentage points lower than the Dell Inspiron XPS, which has a large L2 cache, and the ABS Mayhem G3, whose Athlon 64 processor delivers better 3D performance on games that are CPU limited. Still, all three systems scored very well on this test.

Unreal Tournament 2004
(Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004  

In order to test gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004. Rather than isolate the graphics adapter, this test evaluates overall system performance, with an emphasis on CPU speed. Find out more about how we test laptops.

Doom 3 performance
The HP Pavilion zd8000 is the first system we've tested with the Mobility Radeon X600 256MB, ATI's first PCI Express card for notebooks. (PCI Express is Intel's high-bandwidth interface between the video adapter and the rest of the system.) The ABS Mayhem G3 houses the ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB video adapter, a relatively common AGP-based card. The Dell Inspiron XPS, equipped with the ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB--the most powerful graphics processor of the three--was significantly faster than the Pavilion zd8000 and the Mayhem G3 in our test. Still, all three systems delivered very good gaming performance.

Doom 3 High Quality, 10x7, 4XAA
(Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Id software/Activision's Doom 3  

In order to isolate the video adapters of these three systems, we used Doom 3's Timedemo in combination with CNET's own custom demo. We tested Doom 3 at a resolution of 1,024x768 and with 4X antialiasing enabled in high-quality mode intended for systems with at least 128MB of video memory. Find out more about how we test laptops.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

System configurations:
ABS Mayhem G3
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz Athlon 64 3400+ DTR; 1,024MB 400MHz DDR RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm
Dell Inspiron XPS
Windows XP Professional; 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition; 1GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm
HP Pavilion zd8000
Windows XP Media Center; Pentium 4 3.6GHz; 1GB 400MHz DDR RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon X600 256MB; Toshiba MK8026GAX 80GB 5,400rpm HP backs the Pavilion zd8000 with an industry-standard one-year warranty on parts and labor; upgrading to three years of coverage costs $179.

With a support Web site that's second to none, HP stands behind its laptops with a comprehensive assortment of software, manuals and setup help, detailed troubleshooting, and a list of available accessories. It all comes together with HP's Total Care interface, which helps direct you toward the right answer or file, although HP's help system occasionally balked during our time spent with the Pavilion zd8000.

Toll-free tech support is available for the life of the laptop, but you'll have to wade through HP's error-prone automated response system to get someone on the line. A helpful operator was on the line after 2 minutes, 15 seconds in our test, and she had the correct answer to our question and even double-checked it with her supervisor, while we waited. The company automatically e-mails updates and accepts support questions via e-mail.


HP Pavilion zd8000

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Support 7