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February 7, 2011

Hands on with the HP Pavilion dm1z: The anti-netbook

Most people who I talk to who recently bought a netbook say the same thing: “I love the battery life! I love the portability! But I don’t love the performance”. It’s a common trade-off in the world of PCs. If you want great battery life, you need a small screen and a low-power setup, and if you want great computing power, forget about all-day use. The either/or is starting to disappear though through great ultraportables like the Acer TimelineX 1830t, the Lenovo IdeaPad U160, and the ASUS U36JC, but HP’s new Pavilion dm1z takes the “best of both worlds” concept one notch further by offering up great battery life and solid performance at a sub-$500 price point. A well spec’d one like mine, with 3GB of RAM, 2USB ports, HDMI, a cleverly covered Ethernet jack and a 320GB 5400rpm hard drive, costs $479. It looks like a netbook. It feels like a netbook. It’s priced like a netbook. But it is definitely NOT a netbook.


Look and Feel

As I said above, the dm1z looks like a netbook at first glance, albeit one of substance and high build quality. Its 11.6” display has a resolution of 1366 x 768, so it’s full HD capable, which means even on a little screen you won’t be plagued by page truncation or cropped videos. It also features the same great keyboard and much-improved 2nd generation “clickpad” as bigger HP laptops like the dm4 and the ENVY series. The case back is black & textured which provides a welcome departure from standard solid-colored polycarbonate that you find on most PCs this size, and the PC is well proportioned and balanced (about 1” thick and 3.5lbs) so it feels great to hold and solid to type on.


HP also did something very thoughtful with the underside by making it very easily removable. Unlike most laptops where you have to manually remove multiple tiny screws to get to the hard drive, memory, and other components if you’re looking to do upgrade or repairs, the dm1z’s underside just clicks in and out of place. .” All you have to do is remove the battery, slide your fingers into the tabs, and “POP!”, off comes the case. For a modder like me, this is a godsend. It also means I will likely be upgrading my dm1z with an SSD and 8GB of RAM to make it really fly!




Although the dm1z looks like a netbook, it sure doesn’t perform like one. Inside is one of AMD’s new “Brazos” APUs (the E-350), which combines AMD’s next generation processor technology and GPU technology into a single tiny chip. The result is outstanding performance and massive battery life. Check out the Windows Experience Index (WEI) on this PC and you’ll see what I mean:

dm1z WEI

The processor score isn’t terribly high, but it was adequate across normal work applications like Word, PowerPoint and Outlook, and everyday tasks like browsing the web in IE9, checking in on Twitter, and writing mail in Windows Live Mail.

Graphics and video playback were outstanding. And I don’t mean that in an “outstanding for a little computer” kind of way. It was outstanding for any PC of any size – I mean, just look at those WEI numbers! Video playback in full screen HD was beautiful and stutter free. Both World of Warcraft and Plants vs. Zombies looked great and moved smoothly. It’s hard to believe that a PC that little can pump out that kind of graphics power.

When AMD announced the new Brazos lineup, they promised significantly better battery life than previous generations of processors, and they certainly did not disappoint. The HP dm1z is rated for an incredible 9.5 hours of battery life, and I found this to be pretty much accurate. In multiple tests running the battery down from full charge under normal workloads (i.e., display brightness dimmed, Wi-Fi on) I consistently got over 9 hours of real world use time. My record, after doing some creative tinkering in the power settings, was 10.5 hours. That blows away most laptops in my inventory – even the ASUS U36Jc that gets over 7 hours of real-world use (and is my current daily carry) – and is enough battery power to fly direct from Seattle to London on a single charge. It’s really impressive stuff.


Final Thoughts

With the introduction of new power efficient processors like the AMD Brazos APU, we’re entering a new age of computing where double-digit battery life coupled with “real PC” performance will be the norm. The HP Pavilion dm1z is an excellent early example of how to build a PC using that new architecture – it’s fast, small, runs for ages and looks great – and it’s starting $449 price point makes it accessible to just about anyone. It’s a great little PC if you’re looking for a connected companion device for travel, school work, or short-burst work.

Have a question about this or any other PCs?  Post a comment, hit me on Twitter, or Ask Ben Anything via email.  Your question might appear in my monthly Ask Ben Anything Q&A column!