capsule review

HP Pavilion dv2

At a Glance
  • HP Pavilion dv2

    PCWorld Rating

    The dv2 carves out a solid niche between netbook and notebook by delivering good performance at a reasonable price.

Updated 4/15/2009 with PC WorldBench test results.

Clear a space between what you consider a netbook and a notebook, because the Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv2 defies simple categorization. Its combination of processor, price, and diminutive size finds that happy middle ground between a mini-laptop and a full-fledged ultraportable laptop. And starting at $749, the dv2 is the first laptop we've seen that features AMD's inexpensive Athlon Neo 1.6GHz MV-40 processor (formerly referred to as AMD's Yukon). Honestly, I'm pretty happy with AMD's poster child so far.

With the Intel Atom CPU, which powers most netbooks today, we got used to this notion of lowered expectations. Netbooks aren't meant to run Vista. They can't handle high-resolution video. Playing games was a pipedream. They have tiny screens.

The Pavilion dv2 aims to change those assumptions about mini-laptops. For $749--not much more than you'd pay for the HP Mini 2140--you get a 12.1-inch display, a 320GB 5400-rpm SATA hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a discrete ATI Radeon HD 3410 GPU with 512MB of video memory, all packed into a 3.8-pound machine.

So how does it perform? Well, it depends on how you classify it. As an ultraportable, the dv2's a bargain-priced machine that only gets 45 in PC WorldBench 6 (an abysmally low score compared to other ultraportables). In the netbook race, the dv2 gets a scorching-fast 45 in WorldBench! In short, that performance is relative. On the bright side, the 6-cell battery lasts a hair under three hours. What is interesting, though are the variables you're not seeing. First, our test machine runs Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit edition (netbooks run with Windows XP).

Second, the video tests. Video streamed from Hulu looked crisp and clear. I also tried copying a high-definition recording of a TV show (3.36GB for a half-hour show) that I had recorded on a Media Center PC and then playing it back on the Pavilion dv2 at full screen. Though the show took a few seconds to get up and running, it looked great once it kicked into gear. 720p video samples ran smoothly...and while I'm at it, I actually was able to play a couple games on this not-quite-a-netbook. Real games, like Left 4 Dead. Granted, the optimal settings were 800 by 480-pixel resolution, but it played out well on the 12.1-inch screen. You try doing that with any other netbook on the market and tell me how well you do.

The Pavilion dv2 uses HP's 92-percent-of-full-size keyboard, with the same flat, wide keys that I've come to appreciate in members of the HP Mini series and in the Gateway UC7807u. On the other hand, given how the keyboard is laid out, HP could have made the keys even bigger. Not that typing is a chore at 92 percent scale, but it is noticeable. Also, prepare to squint if you plan on using the function keys that line the top of the keyboard. As on the HP Mini 1000 netbook, these undersize keys are barely present and require neck craning to see which function key is which.

In contrast, the smooth, mirrored touchpad is fantastic. It is responsive and wide enough that my fingers felt comfortable--not crammed together--when I used it to navigate the desktop. And the long, wide selection buttons are exactly where they should be (at the bottom of the touchpad).

The dv2's screen is no slouch, either. Capable of 1280-by-800-pixel resolution, this LED-backlit widescreen display looks good. Its glossy coating helps make images pop, though this also invites some sunlight-induced glare. But even when I ratcheted up the brightness, the display delivered an acceptable image: It just makes some colors on the brighter end of the spectrum seem a little more subdued.

As for the Pavilion dv2's design, the unit's trim lines and slickly coated, glossy black surface are snazzy and eye-catching. The unit measures 11.5 by 9.5 by 1.3 inches, and weighs just 3.8 pounds-definitely a lightweight eye-catcher. And yet it somehow still manages to squeeze in HDMI and VGA video outputs, three USB 2.0 ports, a PC Express Card slot, a flash-card reader, ethernet, and 802.11n Wi-Fi.

The front-firing Altec Lansing speakers sound hollow and tinny at best, but they're certainly not a step down from anything you'll find on competing netbooks. So plug in those headphones.

Unfortunately, HP continues to load its laptops with software that you'll want to uninstall the second you get home (games, demos, and the like). The one standout among the pre-installed apps is the handy HP Advisor bar, which camps atop your desktop. While it is borderline obtrusive, it provides a handy shortcut for online searches--and the PC Health & Security button is an excellent one-stop window for obtaining a full status report on your PC. If ultraportability is your bag, but you don't want to drop a fortune and you don't want to sacrifice too much performance, the recession-busting HP Pavilion dv2 is a fairly good bet. Just don't mistake it for a full-fledged, full-performance machine either.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The dv2 carves out a solid niche between netbook and notebook by delivering good performance at a reasonable price.

    Pros

    • Slim, smart profile; great touchpad
    • Flexible and affordable

    Cons

    • Tinny sound
    • Keys could be a bit bigger
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