capsule review

HP HDX18: Multimedia Marvel

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At a Glance
  • HP HDX 18

HP's HDX line is fairly straightforward--it courts multimedia fiends. From its double-wide demeanor (with ample room for full QWERTY keys and a keypad) to all the plugs and ports offered here, the HDX18--a fairly fashionable desktop replacement--will stand out on your desk. The HDX18 isn't quite a desktop-destroyer like Toshiba's Qosmio X305 (Toshiba's Qosmio line has a well-deserved rep for awesome performance in games and stellar audio--hang in there, we'll have a review of the X305 up soon enough), but the HDX18's multimedia-mindedness proves that HP is ready to put up a fight. (We've also reviewed HP's HDX16, a very similar entertainment-focused laptop; the main differences are a smaller screen, a smaller hard drive, a slightly plainer keyboard--and a lower price.)

The HDX18 has some brawn to match its beauty. In our WorldBench 6 tests, HP's notebook scored a commanding 102. It's not quite the fastest we've seen--the Micro Express JFL9290 (a notebook in the all-purpose class) fared a little better--but it's more than powerful enough to play some games as well as video. A 2.8-GHz Core2 Duo CPU (T9600), 4GB of RAM and nVidia's 512MB GeForce 9600M GT GPU fuel our review unit. I can spit out frame rates of games like Doom 3 (which got a respectable 90 frames per second at 1280-by-1024 resolution), but what matters is that this machine is capable of playing this season's big guns without much a of hitch. I tooled around Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead on the screen's native 1920-by-1080 resolution. Both looked good and ran fairly smoothly.

The HDX18 is huge. The first tipoff: An 8.9-pound, 17 by 11.26 by 1.72-inch case. And that "18" in the name denotes an 18.4-inch display capable of showcasing full high-definition video in all its glory. The glossy finish on the panel ensures that you'll never be alone--you'll always see your reflection. It isn't the highly polished, highly annoying sheen that you find on many glossy panels, but it's still hard to ignore. The important part is that everything from Blu-ray movies to the newest games come across looking great.

The keyboard has a cool, metallic feel thanks to the coating--and the etched-in letters on each key make it that much more substantial. I wouldn't say that the keyboard beats out the ThinkPad line for its sensitivity, texture, and key response, but I'm going to put it up on my list. I also happen to love all the extra-tweaking multimedia buttons that line the top of the keyboard. The bright LED buttons might seem a little much, but they provide quick access to key multimedia features--and even provide the ability to tweak treble and bass without having to dig deep into software settings (though you can still do that here; more on that below). The mirror-like touch pad is a little distracting, but in a good way thanks to the art that carries over from the case across the mousing surface. It also feels smooth to the touch. And the mouse buttons? I'm getting spoiled here. Long, sturdy metallic buttons stand ready for duty.

Now this is how a multimedia machine is supposed to look. Sure, there's an obnoxious HP logo on the back of the lid that lights up when on (thanks for showing the rest of the world that little trick, Apple) but the rest of the system is laid out just as a meaty desktop replacement should be. The unit we received in the lab sprouts eSATA and HDMI ports, four USB 2.0 ports, a 4-pin FireWire port, a multi-format flash card reader, and a PC Express card slot. Of course, to match the big screen you're going to find a BD-ROM drive on-board. What? You don't want to watch a Blu-ray movie? Then plug in the HD or coax cable tuner and watch some TV shows. Combine all that with the flashy finish and neat exterior, and you've got yourself an incredibly handsome home solution that you wouldn't mind lugging from room to room.

I'm actually very happy with the sound setup on the HDX18. I know, I'm usually a huge curmudgeon when it comes to on-board audio, but this time around, the Altec-Lansing audio solution is anything but blah. The mids and highs seem a little off, but way better than how most "multimedia" notebooks handle those tones. Meanwhile, the down-firing subwoofer lurking underneath the notebook rounds out the sound. Audiophiles will approve of the Dolby sound equalizer software. It's not quite enough to topple Toshiba's big audio dynamite, but it's more than ample for rocking a room and without resort to headphones or external speakers. And to further tweak out the sound, IDT HD Sound software gives you quick-and-easy access to a 10-band equalizer and customizing the sound spacializing (you can push sounds to different parts of your headphones to feel surrounded; it works to a decent effect).

Speaking of software, I need to give a quick nod to the applications. They are slickly produced and suited perfectly for the hardware. You can tell that HP really thought about a nice multimedia interface with its MediaSmart software's sweet GUI interface and how the notebook's shortcut keys tie together. Here's the problem, though: MediaSmart is technically bloatware--approximately 350MB that do the exact same job as what Windows' Media Center software already does. Okay, it's a minor peeve considering that the 5400-rpm, 640GB hard drive (technically 2X 320GB) is relatively clean from most other useless apps, so I'll give HP that.

Last, but not least, is the battery life. I mean, nobody is really buying a desktop replacement notebook expecting it to last all day running on battery power. These monsters usually require a back brace to lug around town, and you'll be lucky to last three hours before needing a recharge. That's pretty much the case here; the HDX18 lasts 2 hours, 42 minutes--pretty respectable, if average. Then again, that was with an 8-cell battery. With a 6-cell, you're probably looking at something a lot closer to 2 hours.

What kind of price can you put on this kind of entertainment PC? Quite a bit, actually. Our machine, as configured, will run you upwards of $2300. If that's a little too rich for your blood, scale back features, and you can get a baseline model for about $1400. Or you can hang in and wait to learn more about what's happening with Toshiba and Alienware's latest media machines (hint: expect some cool stuff happening for the holiday timeframe).

--Darren Gladstone

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At a Glance
  • As a desktop replacement, it not only performs well, it makes your actual desktop look snazzier.


    • Big, beautiful 18.4-inch display
    • Good speakers


    • Screen is a little too glossy
    • Slightly redundant multimedia software
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