|Introduction & Specifications|
At this point, there's no shame in saying it: the floodgates have opened up for AMD's Fusion. What began as a trickle -- as AMD finally introduced a shipping version of the long-awaited Fusion platform -- has turned into a steady stream, and we're definitely excited to see APUs, as AMD calls the product, finally making an impact. AMD had played up the idea of an Accelerated Processing Unit for years, and now, it's clearly a reality. Lenovo's ThinkPad X120e, which we reviewed a few months ago, instantly became one of our favorite ultraportables, and now HP has what appears to be a rival machine, of sorts.
The Pavilion dm1z is an 11.6" machine, that is a touch larger than the myriad 10" netbooks already on the market, and honestly, we're struggling with what to classify this machine as. Is is a netbook? Is it an ultraportable? In reality, it's probably a hybrid of the two. You're getting the portability and longevity of a netbook, but the power and price of a nicer ultraportable. Is this a class of machine that has a future? It's tough to tell at this point, but you could argue this class of machine wouldn't even exist without Fusion.
AMD's Fusion has put Intel's Atom in a real pinch. We've maintained that Atom was losing steam (or just too slow to innovate) over the past year or so, and now things are more glaring. AMD's Zacate E-350 Fusion processor has proved that a relatively inexpensive, power-conserving chip can indeed make netbooks powerful enough to handle 1080p multi-media, and some of the newer Atoms still struggle matching the performance levels of the new APU. Let's take a closer look at what powers the dm1z.
The dm1z starts at $449.99, and our test unit was configured at $479.99. We've seen plenty of ~$500 netbooks before, and there's no question that this particular machine outclasses some of the prior spec configurations we've seen from a pure value proposition standpoint. A 64-bit machine with 3GB of RAM, 1080p playback, a 320GB hard drive and an 11.6" panel is pretty impressive, but even more so when you consider that it starts at just $450. As always, however, real-world performance needs to live up to what you're led to expect from the specifications on paper. Join us in the pages ahead for our full review.
|Design and Build Quality|
When it comes to design and build quality, our expectations are obviously taken down a notch considering the netbook space. Whenever you pay under $300 or $400 for a full-scale machine, it's understandable if things aren't exactly iron-clad. But HP has managed to seriously step things up with the dm1z. Granted, the MSRP here is $450, so a it's bit more than most netbooks, but still; we're really impressed with just how sturdy and well-made this notebook feels.
At just over three pounds, the dm1z isn't too burdensome, and while it's an all-plastic affair, the materials used in the construction are remarkably solid. Everything feels stiff, with the only notable exception being the LCD hinges. These are a touch loose, but honestly, most consumers who aren't looking for these kinds of things won't notice.
Along the front edge, there aren't any ports. It swells in depth going toward the back, and there's a 3.5mm headphone jack, two USB 2.0 ports, a VGA output and an Ethernet port along the right edge. The left edge is home to a single USB 2.0 port, an HDMI (full-size) output, a few status LEDs, an exhaust vent, a Kensington lock slot and an AC input socket.
The LCD hinge is a unique one; it can fold completely (yes, completely!) flat, which may be a highlight feature for some that need to compute in highly cramped places, or if you're standing over a kitchen countertop looking down at the machine, for example. The bezel around the LCD is around average size, with the bottom being thicker than average, likely due to the fold-flat nature of it.
Unlike many netbooks these days, HP decided against using a chiclet keyboard; instead, it's a pretty traditional layout. One very unique feature is the trackpad. For one, it's really wide. Secondly, it's right in the center of the casing, rather than being aligned directly beneath the space bar. This is more akin to a MacBook or MacBook Pro; most PC netbooks/notebooks always align their trackpad with the space bar, but we think the dm1z layout makes a lot more sense.
It's hard to say that any sub-$500 notebook provides a "premium" user experience, but thanks to Fusion, we really think we're getting close. HP spent a lot of time in the design lab with this machine, and the fit and finish here is worthy of praising again. It really enhances the overall user experience.
In fact, we found ourselves looking at the dm1z a bit different than the machines before it. It's just got that style, class and pep that we usually find in higher-end CULV notebooks. The 11.6" LCD, while glossy, is particularly crisp, and the viewing angles are top-notch.
Typing on the dm1z is also worthy of praise. The keyboard here is about as spacious as it gets for a "netbook," or ultralight and we didn't have to make any real adjustments to type quickly and error-free. We dare say that this is one of the best typing experiences we've had on a sub-$500 machine. HP clearly spent a lot of time getting the key travel just right. The keys aren't mushy, and they aren't stiff; "just right" really is the best way to describe them.
And then there's the trackpad. In our mind, the usability of the trackpad can make or break the overall user experience of a an ultralight notebook. Most of them have trackpads that are cramped and hard to operate, but that's not the case here. This one's spacious and well-positioned, and the light textured surface is very easy to track on.
It's also important to point out that the trackpad natively supports multi-finger, multi-touch gestures. Two-finger scrolling as well as pinch-to-zoom is supported, without having to enable anything from a software perspective. That's definitely a much-appreciated touch. We have often wondered why Apple was so far ahead of PC makers on the touchpad experience, and while the "glass" trackpad on Apple's newest MacBook Pro is still superior (in my opinion anyway), the dm1z trackpad is easily the best PC trackpad we have ever touched. It's highly responsive, supports multi-finger gestures and has an amazingly tactile texture.
Pavilion dm1z Windows 7 Experience Score
You may be wondering just how zippy the 64-bit copy of Windows 7 Home Premium feels. In short, it's pretty good. There are definitely times where multi-tasking brings things down a notch, and it cannot handle hardcore 3D gaming, but for a machine that costs just $450, it does an impressive job. To put it bluntly, the performance feels similar to some ~$1000 CULV machines that we used last year. That's pretty impressive, and again speaks volumes about just how zippy the Fusion chip is.
For all but power users, there's enough power here to satisfy. The only thing that let us down was gaming and multi-tasking. While the machine is capable of playing back 1080p footage without stuttering, it couldn't handle a low-res game of Half-Life 2 without significant lag in spots.
The only other major notable drawback here is fan noise. AMD's chips have never been the coolest in the bunch, and there's no question that the dm1z can get a bit loud at times. The fan stays on nearly constantly, and the low, perpetual hum gets a little annoying after awhile. Then again, we didn't notice the bottom nor the palm rests getting too hot, even after extended use. So, to that end, we're prefer fan noise over a piping hot machine, but it's still something you should be aware of.
|Futuremark 3DMark 06 / 11 & PCMark Vantage|
The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.
You'll notice that the scores of the dm1z and the X120e are extremely similar. In this test, the two machines are effectively impossible to tell apart. There's an extra gigabyte of RAM in the X120e, which likely makes some of the difference, but otherwise we're looking at comparable results. Either way, Fusion handily beats platforms of yesteryear.
Yet again, this is a great example of how the Zacate E-350 APU is much more powerful than AMD's Neo before it, and also more powerful than an Atom + ION combo. These numbers are proof that AMD really cranked up the performance on Fusion, and you can definitely feel it in real-world use. Though we should also note that the Eee PC 1201N tested here also has a slower 5400RPM hard drive, which will affect this test, especially in the music test, where disk access is more frequent.
|SiSoftware Sandra & Multimedia Benchmarks|
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic,
All of the scores reported below were taken with the system running in its stock configuration.
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge
CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge
Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge
Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge
Our gauntlet of SiSoftware SANDRA tests show that the E-350 is capable of hanging with some pretty stout competition. There's no Atoms in this list of rivals; the E-350 has the capability to compete with more advanced CPUs, and as we've stated throughout, you can feel the difference. At last, we see a netbook chip that makes the netbook experience one that's enjoyable.
To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included a screenshot of the 1080p clip from the Mini 311 (which uses the first gen NVIDIA Ion GPU) to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from a different type of system.
Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264 - Pavilion dm1z
Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD - Pavilion dm1z
Click To Enlarge; 1080p - Pavilion dm1z
Click To Enlarge; 1080p on HP Mini 311 w/ Ion
We assumed the E-350 would be plenty capable of handling 720p and 1080p multi-media playback, and indeed it was up to the task. It actually pegged the system resources a bit higher than we had imagined, but loading the clips was quick and playback was perfectly smooth throughout. AMD may still be working on drivers here a bit, depending on the media player software being used. It may not be the same if you have a lot of encoding or number crunching going on in the background, but so long as you don't treat your dm1z like a mobile workstation, you should enjoy crisp, stutter-free playback. Please note, however, that GPU accelerated Flash video playback is still a work in progress for AMD and will require updated drivers / or plug-ins at some point.
For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Left 4 Dead 2, Half Life 2: Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
In all of these tests, it's clear who the winner is: Zacate. Yet again, AMD's Fusion has proven to be a real contender, putting the older Neo platform in the X100e to shame. Granted, this APU isn't strong enough to allow hardcore gamers to churn out high framerates on an external monitor, but it's powerful to play some of the more modern titles at lowered resolutions and IQ settings. We found this impressive in the X120e, but for a sub-$450 machine, we found this really impressive. It also shows just how weak the Atom looks in comparison; we know we keep harping on that fact, but we're hopeful about the possibility of Intel seriously overhauling their Atom line now that Fusion has delivered the first real competitive solution here in the new year.
If there's one thing a netbook (or an ultraportable) needs to be really competitive, it's great battery life. No matter how great the software or the hardware, an ultra-mobile machine needs great battery life to be really useful in the field.
The X100e that we reviewed last year only managed around 2.1 hours of life, while the X120e (both using a 6-cell battery, while the latter has AMD's Fusion APU under the hood) managed around 3.5 hours in the same test. But those are just to provide perspective; our dm1z here managed just over four hours of use. We have seen reports that this machine will last even longer if you disable Wi-Fi and go easy on the screen brightness, and we believe it. Either way, over four hours when in use constantly is pretty impressive, and it matches (or beats) most other netbooks on the market today. Plus, you're getting an enhanced level of performance with Fusion; finally, performance that doesn't compromise when it comes to battery life.
|Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: In our testing, the Pavilion dm1z performed well. Its performance level was a notch above Atom and Neo CPUs from months past, but couldn't quite match the admittedly more expensive ThinkPad X120e in spots, which comes equipped with more memory as well. The performance that AMD has been able to squeeze out of the Fusion platform is notable, and the E-350 Zacate APU is a real workhorse of a mobile chip. In our Futuremark and Gaming benchmarks, the dm1z wasn't an exceptionally strong performer, but the APU was still powerful enough to play back 720p and 1080p video without stuttering. Everyday usage was above-average for a machine of this price point, though intense multi-tasking did bring about a bit of lag.
This is the second major E-350 laptop that we've had the ability to review in the early months of 2011. The ThinkPad X120e was somewhat better specified, but also cost a good amount more. The dm1z offers a great balance between power and price. For a "netbook" sized machine, it offers ultraportable-level performance. This truly is the next generation of the netbook. For the bulk of the past year, we bemoaned the fact that even the newest Atom CPUs felt like such minor improvements over the original Atom lineup. But AMD's Fusion truly takes great strides in performance improvements all around. We can finally recommend a netbook without also having to mention how much performance you'll have to give up.
Click To Enlarge
The design of the Pavilion dm1z is truly great. The keyboard is outstanding, and the trackpad is definitely top-class. The screen, while glossy, is easy to look at, and the 11.6" screen gives ample real estate while still maintaining a very portable form factor. This is easily one of the most well-built sub-$500 ultralight machines that we've seen, We do wish performance in general tasks was a touch snappier, but we're honestly asking for a lot given the reasonable $449.99 starting price.
If we had to nitpick, there's the issue of having no internal optical drive. That doesn't bother us too much, but it may bother some. Also, the 3D gaming performance falls a bit flat in spots. Despite hitting a 3.8 Windows 7 Experience score (same as the ThinkPad X120e), the graphical performance just wasn't quite as good. That's likely due to the dm1z having only 3GB of RAM compared to Lenovo's 4GB. But then again, you probably aren't looking at an ultralight notebook or netbook to game on. Overall, however, there's a lot to like about the HP dm1z. If you have held off for a "serious" netbook, you've found it. The small price premium over those bargain-basement $300 netbooks is worth it in our estimation, and we think HP has a home run with this one.