HP Pavilion dv9088ea review
A good-looking, ergonomically excellent laptop with a wealth of multimedia capabilities for home users
When HP makes a media centre notebook, it goes all out. This Pavilion not only features a widescreen 17in TFT,
Windows Media Center, a TV tuner and a remote control, but twin hard disks too.
It's all driven by a 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo, which requires such minimal cooling that it only becomes audible when gaming or at the peak of our application benchmarks, in which the dv9088ea scored 1.16. The system is backed up by a thoroughly impressive 2GB of RAM - more than enough to run Window Vista with ease, and you'll be able to upgrade to the new OS for a nominal admin charge thanks to HP's participation in Microsoft's Express Upgrade Program.
We were a little disappointed to see that the 17in widescreen only has a native resolution of 1,440 x 900 - the minimum we'd expect for a widescreen of this size. The glossy screen is glamorous but reflective, adding vibrancy to colours but, as our DisplayMate tests showed, reducing colour accuracy. We also noticed poor vertical viewing angles, meaning the bottom of the screen was often darker than the top, even when sat directly in front. It's not so bad as to make TV and DVDs unwatchable, but there are certainly better notebook TFTs out there.
We saw no problems with motion handling, though, which is good news for both video and gaming. 3D power is provided by the Nvidia GeForce Go 7600, which has 512MB of graphics memory, and scored 35fps and 31fps in our Far Cry and Call of Duty 2 tests at our lowest settings. Raising the resolution to 1,440 x 900 and turning the rest of the settings to our medium level produced average frame rates of 22fps in Far Cry and 16fps in Call of Duty 2.
Hard disk size is a consistent problem for media centre notebooks, as 2.5in disks are currently hampered by a comparatively paltry 160GB maximum. HP has solved this problem by installing a pair of 120GB disks. The disks aren't in a RAID configuration, but this means organising your system is a simple task - applications, games and system files on one, and recorded TV, documents and everything else on the other. The optical drive is a LightScribe-capable DVD writer, which will burn to dual-layer DVDs.
Two hard disks means higher power consumption, and the dv9088ea's light- use battery time of 3hrs 4mins isn't the only sign that it's not really designed for frequent travellers. At 3.67kg it's heavy, while a width of 40cm means that it's as wide as the huge Asus W2Pc. This makes it a tight fit for most laptop bags and backpacks.
For an all-in-one media centre, the level of integration is slightly disappointing too. The Media Center remote control is a useful inclusion, but the external infrared receiver is clumsy. The external TV antenna, installed on the end of a 12cm cable, is more welcome and proved surprisingly capable - it picked up all the major digital terrestrial channels in our central London office. A converter is supplied to allow you to connect a standard TV antenna to the single DVB-T tuner, supplied on an ExpressCard/34 card.
Elsewhere, ergonomics are superb. The offset trackpad looks a little odd but is fine in practice, and the keyboard is fantastic - almost up to Lenovo's very best ThinkPad efforts. HP has used the full width of the chassis to endow the dv9088ea with a numeric keypad, moving it a step closer to full-blown desktop-replacement status. Along the top of the keyboard is a selection of touch-sensitive controls for media playback, including an innovative touch-sensitive volume slider.
So what do you do if you want an all-singing, all-dancing media centre notebook? You're certainly spoiled for choice - see the Asus W2Pc opposite, or the Toshiba G30, both of which sport HD DVD drives. Alternatively, you could plump for the HD DVD-equipped version of this machine, the dv9092ea, available from PC World for £1,700 inc VAT - sadly, this still uses a 1,440 x 900 screen, so won't play back 1080p natively.