I just purchased the HP Envy 17 3D system. I had certain requirements, but was given a budget of $1500 to work with. This system seemed to have the best spec for the cost. My goal was to get a system with enough battery life to survive round trip on my daily train commute, but enough power and memory to handle running a couple light virtual servers while still allowing me to write code. What I found was a system that could handle this, but also had some other interesting features.
As I stated, the primary specs that I was interested in were battery life, processor power, and memory. With the standard battery they claim up to 2 hours and 45 minutes of life. This seems to be pretty accurate. I’m actually using the laptop for the second day, and forgot to charge it last night. I’d estimate it’s seen about 2 hours of use and the meter currently claims there is a little over an hour left in it. Keep in mind that to achieve this battery life I need to turn off the ATI 6850 video and use the integrated Intel video. I also turn off the wireless, turn off the keyboard backlight, and dim the screen slightly. There are convenient hot keys for those last three, but I haven’t found a quick way to switch video cards yet other than letting it prompt me when I unplug or plugin. There is also an optional 9 cell battery; unfortunately, it’s an oversized battery and as this is a 17.3” laptop I wanted to avoid any additional size before trying it on the train for a while. The processor is an Intel i7-2630QM. That’s quad core at 2GHz. The 6GB of RAM is sufficient for me for now. I’ll upgrade it myself later if needed. The laptop could be purchased with 8GB of RAM, but that would have broken my budget. The RAM may seem a little small in the near future, the power and battery life meet my needs easily though.
This is a 17.3” laptop. It has a full keyboard and number pad with room to spare. The trackpad is also large. However, the laptop is much slimmer than I’m used to for laptops this size. I feel much more like I’m using the Windows equivalent of a MacBook Pro 17” than the bulky Alienware or Dell XPS laptops I normally use. Although the laptop is slimmer, it has a solid metal casing which contributes to keeping the weight up.
As I stated, there are a few of additional features on this laptop I didn’t expect for the price. Additionally, most of these will actually be useful to me. The system comes with a slot loading Blu-ray player. The built in microphone has been clear when using voice chat in games. It has a built in camera, but I haven’t had a reason to use it yet. Although the audio doesn’t stand up to a nice set of dedicated speakers (I have the predecessors to these), the quality is decent and they put out a good amount of volume for a laptop. Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements both came installed on the laptop. These both happen to be useful to me. Speaking of software, the system wasn’t loaded with all the bloatware I’m used to. Almost every tray icon and app is associated with a driver and has useful functionality. This is why I ended up cross grading the OS rather than wiping it.
There some odd things on the laptop. The f1 to f12 keys default to the alternate functions. In other words I don’t need to press anything with the f5 key to toggle the keyboard backlight, or with the f10 key to toggle the wireless adapters on and off. If I want to hit a normal f5 I need to hold down a fn key. I thought this would be annoying at first, but I’m finding this fits my usage pattern better. I’ve also found that when combining one of these keys with alt or ctrl it automatically treats it as a normal function key. I think this will be fine except for a couple possible keys such as the f5 (refresh) key which I use frequently and toggles the backlight on my keyboard when using the laptop. The track pad has the buttons integrated into it. So you can press down the bottom left or right of the track pad to left or right click. This can be a little strange when trying to click and drag, but isn’t bad overall.
The Intel wireless card comes with wireless video built in. I can connect a box to my television and use it as a primary or secondary monitor without a cable. This requires a box to connect to the tv. There is one currently released, but I’m waiting for the newer ones that will support 1080p and Blu-ray due to the added HDCP support.
Cooling was an issue with the previous version of the laptop. It hasn’t been for me so far. HP has added a utility to help manage the system power vs the cooling. I haven’t needed this though. If you have the system running full power with the ATI card (such as when playing a game), it gets hot. There’s a vent at the back left of the laptop that will pump out hot air. That area can get pretty uncomfortable if the system is in your lap and you need to make sure not to block the vent on the bottom when playing a game. If you are using the integrated Intel video the system runs much cooler. Right now I’ve been using the laptop for an hour and most places are cool to the touch. A couple spots are slightly warm. I would say it’s more like they’re not cold. This works well for me most of the time. If I’m using the system plugged in and at full power I’m probably at a desk so the heat isn’t an issue. When I’m on battery power on the train there isn’t really any heat. The only time this has been a problem is when playing Portal 2 on the laptop while sitting in bed. I don’t know of a good gaming laptop that doesn’t get hot while playing games though. This one is somewhat versatile in that you can adjust the power and heat levels to fit your needs.
The 3D has been disappointing. The active shutter glasses that came with the system look used. I’ve also experienced ghosting in both games and when playing 3D movies. I’m hoping HP will ship me new glasses. I want to give the 3D another chance with a fresh pair. 3D isn’t really what I bought the laptop for though, this is more of a gimmick for me. The system comes with TriDef 3D Ignition which you can launch your games through. This makes them work with 3D glasses. Portal 2 didn’t look quite right. The reflections in water were at the wrong distance, which kind of makes sense. I want to try a couple more games and try turning off reflections in Portal 2. Those types of issues aren’t really hardware related though so I can’t count them against the laptop. I hope to find time to give this feature a closer look; currently, I’m not impressed.
Shortly after the release of this laptop, Alienware announced a competitive product. They haven’t started shipping yet, but I want to mention them here since they have a similar spec. The models to look at are the M14x and M18x. The HP works well for me, but is a bit large. This way you can easily compare specs on the systems and decide what you prefer.
In the end, I’m very happy with this purchase. I can work with this laptop comfortably on the train, hook it up to a full desktop setup, or play games on the couch. In fact, I haven’t used my desktop computer since this system arrived.
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