Traditionally, there has been a large gap between ‘netbook’ and ‘ultraportable’ laptops. Netbooks cost anywhere from $200 to $400 and are quite underpowered. Ultraportables generally start at $900 and cost much more than a laptop with comparable performance. As of earlier this year AMD has drastically redefined the ultraportable market by releasing their affordable AMD Fusion E350 APU. Their new APU (CPU + GPU all-in-one) bequeaths raw power, HD media playback, HD gaming ability, and power efficiency unto a new category of $400 to $600 ultraportables. The HP Pavilion dm1z is one of the first inexpensive, yet well-powered, ultraportable laptops.
The AMD Fusion APU
AMD announced their Fusion Family of Accelerated Processing Units (APUs) at CES this year. Using a single die chip, AMD has managed to combine a multi-core (x86) processor with a powerful DirectX 11 capable discrete-level graphics processor. The APU inside of the HP Pavilion dm1z is the 1.6GHz Fusion E-350 dual-core processor. It incorporates an AMD Radeon HD 6310 discrete-class GPU.
The HP Pavilion dm1z
The dm1z Ultra-Portable laptop starts at just $449.99 and features the dual-core AMD Fusion processor with AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics, 3GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium, an 11.6” 720p LED display, a full-sized island-style keyboard, support for 1080p HD playback, Dolby advanced audio and Altec Lansing speakers, a 6-cell battery, and a battery life up to 9.5 hours. It’s an attractive little clamshell notebook that weighs 3.46lbs. It is well built and very comfortable to use. It comes with an integrated webcam, microphone, 802.11n wireless, bluetooth, multi-format media card reader, 3 USB ports, VGA-out, HDMI-out, gigabit ethernet (RJ-45) port. With all of these features packed into such a small and well-powered ultra-portable, it’s no wonder there was no room for an optical drive, you’ll have to use an external.
HD Video Playback
My video tests began exactly like this: “Wow, it plays 720p videos perfectly, no jitters or choppiness what-so-ever….Wowww, it even plays 1080p videos perfectly, refresh rate is great, no deterioration and it’s so smooth….WOWZERS it even plays 1080p videos flawlessly on my 50” Plasma via HDMI, plus it mirrors the video on the dm1z screen as well.” I was surprised that AMD’s Fusion APU had no problem playing any and all of the content from my vast library of HD content. The Fusion APU is very quick to decode HD content, videos play immediately and there is next to no buffer when skipping around. There is hardware acceleration for H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, Adobe Flash, and Microsoft Silverlight. This keeps the video running smoothly and the CPU usage low. Boxee took advantage of the hardware acceleration, so while watching a 1080P MKV file, I was only using 30-40% CPU usage. With the movie playing in the corner of the screen, I was able to open various programs and browsers while the video would continue to play smoothly and without hesitation. Other desktop video applications like Hulu, Windows Media Center, and XBMC also ran flawlessly. Netflix, which uses Microsoft Silverlight, worked perfectly too. The weak link was flash video, which at 1080p was still good, but not as smooth as the other formats. This still makes the the HP’s dm1z, with AMD’s Fusion APU, an excellent media center computer to hook up to the big screen.
Gaming is virtually unheard of on a netbook, usually even on the lowest graphic settings. This may not be true once the AMD Fusion APU is incorporated into netbooks because the HP Pavilion dm1z is very capable of handling the latest games. Portal 2 ran perfectly using all of the game defaults (native 1366×768, very high shader detail, medium effect detail, and high model/texture detail). There was next to no glitchiness or choppiness. Everything ran very smoothly and the dm1z actually ran quite cool, though the fan was still audible. It even ran no problem while mirroring on the big screen, and in full quality.
The Microsoft’s Windows Experience Index scored the dm1z as follows: Processor = 3.8, Memory(RAM) = 5.7, Graphics = 4.2, Gaming Graphics = 5.7, Hard Disk = 5.9. All scores are rated out of a 7.9, and the overall rating is based on the lowest score. While all other scores are pretty darned solid for such an inexpensive ultra-portable, the processing power is the weakest link. A 3.8 is not too bad considering netbooks generally fall between mid-1s and mid-3s in the processing category. But then again, netbooks also fall between mid-1s and mid-3s for graphics and gaming graphics, where the AMD E-350 did quite well. The system also earned a score of P285 3DMarks in 3dMark 11 and a score of 2150 in PCMark Vantage. Both scores are well above what you’d see from most any netbook.
User Experience and Processes
The dm1z has no problem running Windows 7 with the full Aero experience. Our demo laptop has 4GB of RAM (upgraded from 3GB), which made for some very solid multitasking. Unlike a netbook, I was able to open up as many applications as I normally would. Usually, I have browsers with a plethora of tabs, a word processor, Skype, Digsby IM, the usual background processes, explorer windows opened, and sometimes Boxee, and the dm1z handled it fine; it’s capable and responsive. The E-350 is a wonderful little chip, but it’s only real weakness is raw processing power. It’s a dual-core 1.6GHz processor, which is not bad by any means, but compared to some of the new processors, it’s a bit slower. I noticed this when installing new applications or working with large Excel spreadsheets with a lot of calculations.For the average user and every day tasks it’s very capable. For an advanced user the decent processing power will be noticeable yet manageable. Yes, it’s capable of getting almost 10 hours of battery life, but realistically with regular usage you’ll see somewhere between 4 to 7 hours, which is still awesome. The laptop really doesn’t get very hot at all, but eventually the fan will get moderately loud.
For low $400s, the HP Pavilion dm1z with the AMD E-350 Fusion Processor is quite versatile and powerful for what it is. It blows any current netbook out of the water. As for the pricier ultra-portables, it stacks up pretty darned well. The gaming and video playback capabilities were quite impressive. When connected to the big screen, the ultra-portable handled video just as well as my $1000 media center computer, especially considering it can pass DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD audio over HDMI. As a laptop, it’s a very capable and nicely sized computer. The keyboard is well spaced and the trackpad is actually usable (unlike netbooks). The base model costs $449.99 which includes 3GB of RAM and a 320GB 7200RPM Hard Drive, our model has 4GB of RAM and a 500GB Hard Drive, which costs an extra $80 total. If you are looking for something portable that rocks at playing media and handles gaming pretty well, and if you don’t plan on doing anything extremely processor intensive, then the HP Pavilion dm1z is definitely a good choice. After testing out the AMD E-350 Fusion Processor, we’re very excited to see ultra-portables get more portable and less expensive.
The Good: Affordable, Portable, Plays and Outputs full 1080p Flawlessly over HDMI with HD Audio, Capable of Gaming, Good Multi-tasking, Efficient–Great Battery
The Bad: Processing Power is so-so, dm1z is a bit heavier than it looks, trackpad scrolling could be smoother
Update 12/12/2012: Check out our review of the fall 2011 update to the HP Pavilion dm1z, which is powered by AMD’s newer E-450 processor.