Although netbooks certainly aren't for everyone, there's no denying that this new breed of budget ultraportables has taken the market by storm. According to market research firm iSuppli, netbook sales jumped a stunning 2000% last year and are expected to grow a further 68.5% in 2009. Clearly, there's a market for affordable, portable, and Windows-compatible networked computing.
What's so striking to me about the netbook phenomenon is how quickly the genre has risen above its humble roots. With an underclocked Celeron, a 7" 800x480 display, only a few hours of battery life, a cramped and barely usable keyboard, and just a few gigabytes of storage, the first Eee PCs look horribly anemic next to even today's most basic netbooks. Meanwhile, the best netbooks have gained proper mobile hard drives that start at 160GB and batteries that deliver nearly a full working day's worth of run time.
Today's netbooks are starting to look a whole lot like proper notebooks. Their now-ubiquitous Atom processors still don't offer the same level of performance as notebook CPUs, but for those who never venture beyond the confines of basic 2D desktop applications, it doesn't matter. All folks see is a tiny system with everything they need running a familiar Windows operating systemat a much lower price than expected. Sold!
The combination of portability with adequate performance at bargain prices may have allowed netbooks to encroach on territory typically reserved for traditional notebooks, but notebooks aren't taking this upstart threat lying down. As netbooks have moved upmarket, thin and light notebooks have begun to move down. Take HP's new Pavilion dv2, for example. This svelte 12" system has a roomy keyboard, a 1280x800 display, Athlon 64 processing power, discrete Radeon graphics, 4GB of memory with Vista x64, and even an external DVD burner. That sounds like an honest-to-goodness notebook, but at $750, the dv2 doesn't cost much more than premium thin-and-light netbooks.
The dv2 looks to be an example of trickle down at its finest, and we've taken one for a spin to see what it's all about. Let's see if this first entry into the grey area between netbooks and notebooks is good enough to be your next portable PC.
One of the big differences between the dv2 and your average netbook is the underlying hardware. Thanks to exclusive access to AMD's new Yukon platform, HP is able to pack a heckuva lot of horsepower into this latest Pavilion. The heart of the Yukon platform is an Athlon Neo MV-40 processor. This single-core CPU, which CPU-Z identifies as an Athlon 64 4050e with a Lima core, has 512KB of L2 cache and a 1.6GHz clock speed. The fact the Neo runs at the same clock speed as Intel's popular Atom N270 is probably no coincidence. Keep in mind, however, that the Neo should be considerably faster clock for clock.
Of course, the Neo is also hungrier for power than the Atom. The Atom N270 has a TDP of just 2.5W, while this latest Athlon carries a 15W TDP. Aside from any differences between how AMD and Intel rate power consumption, additional processing power requires more, well, power. The Atom is also fabbed on a more efficient 45nm process, while the Neo is built using older 65nm technology.
Although it's one of the most interesting elements of the Yukon platform, the Athlon Neo also has company. On the chipset front, Yukon includes an RS690E north bridge chip backed by an SB600 south bridge component. That combo is a generation behind current desktop parts, although AMD does have an RS780M-based Congo platform in the works. (Congo is due out later this year, and it's scheduled to arrive alongside dual-core Conesus processors built on a 45nm process.)
|Processor||AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 1.6GHz|
|Memory||4GB DDR2-667 (1 DIMM)|
|Graphics||ATI Radeon HD 3410 with 512MB dedicated memory|
|Display||12.1" TFT with WXGA (1280x800) resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||Western Digital Scorpio Blue 320GB 2.5" 5,400 RPM hard drive|
|Audio||Stereo HD audio via IDT codec|
3 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100 Ethernet via Realtek RTL8102E
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Expansion slots||1 SD/SDHC/MMC|
802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi via Broadcom 4322AG
Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
Keyboard (92% of full size)
Trackpad with horizontal and vertical scrolling zones
|Camera||1.3 megapixel webcam|
|Dimensions||11.5" x 9.45" x 0.93-1.29" (292 mm x 240 mm x 24-33 mm)|
|Weight||3.95 lbs (1.8 kg)|
|Battery||6-cell Li-Ion 55Wh|
The Yukon platform's RS690E north bridge chip has an integrated Radeon X1250 graphics core, but with support for DirectX 9 and Shader Model 2.0b, it's a little behind the times. Fortunately, the dv2 employs a discrete Mobility Radeon HD 3410 graphics chip with 512MB of dedicated video memory. The 3410 is a 55nm chip with full support for DirectX 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1, so it's very much a modern GPU. The chip even features a video decode block capable of accelerating Blu-ray playback.
Expecting a gaming powerhouse in an ultraportable would be unreasonable, but the Radeon HD 3410 does pack some respectable pixel-pushing power. The chip has 40 stream processors and four render back-ends, and it can lay down four textures per clock. Throw in a 550MHz core clock speed and memory running at an effective 1GHz, and the Pavilion dv2 should have ample GPU oomph to handle real games. The same can't be said for most netbooks, which tend to be saddled with underpowered Intel integrated graphics chipsets that struggle with game compatibility, let alone performance.
Unlike Intel's Centrino mobile platform, Yukon doesn't include a networking component. The dv2 is plenty stacked in that department, though. The system supports not only a, b, g, and n flavors of 802.11 Wi-Fi, but Bluetooth, as well. The dv2 also features a built-in 3G WWAN cardjust plug in your SIM card and go. Despite this generous array of wireless networking options, the dv2 is short a Gigabit Ethernet adapter. Instead, you're stuck with basic 10/100 wired networking. I suppose that'll be adequate for most folks, but it is a notable difference between the dv2 and more expensive ultraportables.
Before diving deeper into the dv2, I should probably take a moment to clarify some differences between our review unit and the $750 "1030-US" model currently available for sale on HP's website (and detailed in the chart above). The unit we're testing today comes with an external Blu-ray drive, 2GB of memory, and an auxiliary four-cell battery, but it's otherwise identical to the 1030-US. Official pricing for this Blu-ray variant has yet to be released, but it looks like this config will sell for around $900 when it becomes available this summer.