AMD has taken its sweet time concocting an answer to Intel's dynamic duo of Atom and Consumer Ultra Low-Voltage processors. With the Brazos platform and the Fusion APUs within, however, AMD looks like it may finally have its ducks in a row.
We recently caught a glimpse of Brazos' most affordable and lowest-power dual-core configuration inside the Acer Aspire AO522, which we called "the best netbook we've ever tested." We weren't kidding. That machine's C-50 APU keeps up with Intel's dual-core Atom N550 while offering far better integrated graphics. The Aspire pulls off run times in the same league as the Atom-powered Eee PC 1015PN, too, and it even has a lower asking price. Score one from AMD.
Today, we're about to see if Brazos in its most powerful incarnation can give Intel's CULV platform a run for its money. Join us in welcoming the HP Pavilion dm1z, a $450 ultraportable with an 11.6" display and a 1.6GHz AMD E-350 processor fresh out of TSMC's 40-nm fabs in Taiwan. HP prices this system in the no-man's-land between netbooks and CULV ultraportables. With the latter retailing for upward of $550 these days, the dm1z is a potential bargain.
Now, we've already tested AMD's E-350 chip quite extensively, first as an engineering sample at AMD's Austin campus then in a desktop config pitted against the finest desktop CPUs on the market. The performance picture shouldn't hold too many surprises, but we still don't know what to expect from the E-350 on the battery life front. AMD knows better than anyone how poor run times can ruin an otherwise compelling mobile platform—just look at, well, pretty much all of its past ultraportable platforms.
Competitive comparisons aside, we're also curious to see if this HP notebook is any good on its own. I mean, hey, it starts at only $450, packs some rather decent hardware, and looks quite dashing. The dm1z seemed pretty well-built when we played with it at the Consumer Electronics Show, as well. Both AMD and HP could have real winners here. Let's see if that's the case.
The Pavilion dm1z shouldn't look too unfamiliar if, like us, you've seen one or two 11.6" budget ultraportables in the past. HP has just put a fresh coat of paint on the concept—with, to some degree, an almost Apple-like attention to detail. More on that in a minute.
Note that we're using the term "ultraportable" to define this system. Some might be tempted to call the dm1z a netbook, especially considering the price, but we think that would be misleading. To us, a netbook typically has a 10.1" display with a claustrophobic 1024x600 resolution, an Atom processor (or something equivalent), a gig of RAM, and Windows 7 Starter. There's some wiggle room to that definition, but here, we're dealing with something substantially more grown-up: an 11.6" panel with a 1366x768 resolution, a dual-core processor with out-of-order execution, a generous amount of RAM, a non-crippled version of Windows, and a decent-sized keyboard and touchpad. You can do real work on this puppy—not just wear your finger to the bone scrolling down web pages clearly not designed for 600 pixels of vertical space.
The chart below provides a more detailed overview of the dm1z's specs. The base $449.99 model on HP's website has only 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, but right now, HP offers free upgrades to 3GB and 320GB. For all intents and purposes, we're looking at the cheapest configuration today.
|Processor||AMD E-350 1.6GHz|
|Memory||3GB DDR3-1333 (2 DIMMs)|
|Chipset||AMD Hudson FCH|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6310|
|Display||11.6" TFT with 1366x768 resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 320GB 2.5" 7,200 RPM hard drive|
|Audio||Stereo HD audio via IDT codec|
|Ports||3 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100 Ethernet via Realtek controller
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Expansion slots||1 MMC/SDHC|
|Communications||802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Ralink RT5390 controller
Bluetooth 3.0 via Ralink Motorola BC8 controller
|Input devices||Chiclet keyboard
Synaptics capacitive touchpad
|Dimensions||11.4" x 8.4" x 0.8-1.2" (290 x 214 x 20-30 mm)|
|Weight||3.52 lbs (1.6 kg)|
|Battery||6-cell Li-ion 4770 mAh, 55 Wh|
Nothing too out of the ordinary here, although it's nice to see a 7,200-RPM hard drive included. A decent number of pricier, full-sized laptops are still saddled with 5,400-RPM drives, which aren't exactly known for their responsiveness. HP also gets brownie points for including Bluetooth in the base config. Folks who prefer to forgo the confines of touchpads for the comfort of wireless mice will no doubt appreciate that feature.
As we said, the dm1z is quite the looker. The textured lid might not be to everyone's taste, but it's a heck of a lot nicer than a glossy mirror finish that would act as a magnet for smudges. In fact, HP told us it made a point to avoid glossy surfaces with the dm1z. The lid isn't completely reflective, and the palm rest, display bezel, touchpad, and keyboard all have matte finishes. Oh joy! No buffing out smudges or, if you're Geoff, scouring out the gloss with a Scotch-Brite pad.
This beauty is more than skin-deep. The Pavilion dm1z feels very solid and rigid, and as we're about to find out, its input area is top notch.