I’ve played around with the newest rev of the Envy 17 3D. A bunch. Now, with the latest Pavilion dv7, I found myself asking one big question: “What the heck is the big difference between these two big-boned, 17-inch desktop replacement laptops?” I swiped both from the labs to give you an idea, but here’s the two-second version, the way I see it: The Pavilion dv7 delivers good mainstream performance and a couple awesome audio features for a solid starting price.For the slightly longer version, read on.....
The Case I’m not a superficial guy, but let’s start by going over their looks. After all, this is what of people will see as you wheel these things around town. Though, honestly, when you’re getting a laptop this big, you’re likely just going to plant it somewhere in your house.
The textured gunmetal surface of the Envy 17 catches the eye and makes it feel meaty. Didn’t get in your daily workout? Do a couple reps with the Envy 17. But when people see it, they notice it.
The Pavilion dv7 has a colorful brushed aluminum lid and resin base that makes it a little easier to lug around town. It looks friendly enough and with the speaker grill plating just below the screen, it actually makes me think of it as a retro-minimalist mashup. But I’m kinda odd.
The I/O Ports Between the two, the port configuration is looks fairly similar, but with a closer look, you’ll notice a couple stepped up differences. On the Envy 17, you’ll find a DisplayLink port, one of the USB ports is hybrid eSATA, there’s USB 3.0 and one of the two headphone jacks support cell phone headsets. The Pavilion dv7 has two headphone jacks and a separate microphone jack. It also ditches DisplayLink and eSATA in favor of two of the USB 3.0 ports.
Quick aside: You’re already seeing USB 3.0 replace 2.0, but what does that really mean in terms of speed? If you plugged in a USB 3.0 external hard drive, you’d be able to notice the difference in a heartbeat. We’re talking FAST data transfers. I dropped 28 GB of mixed media on the dv7 in just under 10 minutes (9:42). Meanwhile, I tried transferring that same content over a USB 2.0 slot and it’s still transferring. (OK, it took almost twice as long, 18 minutes, 30 seconds).
The Keyboard / Mouse Combo You’ll be doing double-takes as you check out the keyboard on both these PCs. Both have the same island cut-out keys and number pad in the same configuration. In fact, if you were taking a quick glance between the two, the only noticeable difference is that the Envy 17 3D has backlit keys while the dv7’s backlit mousepad will be drawing your eyes.
I’d wager that the halo glow around the dv7’s mousepad might even be a bit subliminal. According to HP’s Kevin Wentzel, “We’ve been listening to feedback from the critics and the community about what they wanted in a touchpad.” So, there’s a defined strike zone and separate mouse buttons on the dv7. And, for what it’s worth, the Synaptics drivers are refined and doing a solid job with multi-touch drivers (I was pulling off smooth pinch-zooming without any hangups).
A couple extra buttons on the dv7: One quick-launches the Web and a bit of biometric security with a fingerprint scanner. The later works with SimplePass 2011 to fingerprint protect your valuable information and passwords. (We also have a video that explain exactly how the security works in more detail).
The Sound Both laptops boast Beats audio. (If you want a detailed breakdown on how Beats audio works, check here.) At its heart, a dedicated powered amp on the mobo delivers clearer sound. What I did find interesting is that while the Envy 17 3D has two front-firing speakers and the HP Triple Bass Reflex subwoofer, the dv7 makes room for four speakers (two sit in the grill below the screen and two front-firing) along with the subwoofer hiding beneath a grill plate on the undercarriage. What I can say is that you do get fuller sound with the dv7. A word of caution, though: Notebook speakers, regardless of where they are coming from, can have overly bright mids and highs if you don’t tweak the audio settings properly. The Beats audio software control panel helps regulate some of that. Obviously, though, the headphone experience you get out of the Beats audio system is solid. But I don’t need to go into that again, do I? Nah, just go off what the NY Times said.
The Screen Well, this is where there’s a difference, no way around it. The obvious one being that the Envy 17 3D boasts….wait for it….3D. The screen looks bright and crisp even when the 3D mode isn’t toggled on and with a native 1920 by 1080 resolution, it blasts off the screen. The test Pavilion dv7 I grabbed comes with a slightly more muted display, in both brightness and resolution – it’s natively 1600 by 900 pixels.
Performance This is the one part that really isn’t a fair comparison at the moment because, quite frankly, you’ve got two highly configurable systems here. There’s no denying that the 17 3D is a bit of a beast. And it packs one helluva punch for its $1599 starting price. My test machine ranks a 5.9 on the Windows Experience Index riding on a Core i5 M580 CPU, 6GB RAM and the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850. The Pavilion, which skews a little more mainstream consumer, comes in starting at $1099 (The one that I tinkered with would go for more). The dv7 in my mitts snagged a 5.8 on the Windows Experience Index courtesy of an Intel Core i7, 6GB RAM and the AMD Radeon HD 6490M. (FYI: The WEI is determined by the lowest scoring component. But check out the CPU / GPU rankings on these laptops!) But this also happens to rock switchable graphics. What does that mean? Well, let’s say you have the computer set to battery saving mode, it throttles down the CPU and the graphics processor dips because you don’t need fancy 3D effects when you’re writing an email. Often. BUT, you can have the laptop smartly kick into top gear when you’re, say, playing Fallout: New Vegas. I opened up a utility (you can just Right Click on the desktop and select “Configure Switchable Graphics”) that shows which apps you’ve used recently. At the tap of a button, I can select when I want the dv7’s graphics chip to fire up.
[UPDATE: While the Envy 17 3D does, in fact, come with 6GB RAM, turns out my testing unit only had 4GB. That might explain the RAM score in the Windows Experience Index.]
At the end of the day, both will deliver HD video on-screen, both will field your everyday tasks and given the enough RAM, both are more than capable than handling a contingent of current games. The Envy 17 3D emphasizes its awesome higher-resolution, 3D screen while the dv7 focuses a little more on the audio. Which is best for you? Well, that depends on the features that matter most.
There you have it, a quick breakdown of what the big difference is between these two behemoths. Need a little more info to go on? Did I miss something? Hit the comment box below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.