HP 2010 Envy 15 Review (ATI Mobility Radeon 5830 and Core i7 Quad)

I have a friend who recently bought a new HP Envy 15, which HP updated last month with new Intel Core i5 mobile processor options and ATI Mobility Radeon 5830, and USB 3.0 (with Core i7 models only). First, a little intro on why he decided to buy the Envy 15, and why now – he wanted to replace his aging 15 inch notebook with some thing of similar size and with a lot of power for his PC games, and liked the 2009 Envy 15 (mainly due to build quality), but decided to hold out until ATI released their Mobility Radeon 5000 series graphics card. Coincidentally, the refreshed 2010 Envy 15 was the first (or one of the first) notebook with ATI’s new breed of DX11 mobile graphics available, so he got his cake and got to eat it too. So two weeks ago (or was it three), after his Envy 15 arrived, he offered me to take this new machine on a two week [intensive] test drive, in exchange for helping him set things up – install his games and software, remove the bloatware (ahem, Norton trial, ahem) and stuff… an offer I gladly accepted!

It’s gonna be a fairly in-depth review with many pretty pictures, and I don’t want to jam up the front page, so hit that link to continue reading.

Main features:

  • 1.73 GHz Intel Core i7 820M quad core processor
  • 8 GB of DDR3 RAM (2 X 4 slots)
  • 1 GB ATI Mobility Radeon 5830 graphics
  • 500 GB hard disk drive, 7200 RPM
  • 15 inch 16:9 glossy “Bright View” widescreen, full HD option (1920 x 1080)
  • 2 USB ports, USB + eSata, HDMI
  • 6 cell primary battery with HP 9 cell secondary ‘slice’ battery

Design

If only that logo could light up when the notebook is on *hint hint*

 

Nothing has really changed on the outside when comparing the 2010 Envy 15 with last year’s model. The notebook is still stylish looking as ever with a swirly metal imprint design on the lid. HP has spread their stylish design throughout most of their products and the result is a bunch of good looking computers, printers, etc which complement one another in terms of design. HP even makes Envy-branded printers and accessories. On a side note, if you are looking for a flat surface (2D) laser printer, you should check out the new line of HP printers.

As I mentioned, the changes are internal – new Core i5 options (if you want to go the affordable route), ATI Mobility Radeon 5830 graphics (Up from ATI Mobility 4800 series) and USB 3.0 (with Core i7 options only). You still get HP’s metal-etched swirl patterns on the metal lid and palmrest, you still get the sturdy, almost all-metal design, slim profile and big 15 inch display. Oh, keep in mind that the Envy 15’s metal finish can vary in color depending on lighting and angle – it looks bright silver at times, but can also look gray/dark gray when viewed from certain angles. The lid patterns also become pronounce when the notebook is viewed at an angle, not head on.

HP Envy 13 on top; HP Envy 15 at the bottom

Size and weight: The HP Envy 15 measures a consistent 1 inch thin from front to back, left to right. That means there are no protrusions of any sort and you should have no trouble slipping the notebook in a bag, between a pile of papers and books, or even clothes (when traveling). As you can see above, the HP Envy 15 (bottom) is just slightly thicker than the ultra-slim Envy 13 (top). And how slim is the Envy 15’s baby brother, the Envy 13? Think somewhere between a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

The HP Envy 15 weighs in at a rather hefty 5+ pounds (2.6 kg), which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the notebook’s components and metal build. I tried bringing the Envy 15 to Starbucks and around town; and it’s fine if you were to bring this back and forth to work/school/tea-coffee shops and sit in one place for a while, but certainly not a notebook which you’d want to carry around all day.

Ports and connectivity: All of the HP Envy 15’s connectivity ports are located on the right side of the notebook. This is something I’ve been questioning since the Envy 15’s original debut, since it’s kinda rightie-unfriendly. If you use your mouse using your right hand, the dongle (and whatever else you connect to the other ports) is bound to prevent you from putting your mousepad right next to the notebook. With left-hand ports, at least your stuff can stick out the other side and not obstruct your “mouse area”… this is a highly subjective issue though. If you’re a leftie or don’t use an external mouse or just don’t care, then this should not be an issue for you.

From left to right, we have a Kensington lock slot (for securing the notebook to a permanent fixture/object), combo audio port (used for both audio out [speakers/headphones] and audio in [microphone]), combined USB 2.0 + eSata port, two USB ports, HDMI port and LAN port. The new HP Envy 15 comes with USB 3.0 (I think it’s the USB port on the very right), but unfortunately, I don’t have any USB 3.0 devices (neither do anyone I know) to test on the Envy 15. I will post transfer speed results and performance for USB 3.0 in the future once devices that take advantage of USB 3.0 come out.

You can also see the vent for one of the HP Envy 15’s two fans here. The HP Envy 15 has two fans which act independently of one another (ie one can spin up faster, while the other can remain off at any point in time), though they usually blow out air at the same speed (based on vague testing using my palms!) when running at full tilt.

Drives: One obvious thing the HP Envy 15 lacks (along with the Envy 13) is a built-in optical drive – it’s another subjective kinda thing. Depending on individuals, you may or may not miss it. My friend who bought the Envy 15 doesn’t mind – he says he has never had to use the optical drive for anything else other than OS installation and backups (even then, he’s moving to external HDDs for backup) – his software, music and shows/movies he uses/watches are all in digital format. The optical drive was excluded from the HP Envy 15 to keep size, weight and slimness down (and to fit in other high performance components instead). However, HP does have the optical drive as an optional/bundled accessory (depends on where you buy).

The HP Envy 15 also comes with options for a single hard disk drive, dual solid state drives or a combination of one hard disk drive and one solid state drive. The one tested here houses only one 7200 RPM hard drive, 500 GB large.

Memory: The HP Envy 15 has four DDR3 RAM slots, which allow for expansion up to 16 GB of RAM. The Envy used here had 8 GB of factory-installed RAM. Two RAM slots are accessible by removing the battery, and undoing three screws over a thin panel covering them.  The other two RAM slots seem to be accessible only be undoing the entire bottom panel of the notebook (not for the faint-hearted).

On the left side of the Envy 15 is a hole to plug in the notebook charger as well as another vent (with the second fan behind it). There is also the disk drive activity indicator light (not shown here) which blinks white when read/write operations are going on, and glows solid orange when ProtectSmart hard disk protection is activated (only applies to hard disks: the notebook ‘parks’ the head of the hard disk temporarily when any motion/drop is detected to prevent damage)

On the front of the HP Envy 15 is an SD/SDHC memory card slot with a built-in flap. After handling the Envy 15 for so long, I kinda wish now that all notebooks would have a built-in cover like this one – no plastic ‘fake’ SD covers to lose, and no dust collecting in the slot while the cover isn’t there. There’s also the notebook’s front-facing speaker grills (which I suspect also double as air intake vents).

Beats speakers: One of the most touted features of the HP Envy 13 and 15 are its built-in Beats speakers. There are two stereo speakers which are designed in such a way (hardware and arrangement wise) that audio quality is better than you’ll get on most notebook speakers. There are two wide, front-facing grills as well as two mini-grills, one on each side, that provide good left-right audio separation – useful when gaming, and nice to have when listening to music and watching movies. In a test involving several movies and PC games (most notably Transformers 1 and Transformers 2 because of off-screen and left-right explosions/action; and Left4Dead 1 and Left4Dead 2 for their multiple speaker setup audio options from headphones to 2.1 sound to 7.1 sound), the HP Envy 15’s left-right channel separation using the built-in speakers was very good; more pronounced than let’s say, your average HP Pavilion or Elitebook, and other various notebook models from other brands out there. Bass was also more apparent, miles better than the ‘tinny’ sound of most notebook speakers, but not nearly as good as notebooks with dedicated mini-subwoofers.

Display: This HP Envy 15 came with a BrightView (HP’s name for glossy panel), full HD 1080p (1920 x 1080) display. The display showed nicely saturated, deep colors with plenty of detail (thanks to the high resolution), but was also very, very reflective – look up there, you can see the reflection of me holding my camera on the screen! The display is very bright, and remains fairly bright, even at the ‘lowest’ setting. That doesn’t, in any way, change my mind about the annoying reflective display though. Thankfully, HP has recently added on an option for a matte display (also full HD) for people like me who can’t stand reflections when working on the notebook anywhere where there’s a bright light source.

The HP Envy 15’s display brightness is varied by the notebook’s built-in ambient light sensor above the screen. Though you can override screen brightness by hitting the F2 or F3 buttons to change brightness, the notebook seems to default back to using the ambient light sensor each time the notebook is powered on. As of now, I can’t find any solution to overcome this minor annoyance.

Trackpad: The HP Envy 15 has a Sypnaptics-driven multi-touch, buttonless trackpad. The trackpad’s firmware seems to have been updated from initial builds of the Envy 15 last year, making it more precise and less prone to jumping everywhere when you have more than one finger on it. However, I did notice that the cursor still has the tendency to ‘float’ or jump somewhere else at times, but not nearly as often as earlier firmware. The trackpad is buttonless, as I mentioned, making it look similar to what Apple has on their MacBook/MacBook Pro’s. However, the difference here is that the Envy 15’s trackpad has left and right click “buttons”, separated by the little white line in the center of the trackpad. There’s also a trackpad lock function that can be activated by holding your finger over the white dot on the upper left side of the trackpad for a few seconds. You’ll know when the trackpad is ‘locked’ when the little white dot glows orange.

Keyboard: The HP Envy 15 has a full-size chiclet keyboard that occupies the center of the notebook, with about an inch of empty space on each side. There’s an additional row of quick launch buttons on the left side of the keyboard, and this is where my big, fat rant comes in… the five quick launch buttons (as shown above) are meant to provide one-press, easy access to your e-mail client, HP’s Media Smart (for music, videos and entertainment), web browser, printing and calculator… but in the end, their placement does more harm than good, in my opinion. They look like keyboard keys, they feel like keyboard keys and I cannot recount the number of times I made a ton of typos in Microsoft Word or died in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Beta because I had wanted to press another key, but the weird additional row of keys made me press something else. If you’ve used a keyboard where the tilde, tab, caps lock, shift and control keys were always the last keys on the very left, chance are that you’ll have to re-adjust (and it takes a while, or never) to the Envy 15’s keyboard – all because of the quick launch row on the left. They’re horribly inconvenient and pesky, I must say (And I have still yet to use the Envy 15’s keyboard in a natural manner, despite having used it for a few weeks).

Oh, and as of now, no form of keyboard backlighting or illumination is available for the Envy 15… something I hope HP will make available in the future!

HP Envy 15 connector for secondary slice battery.

Battery life: One of the reasons you probably won’t be buying the HP Envy 15 for is battery life (for long battery life, you would want to go for the smaller HP Envy 13). With insane power (which you’ll see in a bit) comes a sacrifice in battery life – the Envy 15’s primary 6 cell battery gets you a little over 2 hours of light web surfing and document editing at the lowest display brightness setting. But turn the brightness up a little and do some real work (ie web surfing with occasional photo editing and multiple apps open), and average battery life goes down to less than 1 hour and 30 minutes. Adding on the secondary 8 cell battery life (a slim battery ‘slice’ that adds a “layer” directly below the notebook’s footprint) does extend those times quite a bit, to 5 hours of light use or 4 hours of medium workload, but those numbers still aren’t mind-blowing… and the additional battery does add weight and a bit of thickness to the notebook itself.

Instant boot: The HP Envy 15 comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, but also comes with a HP Instant-On OS that loads up before Windows does. It takes just five seconds from pressing the Envy 15’s power on/off button to start up its instant-on OS… and this happens every time the notebook boots up. You can choose to proceed to a full Windows 7 boot by pressing the little start icon, or the Envy 15 will do it automatically if you don’t do anything for 15 seconds. The instant on screen is very useful if you want to perform any of its 7 preset functions in a hurry without waiting for Windows to boot. You can choose to browse the web, listen to music, browse photos, go on Skype or instant messenger, view calendar and appointments or check your mail.

Gaming performance (Plugged in): To put the HP Envy 15’s DirectX 11 supporting, fancy ATI Mobility Radeon 5830 graphics card to the test, I tried quite a number of games on the HP Envy 15 (yes, because there’s a group of us who like and play the same titles), including Need for Speed: Shift, Dirt 2, Arkham Asylum and Left4Dead 2. Need for Speed Shift and Dirt 2 both played very well with basic (2X) anti-aliasing, full HD resolution and just about everything maxed out; with frame rates over 30 FPS for both games. I noticed Need for Speed Shift hits frame rates over 50-60 FPS more frequently and consistently than Dirt 2; and that both games do stutter and choke briefly at certain points if I crank AA up to the max.

As for Left4Dead 2 (which is officially my favorite game this spring 2010!), I managed to play with every single setting cranked up till the max (full HD, 8X MSAA, 16X AF, Very High/High/High/High) and the Envy 15 managed to play smoothly at an average 60 FPS (drops to about 50 during intense battles and 70+ when running through zombies) for all campaigns. It says 60-61 at the same time in the screenshot above because the notebook ‘cycles’ through FPS quite a bit (ie it starts to ping-pong 60-61, 61-62 up to 70 FPS when walking, then it drops back down to 60 or slightly less when I’m taking care of zombies). I also managed to play the dreaded (see why) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 very smoothly, though I think it’s one of the least graphics intensive games of my friend’s collection of new games.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2: My friend has pre-ordered one of 2010’s most anticipated FPS games for PC and one of his reasons for getting the Envy 15 ‘now’ is so he can play the game the minute it comes out. Oh, Bad Company 2 is coming out in exactly 2 weeks from now, by the way. Now, a few of my less tech-savvy friends (they just play the games, they don’t really read much into PC specs) are saying “no way that thing will be able to play BC2 when it comes out… does it even have enough power?!”. Because of that, I think I’ll be posting a video, or at least a report/benchmarks, of the Envy 15 playing Bad Company 2 in a few weeks time to “bust some myths”, so stay tuned for that!

I also did mention that my friend has Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Beta installed, but it’s a BETA game. For the reason that the game hasn’t been ‘finalized’ and (if you’ve been reading around the net) the fact it isn’t using system resources efficiently at the moment, I won’t post FPS benchmarks for the game for now.

Photoshop and video editing: The HP Envy 15 runs both photo and video editing software very smoothly. It also un-zips WinRAR files very quickly. How much smoother/quicker you say? I’d say significantly faster than your typical Core 2 Duo notebook (depends on working file size but the difference in speed is almost always noticable).

Core Temp and more on the Envy 15 (click for larger)

Temperature and fan noise: The HP Envy 15 is a notoriously known as a hot notebook and I’ve gotta admit – that’s true! When idling, temperature levels of the Envy 15’s quad core processor can hover innocently around the 30 Celcius/90 degrees&#