HP Pavilion Dm1 (AMD E2-1800) Review

The HP Pavilion dm1 is a small and light weight laptop with a low starting price of $399. HP has been offering versions of this little laptop for a few years, and recently upgraded the DM1 with AMD’s second-generation Brazos chips.

AMD Brazos 2.0 processors are relatively low power chips that offer better performance than you’d expect from a netbook-class Intel Atom CPU. They also include AMD Radeon HD graphics with support for HD video playback and 3D graphics.

Brazos 2.0 chips aren’t much faster than last year’s first-generation Brazos chips, but the new HP Pavilion dm1 does score higher in most benchmarks than last year’s model.

Overall, the HP Pavilion dm1 isn’t the fastest notebook around. It’s not the thinnest or lightest. It’s not the quietest, and it doesn’t get the best battery life.

But it’s one of the few laptops  in its price range that weighs less than 3.5 pounds, has an 11.6 inch display, gets around 5 hours of battery life, and offers decent performance for everyday computing tasks.

HP loaned me a Pavilion dm1 laptop with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and a 1.7 GHz AMD E2-1800 processor for the purposes of this review. This configuration costs about $455, but you can get a model with a smaller hard disk and 1.4 GHz AMD E1-1200 CPU for $399. The laptop can also be configured with more memory, a larger hard drive, or a fast solid state disk.

Design

The HP Pavilion dm1 features an 11.6 inch display and an 11.5″ x 8.5″ x 1.3″ case. You probably won’t confuse it with an ultrabook anytime soon — since most of those trendy new ultraportable computers are 0.8 inches or thinner at their thickest points.

But this little computer is still smaller than most laptops on the market, and at 3.5 pounds it’s lighter than many higher priced ultrabooks.

The laptop has an all plastic case, but it feels pretty sturdy. There’s also a soft touch panel on the bottom panel and lid that almost has a rubbery texture. It doesn’t show fingerprints as easily as glossy plastic lids — but after a while it does start to collect dust.

With the lid closed, laptop has a sort of wedge-shaped design. It’s thinner at the front than in the back, where the battery is located. This also means that when you lift the lid and start typing, there’ s gentle slope to the keyboard.

HP has been offering notebooks with 11.6 inch displays for a while, and has figured out how to cram a full-sized keyboard in a relatively small space. The HP Pavilion dm1 has the same keyboard we’ve seen on similarly sized HP notebooks for the last few years, with an island-style layout featuring flat keys and a little space between each key.

If you press down hard on the center keys, the whole keyboard panel will bow inwards a little — but this isn’t something that really bothers me at all.

Above the number keys you’ll find a row of smaller Fn keys. Out of the box, these work as special function keys for adjusting screen brightness, volume, and other functions. But you can also hold the Fn key at the same time as one of these keys to trigger an F11 or other keystroke.

At the bottom right corner of the keyboard you’ll find arrow keys that also function as Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End keys when you hold the Fn key. It would be nice if these keys were a little larger — especially the up and down keys which are only about half the size of a full key, making them a little harder to hit when you’re not looking at the keys.

Above the keyboard you’ll find a power button and a web browser button, which basically opens your default web browser and shows your homepage. If your browser is already open, it will just change the current page to your homepage. The button feels kind of unnecessary, but it doesn’t really take up any extra space, so I guess it doesn’t hurt to have it there.

The touchpad below the keyboard features a bumpy texture which makes it easy to detect the edges of the touch surface with your fingertips.

Below the touchpad are separate left and right buttons — something that’s become a rarity on portable laptops.

Generally I prefer touchpads with two buttons to those with a single button and a rocker between the left and right sides. But after spending a few weeks with a Samsung Series 5 Chromebook 550 last month, I’ve actually gotten pretty used to using two-finger gestures to emulate a right-click, and I now find it kind of annoying that I have to move my fingers down from the touchpad at all in order to click.

The HP Pavilion dm1 touchpad isn’t bad, by any means. But I’m starting to understand the trend toward clickpads without any separate buttons… something HP is offering on its higher-priced ultrabooks.

One nice feature that HP offers is a little button in the upper left corner that you can double-tap to disable the touchpad so that you won’t accidentally swipe your palm against the touch area if you’re using an external mouse.

HP offers the laptop in black, gray, and pink. The company loaned me a black model, which features a black lid (with a bit of a shaded textured pattern in it) and black plastic around the display and keyboard areas.

If you opt for the other colors, you get a pink or gray lid, base, and plastic area surrounding the keyboard — but you still get a black bezel around the display and a black keyboard.

The 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display has a glossy finish, which means it looks pretty vivid in low light settings, but if you stick the laptop near a bright window or try to use it outdoors, you’re going to have to content with some glare.

Unlike most laptops, the Pavilion dm1 has a hinge that lets you push the screen back a full 180 degrees. While this isn’t something most people will ever do with a laptop, I know some folks like to use ultraportable notebooks like this as eBook readers, and I suppose this could make that easier.

Unfortunately if you just plan to tilt the screen way back while you’re sitting at your desk and typing, you’ll have to contend with colors starting to look washed out. The viewing angles on this laptop aren’t very good, and if the person sitting next to you wants to look at photos or videos over your shoulder, they might see something that looks more like a photo negative.

Around the sides of the laptop you’ll find 3 USB ports, a VGA port, mic and headphone jacks, an SDHC card slot and HDMI port.

There’s a single large panel at the bottom of the laptop covering the hard drive, memory, and other internal components.

The Pavilion dm1 features Beats Audio, so there’s a pretty heavy emphasis on audio quality. That includes Beats software that lets you play with a graphic equalizer, several different presets, and other audio settings from within the Windows environment.

But there’s also a speaker hanging out under the front edge of the laptop which is positioned so that it will probably never be covered by a table, desk, or lap. This helps explain why the latest Pavilion dm1 models have significantly louder speakers than most laptops of this size.

Performance

The HP Pavilion dm1 is one of the first laptops to ship with AMD Brazos 2.0 processors. These chips are a little faster than the AMD E-300, E-350, and E-450 processors released in 2011, and offer slightly higher performance graphics. But overall, they’re not really much different.

That’s to say they’re decent processors for the price, but they’re not exactly high performance processors.

HP offers the Pavilion dm1 with a 1.4 GHz AMD E1-1200 or 1.7 GHz AMD E2-1800 processor. Both are dual core chips, but since HP only charges $25 more for the faster CPU, I requested a review unit with that processor. I suspect overall performance with an E2-1200 model wouldn’t be that much different.

I had no problems surfing the web with multiple browser tabs open, watching most video files, streaming music, editing documents, or performing other basic computing tasks. But this isn’t necessarily the laptop I would grab if I had some serious video editing to do.

It also struggles with Netflix HD video playback. While I was able to play 720p and 1080p HD content from other websites such as YouTube, Netflix video only looked good in standard definition. With HD enabled, the video picture quality looked better, but playback was choppy and the audio and video were out of sync.

The same thing happens when you try Netflix HD on computers with first generation Brazos chips, so this isn’t a new problem.

Despite the limitations, the Pavilion dm1 with an E2-1800 processor is much, much faster than a typical netbook. It’s just not quite as small.

The computer can handle some 3D gaming duties, and while it’s not as fast as a modern computer with an AMD Trinity or Intel Core series processor, if you don’t expect bleeding edge performance, you could use a computer like the HP Pavilion dm1 as your primary laptop. And if you’re just looking for a light-weight machine for use on the go when you don’t have your bigger, clunkier desktop or laptop with you, with a starting price of $399, the Pavilion dm1 is certainly a cheap alternative to an ultrabook.

It also struggles with Netflix HD video playback. While I was able to play 720p and 1080p HD content from other websites such as YouTube, Netflix video only looked good in standard definition. With HD enabled, the video picture quality looked better, but playback was choppy and the audio and video were out of sync.

The same thing happens when you try Netflix HD on computers with first generation Brazos chips, so this isn’t a new problem.

Despite the limitations, the Pavilion dm1 with an E2-1800 processor is much, much faster than a typical netbook. It’s just not quite as small.

The computer can handle some 3D gaming duties, and while it’s not as fast as a modern computer with an AMD Trinity or Intel Core series processor, if you don’t expect bleeding edge performance, you could use a computer like the HP Pavilion dm1 as your primary laptop. And if you’re just looking for a light-weight machine for use on the go when you don’t have your bigger, clunkier desktop or laptop with you, with a starting price of $399, the Pavilion dm1 is certainly a cheap alternative to an ultrabook.

You can find more details about these tests in our AMD Brazos 2.0 benchmarks article. But the long and short of it is that the new HP Pavilion dm1 is a little faster than last year’s model, much faster than a netbook, and scores nearly as high as the Asus Zenbook UX31 in some graphics benchmarks, despite the fact that the Asus laptop sells for more than twice the price of the HP notebook.

Battery life, audio, and noise

Processor and graphics speed are only two of the measures of performance. Here are a few other things you should know about the Pavilion dm1.

The speakers are louder and more clear than those you’d usually find on an 11.6 inch laptop. HP emphasizes the audio capabilities Beats Audio logo on the screen bezel and in the center of the speaker.

Don’t get me wrong. If you plan to play DJ at a party, you’re going to want some external speakers. But the built-in speakers are good enough for listening to music or watching videos on your own.

Beats has a reputation for achieving its signature sound quality by basically cranking up the base — but you don’t have to use bass boost with this laptop. There’s a Beats audio software utility that lets you adjust audio settings with a graphic equalizer… which features a Beats preset that cranks the bass. Fortunately you can adjust the settings any way you like.

But honestly, cranking up the bass is a pretty good way to make the tinny speakers on a laptop sound better. I’d recommend increasing the mid and high-range frequencies if you plug in headphones though.

While the speakers sound pretty good, the laptop itself sounds pretty noisy. There’s a fan that spends a lot of time spinning and blowing air out of a vent on the left side of the laptop to keep the computer’s innards cool. And it’s not exactly quiet.

You’ll notice the fan most when you’re in a quiet room or when you’re performing CPU-intensive tasks. But it’s noticeably louder than other laptop fans I’ve spent time listening to, so if you’re looking for a silent PC you might want to pull out your wallet and pay for something with a solid state disk and a passive cooling solution.

HP says the Pavilion dm1 should be able to get up to 10 hours of battery life. That number comes from the MobileMark battery test. But in real life, I rarely got more than 6 hours of run time while using the laptop with the screen brightness set to 50 percent or lower and WiFi turned on.

To be honest, I rarely got that much battery life. I’d say 4.5 to 5.5 hours is a more reasonable estimate.

My battery test is pretty simple: I use the laptop until the battery dies. Sometimes that involves watching YouTube videos or listening to music. It almost always involves using a web browser.

I suspect the battery would die even more quickly if you were watching movies or playing 3D video games.

Fortunately, unlike most ultrabooks, the HP Pavilion dm1 has a removable 65 Whr battery. If you expect to spend more than 5 hours away from a power source you can probably just invest in a spare battery.

Verdict

The HP Pavilion dm1 might be one of the best laptops available for under $400, but it’s not exactly a perfect machine. It’s not as fast, small, or quiet as an ultrabook. And it can’t handle Netflix HD video playback.

On the other hand, it’s a great little computer for anyone looking for a larger screen and better performance than you get with most netbooks.

Technically the model I reviewed costs $455, since it has an AMD E2-1800 processor and 500GB hard drive. But HP offers a starting price of $399.99 and a number of configuration options.

It’s also not uncommon to see the Pavilion dm1 go on sale for as little as $350, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for coupons.

 

 

 

 

 

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