Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
HP Envy 17 notebook
HP's Envy 17 is a desktop replacement with plenty of speed under the hood, uses fourth-gen Core i7
- Fast CPU
- Lots of RAM
- Plenty of internal storage
- Bouncy keyboard
- Only single-band Wi-Fi
- No touchscreen
HP's Envy 17 is a big notebook that's suitable as a desktop replacement computer. It has a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, discrete NVIDIA graphics, and it can be used for almost any mainstream computing task. For the asking price, though, it could use better Wi-Fi, a touchscreen and some refinement in its build quality.
Price$ 1,999.00 (AUD)
Our first glimpse of a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-equipped notebook comes in the form of HP's very large Envy 17. It's designed to be a stay-at-home computer, and it's powerful enough to replace a desktop for most tasks. You can perform typical productivity tasks quickly thanks to its strong configuration, and it has the ability to also run many games quite well.
A big unit
The 17.3in size might not have mass appeal, but it's ideal for those of you who want a large machine that can be used for long stretches of productivity or entertainment. Its screen is huge and it comes fitted with a Full HD panel; its keyboard includes a number pad and its palm rest is spacious; it has enough built-in features to please those of you who don't have any niche or legacy needs.
It can be difficult to construct large laptops without making them overly bulky or very heavy, but HP has done a decent job with the Envy 17, making it look clean and feel sturdy. It's still heavy, though; at 3kg, it doesn't lend itself to lap usage and you won't want to take it on the road too often either (if at all). You can definitely use it anywhere around your home that's not near an outlet, but that's as mobile as it gets with this model. In our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, it lasted 2hr 53min. This time is similar to what a third-generation Core i7-based 17.3in laptop would get.
We did find one problem with the build quality; when we attempted to eject the optical drive, it wouldn't budge. The tray kept getting caught on the top part of the chassis. In order for it to open, we had to push down on the chassis just above the optical drive. We're hoping it's just a quirk of our test model, otherwise, if you use this notebook for a lot of CD or DVD ripping, you might get very annoyed with it. That area of the laptop around the optical drive felt flimsy.
Configuration and performance
Along the edges, you get four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card slot, and a Blu-ray writer. On the inside you get a configuration that's anchored by a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, which is a mobile CPU with four cores and Hyper-Threading that runs at 2.4GHz (its Turbo Boost allows it to hit 3.4GHz). It's joined by 16GB of DDR3 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M graphics adapter (it has 2GB of its own RAM) and there are two 1TB, 5400rpm hard drives installed (one for the system, one for data, and some space is also set aside for the recovery partition).
It's a configuration that supplies very good speed for typical office suites, Web browsing, photo editing, and even video editing. You can even use it to play games thanks to the discrete NVIDIA graphics adapter, though you probably won't be able to run many of them at the native 1920x1080-pixel resolution of the screen. In 3DMark06, the GeForce graphics put up a respectable score of 10382, while in the latest 3DMark, a score of 53208 was recorded in the entry-level Ice Storm test, 7065 in the mid-range Cloud Gate test, and 1031 in the high-end Fire Strike test.
In our Blender 3D test, the Envy 17 recorded a time of only 19sec. This is the same time that we've seen from gaming laptops that use a third-generation 2.4GHz CPU (the Core i7-3630QM), such as the MSI GT70 Dragon Edition. Likewise, our iTunes MP3 encoding test recorded a time of 42sec, which is one second slower than what the third-gen MSI laptop achieved. Where the fourth-gen CPU sped things up was in the in the Handbrake test, in which the HP took 8min 52sec to convert a DVD file to an MP4. This is 1min 2sec faster than the MSI laptop.
The storage performance wasn't too bad considering that the Envy 17 doesn't have any solid state drive (SSD) speed enhancements; you only get mechanical hard drives, and there are two of them. They are both 1TB, 5400rpm hard drives, but you can replace them with SSDs if you want extra speed in the future (the access panel comes off easily). In CrystalDiskMark, the system drive recorded a rate of 114 megabytes per second (MBps) for both reading and writing. When copying data from a USB 3.0 hard drive such as the Toshiba Canvio, the average transfer rate was 50.72MBps.
Other features of the HP Envy 17 include Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 Wi-Fi (it's single-band only, which is a disappointment at this price point), Bluetooth and there is also a fingerprint reader. The fingerprint reader can be used with the pre-installed SimplePass utility to log you in to Windows and Web sites (via your default browser) with the swipe of a finger. It worked fine with Firefox and Internet Explorer; when we visited a site that we had to log in to, a message from SimplePass appeared and asked us if we would like to save that information. The neat thing is, you can swipe your finger to bring up a list of all the sites for which you've got credentials stored and go straight to them from there, without having to even launch your browser manually.
HP has the Beats audio logo embossed on the chassis of this notebook, which is meant to mean that good sound quality is one of its key selling points. In reality, the Envy 17 is a disappointment in this area. For starters, it doesn't have separate output and input ports (only one combination headset port), and its speakers, even though there are six of them installed (it claims to have two sub-woofers), don't produce the type of output that we thought would make this notebook stand out. The sound is not loud enough to fill a relatively small room, and it struggles to reproduce subtle sounds such as quiet bass lines. Basically, and as with most notebooks, you'll still have to plug in headphones or speakers for high-quality listening.
We like the large screen though, which has a Full HD resolution and isn't glossy. It has decent brightness and contrast for viewing photos and working with productivity applications, but it can look a little dull when it comes to displaying videos — especially dark ones. The lack of touchscreen input on this notebook actually disappointed us. We've seen so many touchscreen notebooks over the last few months, to the point that we're now quite used to tapping or swiping the screen during the regular course of our work. The hinges seem strong enough to be able to handle any back and forth movement resulting from tapping the screen, and the $1999 price tag, we think, is enough to warrant the feature's inclusion. A touchscreen would make it a little heavier though, which we don't think is a problem because it's a heavy unit to start with, and it will also cause some reflections, but not enough to negate the benefit that the touch interface would bring to Windows 8's Start screen in particular.
The keyboard is backlit and the keys are soft to hit. Despite being such a large laptop, the keyboard feels a little cramped. The arrow keys are an example of this as they are squished in to a tiny area, and there also isn't much of a gap between the number pad and the main keyboard. That said, we didn't have a bad time typing on this laptop, and it actually felt quite decent, especially because it has such a generous palm rest. Our only problem with it is that it's a very bouncy keyboard. It appears as though there aren't enough mounting points for the keyboard tray on the chassis.
There's not much else to the HP Envy 17. It's a notebook that's best suited to those of you who need a desktop replacement with fast processing and an ability to play some games. It can easily be hooked up to an external big screen, and it has enough USB ports to cater to wired input peripherals and external storage at the same time. It's also one of the few consumer notebooks on the Australian market to have a fingerprint reader. On the downside, it's missing dual-band Wi-Fi, the speakers aren't great, the optical drive didn't open properly during our tests, the keyboard is bouncy and a little cramped in some areas, and it lacks a touchscreen.
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