And it only got worse -- from 2009 to mid-2010 the company continued to talk up its never-before-seen and highly-delayed chips. (Just a read through the Engadget archives from that period pretty much illustrates that we had lost hope and started to think the chips would never see the light of day.) But then in June of 2010 the unthinkable happened -- AMD finally demoed its first Fusion Bobcat cores, and proved, at least from afar, that the soon-to-arrive ultrathin laptop solution would chew through Aliens vs. Predator, support DirectX 11, and use a lot less power than its previous platforms. It seemed almost too good to be true -- AMD looked ready to stick to its timing and deliver the first Fusion Brazos platform by early 2011.
So, what the heck does Fusion and AMD's history of promises about the platform have to do with HP's new Pavilion dm1z? Almost everything. HP's newest 11.6-inch not-quite-a-netbook (or a notbook as we like to call it) is the first Fusion system to hit the market, and with a dual-core 1.6GHz E350 Zacate processor and AMD Radeon HD 6310 GPU on the same chip it promises... well, everything AMD has promised for so long. According to HP and AMD, the system should last for over nine hours on a charge, play full 1080p content, and perhaps more importantly, not fry our laps as some previous AMD Neo-powered systems have done. For $450, it sounds like a true no-sacrifice system, but is it? Has AMD finally delivered an Intel Atom- / ULV-killer and has HP put it in a no-fuss chassis? We've spent the last week putting this system through the paces -- hit the break to find out if it has been worth the wait!
- Great blend of performance and graphicsOver five hours of battery life Impressive speakers for the size
- ClickPad can still be frustratingLots of preloaded software Fan noise can get loud
Look and feel
The dm1z isn't as thin and light as your average 2.8-pound 10-inch netbook or even the 2.3-pound, 11.6-inch MacBook Air, but it's still awfully portable. The chassis has a slight wedge shape – it tapers from 0.8 inches in the front to 1.2 inches in the back – and weighs just about 3.5 pounds. It was actually the perfect size for an airplane tray table; with the system fully open we still had room for our Diet Coke and delicious in-flight pretzels. HP's also put the edge space to good use – surrounding the system are three USB sockets, a combo headphone / microphone jack, VGA and HDMI outputs, and an Ethernet port, which is hidden behind a small, cheap-feeling door. There's also a 2-in-1 card reader on the left edge.
Keyboard, touchpad, and screen
Unsurprisingly, our major complaint about the system is related to the touchpad with its integrated mouse buttons. The good news is that the ClickPad has been improved, and HP has added a raised line to distinguish where the buttons start. That line absolutely makes navigating easier, but the 3.2 x 2.0-inch pad is still quite cramped, and because it is so closely located to the keyboard, our wrists repeatedly swiped at it and caused the cursor to jump around the screen. Luckily, you can turn off the touchpad by tapping twice on the small LED in the upper left corner. Disabling the pad and hooking up an external mouse solved those problems for us, but we assume most will be able to get by with the small pad -- it will just take a bit of finger and wrist adjustment. We should also note that multitouch gestures worked fairly well – dragging two fingers down the pad took us down this very webpage quite smoothly.
The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768-resolution display is standard fare for a budget system. It's decently bright and 720p content looked crisp, but the viewing angles were mediocre. Watching the Green Hornet trailer with a friend was no struggle, but when we sat back from the system with the screen at a 30 degree angle, colors were quite distorted. We've come to expect that sort of screen quality from cheaper systems, but we can't say we expected the full and loud sound that came out of the speaker strip along the front edge of the system. Enhanced with Dolby Audio software, the speakers pumped out our new favorite jam (yes, this remixed version of Rihanna's "What's My Name") quite loudly. The sound is actually shockingly good for this class of laptop.
Performance and graphics
We're not ones for putting too much emphasis on synthetic benchmarks but in this case they speak for themselves. On the performance end, the 1.6GHz E350 processor and 3GB of RAM managed to pull in 2,510 on PCMarkVantage – that's 987 more than a dual-core Atom N550 netbook and 999 more than a previous AMD Neo processor (though, only a few more points than a dual-core Neo processor). Anecdotal performance was in line with that as well – the dm1z felt much faster than any Atom netbook and closer to a ULV laptop like the ThinkPad Edge 11. The Windows 7 Home Premium system saw zero lag while simultaneously running Microsoft Word Starter 2010, TweetDeck, Skype, Trillian, and Firefox with 10 tabs open. Throwing a 1080p video into the mix didn't slow the system either. The only time we really did see the system start gasping for air was when we tried to install Batman: Arkham Asylum while running a few other programs in the background. Swapping out the 320GB 7200RPM hard drive for HP's 128GB SSD option would probably speed things up on the install front, but that will cost you an extra $290.
HP Pavilion dm1z (AMD Zacate E350)
|HP Mini 5103 (dual-core Intel Atom N550)||1523||143||6:16|
|ASUS Eee PC 1215N (Atom D525 / NVIDIA Ion 2)||1942||181 / 2480||5:42|
Acer Aspire One 721 (AMD Neo Neo K125)
|Dell Inspiron M101z (dual-core AMD Neo K325)||2572||1311||3:35|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X100e (AMD Athlon Neo)||1511||1060||3:27|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 (Core i3 ULV)||2964||1105||4:42|
|Lenovo IdeaPad U160 (Intel Core i7 ULV)||3863||1175||3:10|
|Alienware M11x (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300)||2689||654 / 5593||4:30|
Notes: the higher the score the better. For 3DMark06, the first number reflects score with GPU off, the second with it on.
But the appeal of Fusion is that the processing power is matched by some really solid graphics muscle. And as you can see from the chart above, AMD's Radeon HD 6310M graphics absolutely wrecks Intel's GMA 3150 netbook and GMA 4500 ULV graphics solutions. It scored a couple hundred points less than some netbooks with NVIDIA Ion 2, but in everyday use, things ran just as smoothly. The dm1z was able to manage playing local and streaming 1080p video even when output to a 42-inch HDTV. And while the platform isn't intended for heavy gaming, it could still hold its own in Gnomeregan. Oh yes, we fired up WoW: Cataclysm and our gnome was briskly jumping around the screen around 28fps with the resolution set at 1024 x 768. For kicks we also installed Batman: Arkham Asylum, but Batman wasn't exactly happily throwing punches at 19fps.
So, what does it all mean? Basically, AMD's Fusion Zacate platform provides much better overall performance than Intel's Atom and AMD's previous Neo processors. In terms of graphics, the dm1z's comparable to an Ion 2-powered netbook, but the fact that it pairs a solid CPU with a discrete-like GPU makes it a much more well-rounded system than some of those Ion 2 or ULV laptops. In other words, when it comes to power and graphics, the Fusion-powered dm1z provides an almost perfect middle ground for those seeking something in between a netbook and a mainstream system.