Introducing the HP Envy 17

HP's Envy line-up has been so often requested around here that actually having one on the test bench feels like both a major win and a kind of letdown. These notebooks (particularly the 14, for which a review is forthcoming) are so well regarded by their user communities that it's kind of hard not to expect the most out of HP's prize series.

There's some merit to that. The Envy 17 is a stylish, powerful piece of kit. Unlike a lot of consumer notebooks, HP's Envy series are understated and clearly designed to be both attractive and functional. So now that we've finally got one in hand, let's pop the hood and see what makes this bad boy hum.

HP Envy 17 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-720QM
(4x1.6GHz + HTT, 45nm, 6MB L3, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 1x4GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5
(800 Stream Processors, 500MHz core clock, 3600MHz effective memory clock)
Display 17" LED Glossy 16:9 1920x1080
(LG LGD0283 Panel)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200 RPM
(Seagate Momentus 7200.4, one spare drive bay)
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray Reader/DVD+/-RW Drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Broadcom 43224AG 802.11a/b/g/n Wireless
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Audio IDT 92HD81B1X HD Audio
Beats audio stereo speakers with subwoofer
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 62Wh battery
Front Side Speakers
Left Side Exhaust vent
Ethernet jack
USB 2.0/eSATA combo port
USB 3.0
Microphone jack
Headphone jack
Right Side 2x USB 2.0
Card reader
Optical drive
AC adapter
Kensington lock
Back Side Exhaust vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.3" x 10.83" x 1.25"-1.52" (WxDxH)
Weight 7.51 lbs
Extras HD Webcam
Backlit keyboard with dedicated 10-key
Flash reader (MMC, SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo, xD)
Dual drive bays
Warranty 2-year limited warranty
Pricing Starting at $1,299
Priced as configured: $1,699

With Sandy Bridge not terribly far away, the specifications for the HP Envy 17 we have on hand are going to seem a little pedestrian, but make no mistake: it's still a powerful notebook. At 1.6GHz the Intel Core i7-720QM may be the slowest quad-core in Intel's mobile line-up, but it can still outpace their fastest dual-core in properly threaded tasks, and it can turbo up to 2.4GHz on two cores to make up a lot of the difference (or 2.8GHz on a single core).

The other major selling point of the Envy 17 is the AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5850 graphics part. Given the relatively svelte profile of the Envy compared to other 17"-class notebooks, the 5850 is fairly powerful by laptop graphics standards. 800 of AMD's stream processors purr away at 500MHz, and unlike NVIDIA, AMD is able to coax some halfway decent speeds out of its mobile GDDR5, running at an effective 3.6GHz. Still, the 5850 can be considered something of a disappointment: this is AMD's second best mobile part, but it's still a substantially underclocked desktop Radeon HD 5770, a card that goes for around $130. Worse, the 5850 in the Envy 17 appears to be underclocked even by Mobility 5850 standards, running about 125MHz below spec on the core and 400MHz below spec on the memory. It's probably reasonable to assume this is to assuage concerns about heat, but it still takes a healthy bite out of potential gaming performance.

The remainder of the Envy 17 is pretty by-the-book, with the increasingly common Seagate Momentus 7200.4 hard drive pulling storage duties along with an attractive slot-loading blu-ray reader/DVDRW drive. The card reader is accounted for, and there's USB 3.0 and eSATA, but sadly no ExpressCard or FireWire. What's odd is HP's decision to ship the review unit with a single 4GB DDR3 DIMM instead of a pair of 2GB or 4GB sticks, but that's neither here nor there: when you go to order the Envy 17, it actually starts at 6GB of DDR3 these days.

Touring the HP Envy 17
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  • Penti - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    No it is just a gaming laptop, it's definitively not a MBP killer. It's not even a semi-professional setup. It's not really an alternative if you where thinking about a MBP 17 or something like that. It's as usual not even a true portable computer as with lots of these consumer HP's. It's DTR in a whole other segment and is an alternative as an alternative to MBP users. Don't really think these fit into the Envy category which is supposed to be high-end consumer stuff. It's really not that much of that. It's an replacement and alternative to a low-end gaming machine.

    While it has stuff like USB 3.0, eSATA, and mini-DP it doesn't have a matte none-gloss display, it doesn't have Firewire or a ExpressCard-slot (granted MBP 17 doesn't have a antiglare screen by default, but it's just a 50 dollar add-on, and is also something available to most business or mobile workstation notebooks). It's not a prosumer product in that category. I think they should put together a great setup on the ATi/AMD mobile GPUs but this is just not it. And why wouldn't you buy this piece with the 9-cell battery? I know it's not available at retails but anyway. You might actually get 2 hours of internet use then. And you don't HAVE to have a quadcore, look at the MSI GX640. And you should be able to get through a movie on the larger battery. Simply I don't think it's worth it even if what you are after is a gaming laptop that will always be plugged into the wall.
  • PrezWeezy - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    You asked if it was a MacBook killer but then didn't include any of the MacBook specs in the review. Can you update the charts with MacBook info? I've been very carefully considering buying a MBP 15 for the battery life and screen quality so I'm interested to see how this stacks up.
  • ahmed25 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Hi Sklavos
    Any idea about the 900p screen quality?Contrast and color gamut...?
  • TheQuestian - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    I'm a little confused by this article. It posits whether or not the ENVY is a MacBook Pro Killer, and then proceeds to compare it not even once to said competitor. Instead? Yes, let's compare it to gaming laptops costing hundreds/thousands more. And then, let us conclude, based on these pointless tests that the ENVY is simply designed for a "different market". Wow.

    Sure, expensive gaming laptops outperform the ENVY in gaming, but if you are in the market for a super high-end gamer, this is not the laptop for you. In fact, the tests in the article even corroborate that. What they don't corroborate is the disappointing conjecture put forth here as a conclusion.

    I would have liked to see some benchmarks comparing performance in Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, or some other 3D modeling programs, since these are what "art students" are actually using their MBP's for. Why we are including FPS numbers for Crysis Warhead in an article "supposedly" about the MacBook Pro is beyond me.

    I don't actually have a problem with conclusion, here, so long as it is founded on real numbers. But this article just smacks of preconceived notion mixed with irrelevant extracurriculars. Yes, the ENVY is a mediocre gamer that looks like a MBP. But how is it as a MBP? That is the question. As for now, it still appears to be a C-H-E-A-P-E-R (hello!) alternative to the MBP, and I have no reason to think it will underperform in that capacity. Please let's keep in mind what questions we are answering.
  • locowolf - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    Given the article title and text, it's surprising that none of the benchmarks include the macbook pro for direct comparison. Can you add the macbook pro to the charts so that readers can compare the numbers and make their own determination?
  • Blindsay - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    One thing that might be interesting to look at would be to see how much extra peformance you can get at overclocking the gpu, try it at what the reference clocks are and then see if you can push it further. I have a 5650 in my DV7 and it runs at 550/800 stock and i have it running at 700/1000 (on a/c only) and it made a huge difference in gaming. I bet we would see similar results with the 5850. And temps were well within spec still, i didnt go above 70c. my i7 720 was maxing at 80c and i couldnt find a way to overclock that.
  • IceStorm - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    I did a clean install to a Vertex 2 240GB SSD and put the included 500GB HDD into the second bay (you have to buy the second bay kit separately). I installed all of HP's patches. I installed ThrottleStop and limited the CPU to a 7x multiplier, 62.5% usage, and used AMD's GPU Tool to bring the GPU down to 150/312.

    Didn't help.

    The most I could get out of it in that configuration was 90 minutes on the 9-cell battery watching a blu-ray - from the disc or from an image file on mechanical HDD. The only major change in that state was that the fan didn't kick on.

    It's a DTR, no matter how you color it. To be fair, it's a very nice DTR with a beautiful screen and excellent audio (when the fan is low/off), but it's still not going to live life far from a wall socket. It's good if you don't want a proper desktop and need multiple display support (assuming you can stand the fan), but they could do so much more with a proper mobile part and switchable graphics.
  • Dug - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    Why are you adding in desktop components into the mix and so many sli configurations?
    It is so hard to read these things with different graphs for different components that don't even belong.
    And then they completely switch on the next page.
    Keep things consistent.
  • araczynski - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    how is this an alternative to a macbook? does it run osx? does it look good?

    no on both accounts, so this is just another pc notebook.

    what's with the 70's paintjob?
  • araczynski - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    mind you, i'd pick this over a macbook any day though.

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