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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  • MobiusStrip - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    People need to reject these asinine glossy screens. This is cheap crap inspired by the low-grade, fake-chromed, Celeron-packing lineup at Best Buy, Manufacturers embarrass themselves by pushing this out as anywhere near a high-end offering, and they offend consumers by lying about its merits.

    "Richer" colors? "Deeper" blacks? NO, because your entire display is covered with a sheen of reflection 100 percent of the time. Even in a pitch-black room, the computer lights YOU up and thus you're staring at yourself instead of what you're working on.

    Demand better, people. Glossy screens are the biggest regression in computing... possibly ever.
  • freespace303 - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    I've been using a 13" MacBook Pro since June, and I have to disagree with you sir. The glossy screen doesn't bother me at all. I would have to have a plain black background to catch a glimpse of me in the reflection, or be in a very bright room. As I'm typing this reply on this very laptop, in a dark room, I don't see myself, or any other reflections. It's quite nice.

    Now, on the other hand, if your using a laptop outside ALL THE TIME, during the day, then yes, I would probably go for a matte screen, but for my needs, and considering I use it most of the time, that isn't the case.

    Also, the 13" MBP does have one of the brightest and nicest screens for a laptop this size. That's probably why I don't see glossy screens as much of a problem.

    Oh, and I'm not Apple biased at all, considering I just ordered myself the HP Envy 17 3D!
  • freespace303 - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    OMG thankyou, I've been waiting for this review for SO LONG!!! I ordered the 3D version a few weeks ago and will have 21 days to play with it before deciding on whether to return it or not. *starts reading review, keeps fingers crossed*
  • brysoncg - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Even on the 1st gen Envy 15 (which I own) they had the BIOS option to set it back to a F1-F12 default.

    Also, the audio output on my laptop were crippled by the default Beats audio settings. In the Beats audio control panel, there are 3 settings, Beats Tour, Beats Studio, and Default. Whenever I have either Beats option selected, the volume output is limited at 75%, but with integrated speakers only. Disabling these and the "Beats Audio" setting (fn+b, which seems to mainly be a bass boost on this older Envy) increase audio output greatly.

    As for the touchpad, it only has one physical button (at the center of the bottom edge), and uses a "touch zone" to distinguish a right-click vs. a left-click. I doubt that this has changed from the 1st gen to the current gen.

    On these older 15 models, HP had an external 9-cell battery option, which I am able to get about 5 hours of total laptop usage with, but it close to doubles the weight of the laptop. Another downside is that its contacts are poorly designed, since on mine they ended up breaking (and HP wanted $300 to fix it). HP obviously knows they were bad design, since on the current Envy 14 the contacts for the external battery have been completely redesigned (back to an older-style connection - I guess sometimes newer isn't better :) ).

    The newer Envys have lost some of the options of the older Envys, but have also gained a few options. Primary lost option: 4 sticks of RAM (now only two slots on all models). Gained options: internal CD drive on all models, more connectivity (more external video connections, more audio connections, nicer screen panel (no 3/4 inch plastic bezel around the entire screen).

    The first upgrades I did with my Envy 15 were to populate the 4th RAM slot, for 8GB total RAM, and to put an SSD into it (the original 500GB HDD now lives in an external case with a powered eSATA connection). Everything about it is a lot faster now than what it was when I bought it.

    Overall, I enjoy the available power in my Envy 15, and have never had any problems with glare on the glossy screen. I do wish some accessories were cheaper, though.
  • flashbacck - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - link

    Can you guys figure out whatever happened to the Radiance Display that was available when the 14/17's were originally released?

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