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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  • slagar - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    So true, but I would have read the article regardless :-)
  • SilthDraeth - Monday, December 20, 2010 - link

    Also, there is no comparison to the macbook pro. Understandably, performance benchmarks can't really be compared, as it is Apples to Microsofts. BUT one can compare battery life, lcd screen quality, keyboard etc.

    Granted, I need to read the rest of the review, but looking at the LCD tests, I didn't see the Macbook's lcd ranges in the graph.
  • rwei - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    On the F1-F12 keys, there is a setting in the BIOS to correct that. I would have returned mine otherwise, it was really ticking me off.

    On an unrelated note, why do you hate gloss around the screen so much? Especially with a raised, rubberized edge around the screen area like on the Envy 17, I've personally never gotten a finger on the screen. Just open and close using the edge...but I guess that's a matter of personal preference. Might be worth noting though.

    Finally, the Fn+B key combination enables and disables Beats audio, which seems to be an audio "enhancement" that will result in the bass push that you were probably hearing. I usually disable it on headphones/speakers but leave it on for the laptop speakers. Subjectively, using Etymotic ER-4Ps, the sound out of the headphone jacks with Beats disabled seems flat, but is almost completely free of any kind of noise/static (not even my 5th gen iPod can claim that).

    (one more thing - I'm surprised you didn't make any mention of Eyefinity! I'm pretty sure no game will run adequately above 1280x800x3, but for some people being able to drive three monitors off of a laptop is a killer app)
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    It looks like a nice machine. I like some of the details that go into it.

    However, in regards to your comment on Apples track pad. Do people actually "click" it?! I have not "clicked" in years on any of my laptops that support multi-touch. One finger tap for left click, two finger tap for right click. I love the MacBook track pad because its HUGE. Making it for more accurate and easy to use. I also like that its centered.

    On another note, I would have liked to of seen Apples screen listed on the displays page. To get a decent comparison.

    I am going to add this machine to my list of possibilities for my next work machine though.
  • heymrdj - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I don't tap at all. I turn it off of any new laptop I get or even one I'm working on. It slows me down because I can't quickly pickup and move my hand without having to slow down and watch how firmly I push my hand back down onto the touchpad.. I don't enjoy having to think about that. If I turn the sensitivty down to the point that it won't activate when I move my hand, then it's a strange feeling on my finger to have to lift and tap it firm enough to activate that senitivity. It's aggrivating.

    Owner of and user of HP 9550t CTO, HP Mini 210 HD, and HP Envy 17 CTO.
  • Darnell021 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    are you bragging? your lack of ability to use a trackpad and vehement distaste towards tapping makes me cringe.

    it should not be an aggrivating experience.

    try multitouch on a macbook it will change your life.
  • pollyanna - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    "your lack of ability to use a trackpad and vehement distaste towards tapping makes me cringe."

    Does it matter?

    Your high opinion of yourself so you from judgmental opinions about the preferences of others makes me cringe.
  • MobiusStrip - Sunday, December 26, 2010 - link

    Multitouch: Get over it. What an overhyped bunch of crap. Five years of breathless excitement over.... zooming and rotating.

    What Apple and its apologists don't understand is that undiscoverable UI may as well not exist. This goes for asinine peek-a-boo widgets that don't appear unless you roll the cursor over them, ridiculous hidden menus and unmarked hotkeys, and yes most multitouch functions. What we don't see multitouch being used for is the one thing for which it makes intuitive sense: multiple selections, or selecting a range.

    In Apple's case, the hypocrisy is even more embarrassing when you consider that a two-button mouse has been deemed "too scary" for its user base. But unmarked hotkeys and secret gestures are just fine?
  • slacr - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    It would be really neat to see some MBP figures for the screen comparison, screen selection feels like a big breaking point for laptops at the moment.

    On another note, how multitouch capable are these trackpads really? Is it possible to do such things as three finger swipes for back and forward while browsing?

    I'm also really looking forward to the Envy14 review, i've sourced a few in stock with the display upgrade and my employer is forcing me to get "non-apple" for work.
  • KZ0 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I've got an Envy 14, and I assume the trackpad is about the same. I'm using this: for controlling two finger clicks, finding it does a better job than the standard driver.

    Two finger scrolling works nice by default, I haven't gotten three finger swipes working really well.

    Else - if you go for an Envy 14 - get a dual core and the good display. Quads kill battery life (and you don't get switchable graphics with a quad core CPU), and make a lot of noise. The screen is just wonderful. I also got an intel x25 160 GB for it, and booting / launching applications fast is really useful when using it for taking notes, etc. A minute each day in a year adds up to quite a bit of time.

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