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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  • vant - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I guess hp forgot people use their laptops on the go. 2 hours is pathetic.
  • heymrdj - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    The "Desktop Replacement" laptop isn't as much as battery power on the go, but more the fact you have an entire desktop computer with 3/4 the power capable of being moved anywhere. I have my high end desktop with it's 4 drive raid 0 array, graphics card, X6 1055T, and I love it. I really do. But I miss my HP 9550T. When I could bring it up on my 1,000 mile trips with no lugging, grunting, or damages. I could came anywhere at decent FPS with the 8800GTM. Sure I could only get about 45min of gaming battery life, and about 2 hours of idle internet (9 cell), but it was great having that power around. People that don't need mobile power just can't understand how well these notebooks fit. That and whimpy people complain about carrying 10lbs of laptop/accessories all the time. Never understood that, the difference between my Mini 210 and my 9550t are negligible to me. The Envy 17 is lighter than my old 9550t is, and it's nice, lets me carry a spare battery with the weight I saved.
  • seapeople - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    Woot! Someone else who actually understands that laptops don't just magically become unmovable desk objects once they get over 14". We must be two of the largest and strongest people on the internet. You know, the type of person who doesn't need to carry a 5lb bag of apples in from the car in two trips, or ask for help when opening a bottle of Pepsi. We are real life strong men, able to carry multiple pounds of laptop and laptop accessories AT THE SAME TIME. Good gaming brother.
  • Spazweasel - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Yeah. Overused. Can we synergize our paradigms and action our alliances now?

    In any event, it's not a "MacBook Killer" if it doesn't run OS/X. For all the talk about being able to run Windows on a MacBook, very few people actually do. At my workplace, for instance, we have about 600 engineers (networking hardware and software); we all get laptops. We get a choice of various HP and Thinkpads, or MacBook Pros. It's about half-and-half as to what people select (I took a T400, as I use some Windows-only software). I've yet to see anyone running anything other than OS/X on their MacBooks except in an occasional VM. It's not just the hardware which people buy MacBooks for, it's the combination of hardware and software (which yields things like the near-doubling of battery life... 2 hours? Seriously, HP?).
  • wintermute000 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    With that battery life?!?! not even close.

    Also WTF is it with manufacturers giving us 1500USD+ laptops WITHOUT SSDs. You spend that much money (enough to build a fire breathing gaming/graphics workstation from hell), you're gonna want it to fly, and SSD is the single most important component for that. I'd wager that SSD + i5 gives better real world performance for most people than i7 + conventional HD.

    Not going to even touch the OSX vs Windows flamewars, I have my opinions and thats what wil guide my decisions. Suffice to say that the overall package/industrial design is not going to come close to the tight integration the macbook pro people pay for. Little things like magsafe power connectors, button to show power gauge, etc.

    I guess if you want windows this is a good buy, but if you want a 17" gaming capable hi end laptop personally I'd rather get something cheaper from MSI or ASUS and use the savings to upgrade to an SSD.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Note the question mark, and it's not us saying Envy is an MBP "killer" - it's plenty of other folks out there. I'd say the Envy 14 has a better shot, since it at least has switchable graphics, but as the conclusion states:

    "As we mentioned before, HP's Envy line of notebooks are often touted in the comments on our reviews as being alternatives to Apple's MacBook Pro series. In reviewing the Envy 17 at least, we find that's not entirely a fair comparison."

    The reason it's not fair is two-fold: first, MBP is geared far more towards battery life, and second, the Envy 17 at least (with quad-core CPU) is quite a bit more powerful in multi-threaded tasks than any MBP. So, the answer to the question mark in the title is that it's not an MBP killer--or really even an alternative--outside of having a similar aesthetic.
  • Luke2.0 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    It is a GOOD tagline IMO:
    1. Eye-catcher (Controversy). Throw in some reference to Apple products and there: more readers, more comments, more "fire". =/
    2. Well, the "?" is the safety belt.

    Btw, I can't reach the conclusion page now!?
    Gotta wait it fixed...
  • heymrdj - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    You seem to think that we're at that age where these things are affordable, we're not at that time yet. It's like people wanting to buy a full 15" good performing, long battery life basic laptop from walmart for 300$, but they also want it to last 3+ years. We're not there yet, they still cost more than that. A good gaming laptop with heavy build (like the envy's) and real ssd (like a OCZ, Crucial, or Corsair Sandforce drive) is going to cost into at least the 1900 range. The SSD alone (say 120GB main drive) is going to cost at least 170$ from their distribs I'd imagine, compared to the 30-50$ they can get the mechanical HD's. There's a reason REAL gaming/workstation laptops like the HP Elitebooks and the high Sager/Clevo models START at 2400.
  • Dan Wiggins - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    Rather than a speedy but constrained SSD, I prefer to have 500 GB of storage with me. Do programs launch as fast, does the OS boot as quickly? No - but I can get a lot more done since I have a lot more with me. I don't boot/shut down a dozen times a day, typically once or twice for extended periods.

    Of course, I do some serious CAD work for a living, where a single model can be 2 GB; having a tiny 128 GB of SSD simply doesn't cut it - between the OS and the programs I need for work, I'd be able to keep a dozen models around, tops.

    Having 8 GB of RAM helps me out a lot more than an SSD...

    Don't confuse your list of desires as the list of desires for everyone. That's the beauty of the non-Apple ecosystem - choice. You can have SSDs or HDDs or easily switch between the two. You can even get laptops with dual drives, so you can use your speedy SSD for the OS and HDD for massive storage.
  • plewis00 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I can't get to the conclusion page - it keeps returning me to page 1 whether I click the next button on the page before, use the drop-down menu or change the URL to a '7'. Any ideas or is this just me?

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