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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  • xype - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    "See, this is what we're talking about when we say we want to see better screens in notebooks. Now we just wish we could get these kinds of panels without having to constantly buy premium-grade hardware."

    In other words, you want premium-grade hardware without having to buy premium-grade hardware. I guess this is why the PC manufacturer's market is in such a bad shape—because they all try to cater to people who are unwilling to spend money.
  • dustcrusher - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Maybe I misread the instructions on my Jump to Conclusions Mat, but I figured they meant something a little different: "why do we have to buy top-end everything just to get a quality display? Can't we just pay extra for a normal laptop with a really nice screen?"

    It's a fair question. Surely there is a way to offer a high-quality display for an additional cost that is reasonable to manufacturer and consumer.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Yes, precisely. And of course there's a way to offer better displays without the price being substantially higher; one has only to look at the numerous IPS HDTVs priced below $1000 to see that it's possible. Unfortunately, most laptop companies don't appear interested in anything but minimum cost, unless you're buying a premium product in which case you get higher costs on everything. :-\
  • Netopia - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I've done IT work for about 20 years and have owned and/or used dozens of laptops. I bought the Envy 17 when there was a $400 off coupon (if you upgraded to the Core i7). I've got a couple of regrets:

    I wish I had not used the coupon and just gotten a Core i5 for the same price. Battery life is HORRIBLE.

    I wish I had actually seen this laptop in real life and tested it first. The track pad is the absolute WORST I've ever used. Depressing one or the other of the 'buttons' (which is really just flexing the bottom left or right of the track pad) takes significant effort compared to any other track pad I've used.

    I'm left handed, so I tend to use more of the left side of the pad when scrolling, and I do tap or double tap quite a bit when surfing. The upper left corner is actually a button of sorts too. If you double click this area it turns off the track pad! I can't tell you how many times I've inadvertently turned the pad off without realizing it. In the past on other laptops I've also used this area to set up a gesture for a middle click, but it's already reserved on this laptop.

    Speaking of the track pad software, it really doesn't have good configuration for setting up different tap areas on the key pad, so custom stuff like I mentioned above isn't even available.

    It's funny... I never gave much thought to track pads. Some were better, some were worse, some had stiff buttons, and some mushy buttons... but it was never a big deal. This is the first laptop I've ever used where I have truly thought that it was an issue.

  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Go on Notebookcheck and look for the thread about the Envy 14 trackpad. There are multiple alternative software choices and I highly encourage everyone to switch to one of them - they greatly improve the trackpad, making it actually usable. I should know, I have an Envy 14.
  • Netopia - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    THANK YOU! Much appreciated!
  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    And I should've said Notebookreview... Sorry.

    Here's the link for anyone who might also be interested:

    Should work for the Envy 17 and 15 too and well just about any Clickpad-using laptop. I know this shouldn't affect a product's review, but a big sore point about the Envy is often the trackpad and thanks to those few tools we can enjoy what is an otherwise great machine a little bit more!
  • joshv - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I own an Envy 15 bought about a year ago. The thing gets hot enough to fry an egg on, even when not doing much of anything, so I am glad to hear that they adressed the thermal issues.

    The touch pad's "clickers" are worthless. Until I figured out how to "tap", the touchpad was a definite negative. It took me maybe a week to adjust and become proficient - though now I really like the touch pad - it's large and very sensitive.

    Perhaps the 17" is different, but for the 15" the nine cell battery isn't a drop in replacement, it's a massive "strap on" slab that mounts to the bottom of the laptop, basically becoming a 3/4" thick base. This thing dramatically increases the weight and size of the Envy - but is *required* for any significant usage when unplugged. Battery life is otherwise abysmal.
  • Modeverything - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I have one of these ENVY 17 notebooks. It's an ok machine, but I don't think it's worth the money, or is a Macbook killer.

    The two biggest issues I have with it, is the mouse track pad is really annoying. Being that it's a solid piece (no separate buttons), the place where you press the buttons also detects finger movement. Too many times when trying to click on something would my finger move just a tiny bit as I pressed down, and it would cause me to miss what I was trying to click, or drag an item by mistake. I had to buy a mouse with a mini USB dongle to use as a permanent replacement to this touch pad. I keep the touch pad turned off now.

    The other issue is that while playing games, the video card can get the case so hot it can actually cause mild pain. Part of the area that heats up is right where your left hand will be if you are resting it on the case to use the keyboard. Also, about half the time I start a game and within about one min, the video card will overheat causing me to have to hard reboot the machine. Usually on the second time it plays properly. I have updated to the latest drivers as well.

    It's an ok notebook, but it should have been better.
  • Modeverything - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    One thing that I forgot to add that is a good point. One of the main reasons I bought this notebook is because it can run two hard drives. I have an SSD as my boot drive, and the 500 GB mechanical drive for all of my data. This was a huge plus for this notebook.

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