When we first saw the 12-inch HP Pavilion dv2 at CES 2009, we were forced to stifle yawns at what appeared to be another glossy HP laptop with an AMD processor. But, when we learned this is the first system to use AMD's new Athlon Neo platform, our ears perked up.
AMD sees room for systems with slightly bigger screens than netbooks and slightly higher price tags. The Neo is intended to be a kind of step-up from netbook CPUs, such as the Intel Atom and Via's new Nano, offering a little more processing power for a little more money, and is targeted at slightly larger systems: 12-inch laptops instead of 9- and 10-inch ones.
In practice, the dv2's 1.6GHz Neo handles many tasks better than the Atom, and it comes paired with ATI Radeon graphics. It's also restricted to Windows Vista, so there's no XP option. But, starting at around £500, there's a big psychological leap to the dv2 from a £350 10-inch netbook or even the £390 12-inch Samsung NC20, which has the Nano processor. Once you hit that price range, plenty of mainstream laptop choices come into play that can outperform the dv2.
While we're not convinced that laptop shoppers are looking for middle ground between a traditional netbook and a cheap mainstream dual-core laptop, the dv2 at least gets to carve out a niche -- for now -- as the best inexpensive 12-inch laptop available.
Taking some design cues from the rest of HP's current Pavilion line-up, the dv2 has a mirrored touchpad, imprinted swirly design on the keyboard tray and a high-gloss finish. But, unlike other Pavilions we've seen recently, this model trades the traditional tapered-key keyboard for one with flatter, more closely spaced keys -- similar to what you'd see on Apple and Sony laptops, or HP's Mini 1000 netbook.
The keyboard is comfortable and easy to use, but the narrower overall width takes some getting used to for touch typists. As with other current HP laptops, the touchpad's mirrored surface isn't quite slick enough for our tastes -- there's slightly too much drag on the finger, forcing us to dial up the pointer speed in the system settings.
The slim dv2 is thinner than other low-cost 12-inch laptops we've seen -- for example, the NC20 and Dell Inspiron Mini 12 (powered by a Nano and Atom processor, respectively) -- and is only slightly thicker than a high-end ultra-portable like the Lenovo IdeaPad U110. The end result is that the dv2 looks like a more expensive machine than it is.
The 12.1-inch widescreen LED display offers a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for most screens between 12 and 15 inches in size. It displays Web pages and documents better than a netbook's typical 1,024x600-pixel resolution can, and is also well-suited for watching 720p high-definition video content.
The 1.6GHz Neo MV-40 CPU has enough processing power to run Windows Vista smoothly, something that has tripped up Intel-Atom-powered systems, including the Mini 12 and Sony's Vaio P-series Lifestyle PC. In our benchmark tests, the dv2 was significantly faster than netbooks with either the Atom or Nano CPU at individual tasks such as iTunes encoding or Photoshop image processing.
When running multiple apps simultaneously, however, none of these low-power, single-core CPUs were particularly impressive, and the Neo and Atom were essentially tied in our multitasking test. A standard Intel Core 2 Duo ultra-low-voltage processor, as found in more expensive 12-inch laptops, easily beats them all.
While far from a gaming platform, the dv2 does include discrete graphics in the form of a 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3140 GPU. In Unreal Tournament 3, we were able to get a very playable 34.3 frames per second at a 1,280x800-pixel resolution.