Rhinoceros-sized laptops are all the rage. Dell and Acer have already created 20-inch behemoths, so it was only a matter of time before HP -- the world's number one PC maker -- joined the fray with a 'laps top' of its own.
The HDX9000, aka the 'Dragon', sports the same gi-normous display as the XPS M2010 and Aspire AS9800, but comes fitted with faster components, a more stylish chassis and a definite penchant for home entertainment. It's available to buy now in John Lewis for £1,350.
Whoever said all big, brutish laptops are ugly got it wrong. The HDX9000 is not only the most attractive 20-incher on the market, it's also among the prettiest laptops available, full stop. The curved edges and soft silver highlights give it the sleek, contemporary look missing from most large laptops.
As with all HP's new consumer laptops, the HDX9000 sports Imprint Finish 'Technology'. In other words, it has pretty squiggly patterns on the lid and just above the keyboard, which in this case has an oriental dragon theme. This looks gorgeous next to the raised silver hinge section, which extends halfway along the middle of the lid.
It's not often we get excited by hinges but this one has a few tricks up its sleeve. It's actually a double hinge system: the first hinge has its pivot point between the screen and the base section and lets you open the lid to a 45-degree angle -- just like most laptops. Once in this position, an internal catch frees the lower portion of the display, bringing a second hinge into operation.
This second hinge is in the centre of the lid itself. The combination of the two hinges means you can view the screen in its standard 'laptop' position, tilt it towards the ceiling for use when standing above the laptop, or more usefully, to bring the screen about 100mm closer to you.
This sounds like a clever idea until you try it in practice. The laptop has a set of touch-sensitive shortcut buttons above the keyboard, which can react quite violently if you tilt the screen anywhere near them. It wasn't uncommon for the HDX9000 to beep maniacally -- thinking we were ejecting the CD tray, fast-forwarding films and adjusting the volume simultaneously.
Just below the touch-sensitive strip of buttons is a large keyboard with a dedicated numerical keypad. This is comfortable to use apart from the undersized shift buttons. The mouse trackpad takes some getting used to. It looks great but its pocked surface isn't ideal. It's not very smooth so using it often feels as if you're battling with the cursor.
The rest of the laptop is very well-designed, though. There's an infrared remote control built into chassis, but it's not one of those rubbish ones that fit into a PC Card slot. This one has a dedicated hollow next to the keyboard and clips securely into place. It's lovely.
Most of the Dragon's components are geared towards multimedia entertainment. The 20-inch screen, for example, is great for watching movies, but HP misses a trick in not making it 'Full HD'. Its native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels is ample, but we've seen 1,920x1,080 pixels on smaller 17-inch screens, so there's no real excuse not to go higher.
Attached to the display is an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card -- ATI's fastest available mobile solution. It's backed by 256MB of dedicated memory and has enough horsepower to allow 3D gaming and HD movie playback via the HDMI port. Don't expect the Dragon to run games as fast as laptops with twin graphics cards, but it's a better solution than the Radeon X1800 in the Dell XPS M2010.
Our review sample of the HDX9000 uses an Intel Core 2 Duo T7500. This has a pair of cores, each running at 2.2GHz and sharing 4MB of Level 2 cache. It is, as you might expect, pretty nippy, but the good news for speed freaks is that it can be upgraded. HP gives you the option of an Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900 running at 2.8GHz -- the fastest laptop chip on the market. As standard, 2GB of RAM is supplied, with 4GB available if you're more demanding.
Storage in the HDX9000 is impressive for a laptop. Ours shipped with a pair of 200GB Toshiba MK2035GSS hard drives, one for storing the operating system, applications and the like, and the other for stashing your files. The Dragon can accommodate up to half a terabyte of storage over two 250GB hard drives, but we challenge anyone who isn't a file-sharing pirate to run out of space in a hurry.
Also impressive was the addition a Toshiba TS-L802A HD DVD-ROM
drive. This allows playback of HD DVD movies, which you can either
watch on the laptop or on a television via an HDMI cable (not
included). It can't write to HD-DVD discs, but it'll burn dual-layer
DVD+R discs at up to 2.4x, or DVD+RW discs at 4x, which is fine for
backup purposes and burning DVD movies.
Whether you're watching HD DVD or telly on the built-in Freeview tuner, the integrated speaker system sounds surprisingly good, partly because of an integrated subwoofer on the base of the laptop. It won't wake the neighbours, but it provides a well-balanced sound. Audiophiles can connect headphones to ports at the front of the laptop, or external speakers to audio outputs at the rear.
The machine has various extras, which you'll mainly find useful for showing off to your friends. There's a fingerprint reader; array mics (for more accurate voice recognition) an ExpressCard reader and 2-megapixel webcam. The most useful of its extras is probably the 12-in-1 memory card reader, which comes in handy for transferring images from your digital camera or MP3 player.
The software package doesn't present many surprises. You get Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, Microsoft Works 8.0 and a bundle of multimedia programs including Roxio Creator Premier, Muvee AutoProducer Premium and SerifWeb Plus. There's no Web security software, so we recommend you buy or download an antivirus application as soon as you buy the laptop, or feel the wrath of a thousand viruses.
The HDX9000 has a very well-rounded specification. We'd even go as far as calling it high end. It failed to run our PCMark 2005 and 3DMark 2006 benchmarks, but in the week or two we tested it, it felt easily as fast as any Vista laptop we've used. It will feel really comfortable and quick whether you're browsing the Web, editing audio or video, or even playing games.
These 20-inch laptops aren't designed to have long battery life, and the HDX9000 is no different. Its nine-cell battery lasted 58 minutes in our Battery Eater test, but that's easily forgivable. As long as it's got enough battery life to carry between rooms in the home, it's good enough for us.
The Pavilion HDX9000 is the best 20-inch laptop we've seen. Its physical design isn't quite as extravagant as the Dell XPS M2010, and it lacks a handle, but it's more attractive, more powerful and is ultimately the best desktop replacement laptop money can buy.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday