HP Pavillion dv2 – For a Market That Doesn’t Exist

I had a few things to say about Patrick Moorhead’s comments on the impotency of netbooks last fall, and I thought that would be that. But Mr. Moorhead obviously didn’t agree and served up another classic on his ‘blog’ in an article entitled ‘The Magical AMD Yukon-based HP Pavilion dv2 Ultrathin Notebook‘. Taken in context with his article I spoke about a few months ago, it clearly shows Pat’s care for the consumer, something he tries so hard to portray, is in reality next to nothing, instead pushing his company’s products at every opportunity.

When HP first presented the dv2, I thought, Wow, finally something cheap and useful like the Dell Mini 12, but less ugly. The new AMD Yukon platform even sounded decent, although watching high definition content isn’t anywhere near the top of my list of priorities when it comes to a cheap mobile computer. Unfortunately, after digging deeper, the whole package (at least in HP’s initial implementation) is severely lacking.

Battery Life

Power consumption is a big deal. As my mentality towards computers changed more and more towards being a tool as opposed to a hobby, I’ve placed more emphasis on portability and autonomy. Under light load, web browsing/word processing, I can get almost 4 hours of battery life with the 6 cell in my Dell XPS M1330 (with a discrete NVIDIA GPU). Meanwhile, the dv2 is rumoured to provide over 3 hours of autonomy with the integrated graphics option. Not impressive at all, given the lack of an optical drive, a much lower performance processor, smaller display, and no discrete graphics in this option.

Netbooks may have limited use cases, but with a 6 cell battery, they’ll almost universally allow 5 hours+ of productivity work before requiring a recharge. If the dv2 is intended to be extremely portable, it simply needs better battery life.

Size/Performance

There’s a very legitimate reason why most netbook displays have been in the 8.9″ to 10″ range. Much beyond that and you run into full-sized notebook territory. Furthermore, the HP dv2’s 12″ display is surrounded by an absolutely giant bezel, pushing the overall footprint of the notebook to 11.5″ x 9.5″, which is only 1″ narrower than my XPS M1330. In terms of portability, absolutely nothing is gained by dropping down to less than half the performance of just about any regular dual core 13.3″ laptop. Even weight is only down by 0.5lb, nearly negligible in the overall scheme of things. Plus, you’re losing the optical drive.

Although AMD is showing higher performance for its Neo processor than Atom, that only means it’s only faster than slow. Tech Report did some tests on an Atom, Nano and Pentium M processor a while ago, and results showed the Pentium M 760 to be at least twice as fast as a 1.6GHz Atom overall. Expect the Neo processor in the Yukon platform to be at most as fast as the single core Pentium M.

In the end, dropping down 1″ in width and 0.5lbs for the dv2 nets you a dramatic drop in performance (and an optical bay) from a regular 13.3″ laptop. Perhaps the only thing that could save it at this point is price, which brings me to my next point.

Price

HP announced a $699 entry price point for its dv2, but that’s for the integrated graphics version with only 1GB RAM. Factoring in the exchange rate and you’re looking at the $800-900 range in Canada. In comparison, at the $999 price point, you can get a Dell XPS M1330 with a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, a 320GB 5400RPM HDD, and a DVD+/-RW. That thing offers 3 hours+ battery life, a footprint barely larger than the dv2, an optical drive and performance that is way out of the dv2’s league. It’s a no-brainer which option I’d go with. Even HP’s own dv3 comes in at only $799US, but gives a dual core 2.0GHz AMD CPU, 2GB RAM, and an optical drive. Again, barely larger or heavier than the dv2. Pricing simply doesn’t make any sense when portability is no longer a major advantage with the dv2.

There absolutely is a place for a higher performing, small, cheap, and portable laptop that AMD is targeting. However, with the HP dv2, it has missed the mark. It’s too large. It doesn’t perform well enough for the price, and battery life is at best normal for a full-sized laptop. I think there’s a higher probability that Atom will scale up to this market than an AMD K8 derivative can scale down to it.

Acer the Big Winner in Netbook War?

While ASUS set the cheap, small notebook market alight with its Eee PC lineup, it looks like Acer is actually capitalizing more on the movement. For the month of September, Acer has reportedly outsold all other vendors in notebooks, helped in large part by 1.2-1.3 million Aspire Ones. ASUS was able to move around 700, 000 Eee PCs during the same time.

I spent some quality time on the Aspire One earlier this year, waiting for my M1330 to be repaired, and found it to be a very competent netbook, although I still don’t think the netbook form factor is quite right for me.

Acer Aspire One Netbook Review (XP)

Note: I originally took a bunch of unboxing and detailed photographs of the Acer Aspire One, but lost them all due to some carelessness on my part with SD card formatting. To be honest, I was too frustrated with myself to retake them all, but there are tons of photos all around the web if you want to see the Aspire One. I’ve included some press photos simply to break up the mass of words that is this review.

The Aspire One

The Acer Aspire One is an 8.9” netbook, competing with the likes of the ASUS Eee 900/1000 and the MSI Wind. It is designed as a very portable computer priced at a point that it can be purchased as a travel companion when even regular sized notebooks may be too large or bulky. It may also be used as a companion to a desktop in educational settings, with the Aspire One taking its place in the lecture hall.

Acer Aspire One

The reviewed Aspire One was purchased with the following specifications.

Intel Atom 1.6GHz
1GB RAM
120GB WD 5400RPM
8.9″ WSVGA (1024×600)
0.3mp webcam
5-in-1 card reader
Storage expansion SD card reader (flush)
3 USB ports
3 cell battery (23Whr)

A Temporary Fix – Decisions

With my Dell XPS M1330 out of commission and a lot of commuting by train on the docket for early September, I needed a small but usable computer that wouldn’t add too much weight and fit on the small fold out trays.

Since I didn’t want to buy another full sized laptop that would render the eventually-to-be-fixed M1330 useless, I went looking for a cheap temporary machine that would still have a use after I had the M1330 repaired. The logical choice was a netbook, something that expanded the possibilities for computing on the go.

With a netbook in mind, I narrowed my choices down to the MSI Wind, ASUS Eee 901/1000 and the Acer Aspire One. Immediately the Aspire One jumped to the top of my list, solely due to price. After a repair, my M1330 would be completely usable, so I wanted to spend as little as possible. However other factors also came into play. The Eee 901 and 1000 offered significantly better battery life than the Aspire One, but were terribly expensive, to the tune of around 1.5X the price. The MSI Wind was more attractive, with a (in my opinion) better design, better keyboard and a slightly lower price than the Eee 901/1000, albeit only as the 3-cell battery version, making battery life no better (if not worse) than the Aspire One.

However, with power plugs available at every seat on the train and models readily available at both Future Shop and BestBuy locally, I decided I could sacrifice the poorer battery life for the additional savings. Furthermore, I had a chance to briefly try out the Aspire One before purchase. At the time, the only thing that made me hesitate was the bilingual keyboard. An HP Mini-Note was also on display at BestBuy, and side by side, the Acer’s keyboard was no match for the Mini-Note. MSI also seems to be shipping a bilingual keyboard on their Winds in Canada, so it would seem like with a slightly weaker channel program in Canada, Acer and MSI are both trying to keep a cap on their netbook SKUs for our bilingual country.

Acer Aspire One
I wish the keyboard were like this and not bilingual…

Netbooks at… Big Box Stores?

The purchase was made for $379 from BestBuy. I might have been able to get a better price elsewhere, but would have had to wait for shipping. For example DirectCanada has the 6 cell version for $429. On the other hand the price also wasn’t bad; Canada Computers has the same model I purchased for $420. Pricing is hovering around the $400 MSRP currently.

In terms of pricing, the $399 price of the Aspire One is very reasonable, especially compared to the $500-$600 pricing of the MSI Wind and the ASUS Eee 901/1000. Furthermore, with the 6-cell version of the Aspire One at $429, it makes the Wind Eee look absolutely expensive in comparison.

In terms of absolute cost, we’re still nowhere near the announced $199 price that got ASUS so much, in retrospect undeserved, attention when it first spoke about an ‘Eee PC’. However, the current pricing, especially by Acer will drive competition and hopefully get MSI and ASUS’ pricing more in line with reality.

Five Disappointing Minutes Reading Pat Moorhead’s Blog

Talk about sour grapes. Patrick Moorhead of AMD (VP of Advanced Marketing… perhaps that means VP of blog BS?) wrote a blog entry earlier this month on why he thinks:

…when in doubt in my opinion, if you want to do ANYTHING other than surfing basic, light websites AT HOME without the bells and whistles, go for the full-size notebook, not one of these cheap mini-notebooks. – Pat Moorhead

Ignoring that the article sounds a lot like an attempt to discourage purchases of existing netbooks (funny, AMD doesn’t seem to have an offering in this market), the comment doesn’t even make any sense. One of the main advantages of netbooks are their vastly enhanced portability over the standard full-sized notebook he compares the MSI Wind to. Indeed the links he provide as examples of alternative laptops are of the Compaq CQ50, a 15.4″ laptop, weighing almost 7lbs. The really ironic thing is even that laptop can’t get more than 2 hours of battery life while playing some videos. You read correctly; the 3 cell MSI Wind and the AMD Turion-based Compaq get about the same battery life, but with the Compaq weighing almost three time as much as the Wind, I’m pretty sure I know which I’d choose if for a portable computer. Real data’s a bitch, ain’t it?

What I am most concerned about is his generalization of the entire netbook market based on a few key points: the inability to encode/decode 720p video, screen resolution, and the poor battery life of the 3 cell Wind. I’d like to point out that the 6 cell Wind as well as the Eee 901/1000 all boast around 5 hours of battery life. The 6 cell Wind can be purchased for $550CAD.

As for the 720p issue, the 1024×600 display resolution should be a pretty good indicator that a netbook isn’t supposed to act as the center of a person’s HD world. That’s like buying a Porsche Boxster and calling it useless when you discover it can’t bring home the king-size mattress you purchased. If the main thing you’re doing on the road is working with high-def content, then no, please don’t bring a netbook; you’d be stupid to. But don’t say it’s useless for “ANYTHING other than surfing basic, light websites AT HOME” just because you bought a proverbial Porsche convertible for use as a moving truck.

I don’t have anything against these new cheap mini notebooks, but I think it is VERY important that consumers are educated to their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and all I see talked about are the strengths, a disservice to consumers in my opinion. – Pat Moorhead

Based on the points I’ve made above, I think you’ll agree with me that Patrick absolutely has something against these netbooks. His comment about the media doing a disservice to consumers is insulting. As an alternative to netbooks, he links to a full-size (15.4″, 6.6lbs) AMD-based laptop that gets the same battery life as the MSI Wind he discredits for poor autonomy. If he were really writing in the interest of helping consumers make an informed decision, he’d link to something like a Dell Inspiron 1525 with an Intel T2390, that gets over 3 hours of battery life and costs $599. Is being a corporate shill the service he’s offering? I see no mention of the weaknesses of the Compaq CQ50, specifically the battery life…

Truly a (terrible) marketer at work. Sorry Pat.