Thursday, October 22, 2009

HP dm3z Review

The HP Pavilion dm3z is a 13.3-inch screen portable laptop targeted towards students and other consumers that need a laptop that’s easy to carry around and yet has a large enough screen and decent enough performance to easily get work done. The dm3z was recently released by HP along with the Pavilion dm3t. These two laptops are exactly the same in their design and build, but the dm3z has an AMD Neo processor and ATI graphics inside while the Pavilion dm3t has a Core 2 Duo processor and optional Nvidia graphics. This review will focus on the HP dv3-1030us stock configuration model on the HP website available for $599 at the current time.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop

The specifications of the HP dm3z under review are as follows:

  • Model SKU: HP dm3-1030us Quick Ship model
  • Processor: AMD Athlon Neo X2 Dual-Core 1.6GHz for Ultrathin Notebooks L335
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 3200 Graphics with 128MB Display Cache Memory
  • Hard Drive Storage: 320GB (7200RPM) Hard Drive (SATA)
  • Memory: 4GB DDR2 System Memory (2 DIMM)
  • Screen: 13.3” HP LED BrightView Widescreen (1366 x 768 resolution)
  • Battery: 6-cell Lithium Ion
  • Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n and built-in Bluetooth
  • Ports: 4 USB ports, 1 Headphone out, 1 microphone-in, HDMI, 1-VGA port, 1 RJ-45 (Ethernet LAN), 5-in-1 Digital Media Card Reader
  • Optical Drive: None built-in, optional external
  • Weight: 4.2 pounds without adapter
  • Web Camera: Integrated HP Webcam and digital audio microphone
  • Dimensions:
    • Width: 12.83″
    • Height: 0.96″ front / 1.23″ back
    • Depth: 9.06″
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Price: $599.99 at
  • Complete specs from HP:

HP dm3z unboxing

Here are a few pictures of the dm3z packaging and then out of the box with the included documentation.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop boxHP Pavilion dm3z laptop box 2
HP Pavilion dm3z out of the box

HP dm3z design

HP knows that it’s not just the technical specs that sells a laptop, looks are very important to today’s buyers as well. Thin design and an attractive outer finish make all the difference when buying a laptop, and the Pavilion dm3z hits the mark on this. The dm3z weighs around 4lbs and has a sloping thin design that is under an inch thin at the front. The case has what HP calls a “Modern Argento” brushed aluminum finish. This gives the dm3z a sleek and modern look, and the best part is that despite this the price tag starts at a low cost of $549.99.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop top viewHP Pavilion dm3z laptop top view 2
HP Pavilion dm3z laptop lidHP Pavilion dm3z laptop opened

The dm3z does not have any bright and flashy lights around the keyboard area. In fact, there are no fancy touch sensitive media buttons with lights whatsoever like we saw on earlier Pavilion models. This gives the dm3z a clean look on top.

HP dm3z Construction and Weight

The Pavilion dm3z case is made of aluminum on the lid and around the keyboard while the ports area is a silver colored plastic molding. The case is very rigid and nowhere on the body can you find flex. The bottom of the laptop is strong as it is constructed of a magnesium alloy to help prevent any damages during drops. You can pick this laptop up using one hand on the corner and it will not bend and flex like is often true with cheaper laptops.

HP quotes the dm3z as weighing 4.2 pounds, I actually found it to be slightly lighter at 4.15 pounds. However, when you add in the power cord and brick the travel weight of this laptop rises to nearly 5 pounds.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop weight
The dm3z weight without power cord is 4.15 pounds
Pavilion dm3z weight with power adapter and cord is 4.93 pounds

HP dm3z Keyboard

The HP dm3z keyboard is full sized and what you’d be used to with a desktop keyboard, except for the function keys that is, which I’ll discuss soon. The keyboard is chiclet style, the same type you’ll see in MacBooks and is becoming more and more common in PC laptops. The keyboard has a firm feel and is easy to type on with good travel for each key. It took no time to adjust to using this keyboard, all keys are sized and placed as you would expect with the exception of the up/down arrow and PgUp/PgDn keys which are shrunken and located in a bottom right hard to reach spot of the keyboard.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop keyboard

One thing worth mentioning is that what are normally Function buttons on a PC laptop now act as the media buttons on the dm3z, so for instance to increase volume you simply push what is on a normal keyboard the F8 key. To get the volume increase key to act as a regular F8 button you have hold down Fn + F8. This design is the same as what Apple does on Macs where media function takes the precedence over Function shortcuts (such as F5 to refresh a browser).

HP dm3z Touchpad and Mouse Buttons

The touchpad on the dm3z is a decent size, though I’m not in love with the glossy metallic look because it tends to show dirt easily and, although stylish, reflects a bit too much for my tastes. I’d prefer a regular more textured touchpad. Out of the box the touchpad has a sticker overlaid on top with directions on how to use the swipes and pinching to zoom gestures, when I took this off a sticky residue remained making the touchpad hard to use but a wipe down with a wet paper towel took care of this issue.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop touchpad

The mouse buttons work fine, they’re a good size but the travel and feel is nothing to write home about – they simply get the job done. You can turn the touchpad on and off using a button placed right above the touchpad, this is a nice feature for those that prefer to have the touchpad turned off (so you can’t accidentally brush it and move the cursor) and use a mouse instead.

HP dm3z Ports

The HP dm3z has just the right number of ports and everything you would need and expect from a laptop of this size, below is a listing of those ports:

  • 4 USB ports
  • 1 Headphone out
  • 1 microphone-in
  • HDMI
  • 1-VGA port
  • 1 RJ-45 (Ethernet LAN)
  • 5-in-1 Digital Media Card Reader

Below is a picture of the left side of the dm3z laptop that includes (from back to front) the power jack, Ethernet port, VGA monitor out, HDMI port, 2 USB ports, 5-in-1 digital media card reader, headphone and microphone port.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop left side

Below is a picture of the right side of the dm3z laptop that includes a power switch, wi-fi on/off switch, 2 USB ports and the heat vent and fan.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop right side

It’s great that HP put an HDMI port in the dm3z so that you can easily output high-quality video. The four USB ports is more generous than the two or three I’ve seen on every other 13.3” laptop I’ve used, so kudos to HP on this too.

HP dm3z Screen

The dm3z has just one option for screen resolution, and that’s a 1366 x 768 WXGA 13.3” display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. This resolution is HD format friendly and is the same resolution as some LCD TVs offer, so your HD content can fill the screen with no annoying black bars. The 1366 x 768 resolution / 16:9 aspect ratio is a very standard resolution these days and will offer comfortable viewing for the average person, though some may crave a higher resolution to fit more on the screen, that’s not offered on the dm3z. The screen is an LED backlit variety and provides bright and vibrant colors. The screen brightness is great and horizontal viewing angles are decent, however colors quickly get washed out and distort if you do not look at the screen straight on with a 90-degree vertical viewing angle.

HP Pavilion dm3z laptop screenP1010836
P1010840HP Pavilion dm3z laptop wallpaper
Above is a screen capture of the desktop wallpaper the dm3z comes with, it’s pretty cool.

One thing to note is that the only option you have is for a glossy style screen which means the screen will reflect light, especially when dark colors are being viewed on the screen and there is a lot of light in the room.

HP dm3z Speakers

The integrated speakers on the Pavilion dm3z are Altec Lansing branded stereo speakers with SRS Premium sound. They are positioned on the front lower part of the laptop which results in them facing down. Despite this, the audio was surprisingly crisp and clear. The low-end bass sounds weren’t very good, but they never are on laptop speakers.

HP dm3z Heat & Noise

The fan noise on the Pavilion dm3z is louder than other low voltage processor laptops I’ve used, which is somewhat disappointing. In a quiet room the fan is certainly audible most of the time, especially when the CPU is above 30% utilization, if you’re in a room with ambient noise such as an air conditioner or TV you probably won’t hear the fan over the top of it, but if you’re hearing is sensitive then you will.

As I’ve found with many AMD based laptops, the d3mz gets warmer than Intel counterparts. The Acer Aspire 1410 I recently used was much cooler running than the dm3z, though granted it was a lower power processor. The left palm rest of the dm3z gets especially warm after a period of demanding tasks – when running a 3DMark06 benchmark the left side palm rest became rather uncomfortable and the CPU Temp went up to 60 Celsius (140F). Under normal usage the laptop does not get overly hot though and the CPU temp rests at around 51 (123F), and since most people will certainly not be using the dm3z for demanding 3D games I think the heat issue will be a minor one for most.

HP Pavilion dm3z optical drive (or lack thereof)

This section might not make sense given the fact the d3mz does not have a built-in DVD or Blu-Ray player, but I add it to make people aware that this laptop does not have a built-in optical drive. So many people buying laptops these days just assume a laptop comes with at least a DVD drive that they don’t even bother to look before buying. HP decided to leave the optical drive out and to offer an external DVD Rewritable optical drive for $99.99 instead. Personally I don’t need an optical drive so not having one does not bother me, but if you prefer a built-in DVD player then you need to look elsewhere for a laptop.

HP Pavilion dm3z Performance

The HP Pavilion dm3z is not supposed to be a performance power house that you can use for advanced gaming, instead it is sold as a portable laptop that will have good battery life and let you easily do all of your basic tasks while on the road and enjoy multimedia entertainment as well. I found the dm3z to be peppy in everyday tasks but when the system was stressed out with more demanding applications such as benchmarking tools the overall performance was in-line with low end Intel dual core processors, such as the Intel Pentium Dual Core in the Inspiron 14 I reviewed. The ATI 3200 graphics helped 3D performance with the dm3z, and the scores show the ATI 3200 is about 50% better performing than the Intel GMA 4500 graphics. In terms of real world usage, this meant that HD content on ran smoothly, and 480p content on was playable though in full screen mode it sometimes stuttered. I tried to watch Hulu 720p video, such as a Legend of the Seeker preview and it paused and stuttered horribly to the point it was not worth watching.

HP dm3z (AMD Athlon Neo 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, ATI 3200 graphics)Acer Aspire 1410 (Intel 1.4GHz Core 2 Solo ULV SU3500)Dell Inspiron 14 (Intel Pentium Dual Core, 3GB RAM, Intel GMA 4500 graphics)Dell Studio 14z (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.1GHz, 3GB RAM, Nvidia 9400 graphics)
PCMark Vantage2,339-2,4373,520
3DMark 061,132-7512,081
PC Wizard 2008 Global Performance11,4539,431--
Windows Experience Index3.

Overall the performance is more than fine for everyday tasks students will do, but it is not desktop replacement style power nor a multimedia powerhouse.

3DMark results
PCMark Vantage results

WEI results

PCWizard CPUID results

HP Pavilion dm3z Battery Life

To test the battery life I set the screen brightness to the middle (level 4) and left wireless on with an Internet Explorer 8 browser window open to a College Football box score on that refreshed the browser every 60 seconds. I figured this is pretty close to real world usage of somebody surfing the web. I unplugged the dm3z and started BatteryMon, a benchmark that tracks the time and battery usage and rundown over a given time, and after 4 hours and 12 minutes the Pavilion dm3z ran down to 5% battery remaining and went into hibernate. And so you can assume that you’ll get around 4 hours of battery life under conservative usage, while 3 - 3.5 hours is probably more reasonable under more demanding usage scenarios.

HP dm3z Recommendation and Conclusion

The HP dm3z is definitely priced to move with a starting price of $549 (and less if you look around) which gets you a very attractively designed 13.3” portable notebook that has decent performance. The build quality of the dm3z is most impressive for a laptop of this price point. The heat issues on the left hand palm rest of the dm3z might bother some, but it’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things. The port selection of the dm3z is very good, the screen good, speakers good and battery life decent — though not close to the range of 6 – 10 hours of battery some Intel CULV laptops are getting. I can’t find a whole lot wrong with the dm3z, and those issues that do come up can be justified by the amazing price and so I have no problem recommending this laptop.

HP dm3z Purchase Information You can buy the HP Pavilion dm3z direct from for the starting price of $549 with various configuration options.

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HP Pavilion dv4t Review

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