Wednesday, July 16, 2008

HP Pavilion dv5z

by Jerry Jackson

The newest 15-inch notebook from HP arrives just in time to make a big impact for back-to-school shoppers in 2008. The HP Pavilion dv5z features the latest AMD dual-core processors, cutting edge graphics that slaughter the competition, and a price that's so competitive you'll have a hard time coming up with reasons not to buy this notebook. Take a look at our full review and find out what makes this notebook so impressive.

Our HP Pavilion dv5z has the following specifications:

  • Processor: 2.1GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra dual-core processor ZM-80
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 3200
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium with SP 1 (64-bit)
  • Screen: 15.4" WSXGA+ High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Display (1680 x 1050)
  • Memory: 2GB (up to 4GB configurable)
  • Storage: 160GB SATA HDD (5400rpm)
  • Optical Drive: SuperMulti 8X DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer Support
  • Wireless and Communications: 802.11b/g WLAN
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion (10.8V, 47Wh)
  • Dimensions: 14.05" (W) x 10.2" (D) x 1.37" (min H)/1.65" (max H)
  • Weight: 5.84lbs
  • Warranty: 1-year

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The pricing on the dv5z starts at around $699.99 ($599.99 with $100 instant rebate), and our configuration has a few upgrades that brought the final price to $849.99 at the time of this writing. Needless to say, this is a fabulous price point for back-to-school shoppers.

Build and Design

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The dv5z has a new and improved design, replacing the long-lasting and much-loved dv6000 series chassis design. The display cover has the durable plastic Imprint finish, which holds up quite well to minor abrasion without scratching. The body of the notebook is smooth with rounded edges, making it extremely comfortable in your hand while carrying it around. The screen also sports a latchless design, making it easy to open the notebook with one hand. Although the lid lacks any latch to keep it held shut, the hinges feel fairly strong, keeping the lid secure. Pressing firmly onto the back of the screen cover will produce some ripples on the screen ... but you must apply significant pressure to cause this.

The plastic chassis is quite rigid and suffers from no flex or creaks even when twisted between my hands. Although I don't recommend tossing your notebook down a staircase, the dv5z should survive years of daily travel in a backpack or the occasional drop off a desk.

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Our dv5z features the "Mesh" Imprint Finish which looks the name implies: a fine gray mesh pattern over a black surface. The Imprint Finish on the dv5z is much more subtle than the previous designs we've seen on HP notebooks. I suspect most average consumers will find the mesh pattern more acceptable in workplace environments than the older generation patterns. While the dv5z still looks like an attractive consumer notebook, the Imprint Finish isn't quite as "splashy" or "busy" as it used to be.

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The bottom of the dv5z is quite simple with some nice heat vents located in strategic positions to help keep the laptop cool. The access panels on the bottom of the notebook make it easy to upgrade RAM, replace the hard disk drive, or replace the motherboard battery if needed. This arrangement makes it simple for the novice user to make upgrades, but more serious users will have to remove the entire base of the chassis in order to access the rest of the motherboard.

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The 15.4-inch diagonal WSXGA+ High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Display (1680 x 1050) is quite simply one of the best 15-inch screens I've seen on any notebook. Detail is amazing, colors are rich with deep contrast, backlighting is even across the entire surface, and viewing angles are good. There is some color inversion when you view the screen from below ... but how often do you tilt your screen back and view it that way?

Input and Output Ports

The dv5z has an impressive number of ports with some nice additions you won't find on most consumer notebooks. Here's a run down of the ports:

  • 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 eSATA port/USB port
  • ExpressCard/54 slot
  • HDMI 1.3 connector
  • 5-in-1 multi-card reader
  • Microphone in, two headphone/audio out ports
  • 1 Expansion Port 3 Docking Station Connector
  • 1 RJ -45 (LAN)
  • 1 VGA out
  • Kensington lock slot

While three USB ports might not sound like enough for a 15-inch notebook, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, this budget notebook comes with an eSATA/USB port which allows you to connect either a USB device or an eSATA device. Although USB is still a great connection method for accessories USB cannot provide fast data transfer rates for huge amounts of data. We need a faster way to transfer files as more and more consumers start storing their family videos, digital photos, and personal media collections on 2TB and larger external hard drives. This is where eSATA comes in. Without getting too technical, an eSATA port can transfer data to and from an eSATA-equipped external storage drive six times faster than USB.

The second important feature to consider on the dv5z is that HP still includes a dedicated docking station connector on their laptops for those of us who use our laptops as desktop replacements. This is far more important than most people realize. Most other notebook manufacturers have removed dedicated docking ports and now only offer USB docking stations. USB is great for connecting one or two devices at the same time, but if you are trying to transfer data, video, audio, and perhaps even your Ethernet connection over a single USB port you will suffer a major reduction in speed. The dedicated Expansion Port 3 on the dv5z can handle all of your docking station needs all at the same time with virtually no reduced performance.

HP deserves serious praise for adding the eSATA port and keeping the dedicated docking port when most of the competition doesn't offer these features on consumer notebooks.

While we're on the subject of ports, it's worth mentioning that the HDMI port also supports audio as well as video via a standard HDMI cable. Many laptops with HDMI ports only support video, but the dv5z supports both video and audio. To test this I connected the dv5z to my 1080p HDTV. As soon as I connected the HDMI cable the computer recognized the connection and asked if I wanted to extend my desktop or duplicate my desktop (I chose duplicate) and then I inserted a DVD into the notebook's drive.

The dv5z upscaled the DVD movie to a full 1080p resolution and upscaled the movie to 1680 x 1050 resolution for the built-in display. The video playback was flawless with no skipped frames and the audio synched perfectly with the action on the screen (or screens). This is quite impressive and is something you just don't expect to see on a budget notebook.

Performance and Benchmarks

HP offers the new Pavilion dv5z with a range of AMD processors, including the older generation 1.9GHz Athlon X2 QL-60 dual-core processor. However, the big news this year is the availability of AMD's new "Puma" platform with improved processors and graphics. The new AMD Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 2.1GHz dual-core processor is an obvious evolution of AMD processor technology, but the real news is the integrated graphics.

It isn't very often that we get excited about an integrated graphics processor (IGP). Every IGP on the market is painfully inferior to a dedicated graphics card and every IGP on the market struggles to handle high definition video and 3D video games. Not so with the ATI Radeon HD 3200. For the first time ever consumers have a low-cost IGP that offers flawless 1080p video playback and can even play many 3D video games at reasonable frame rates!

Let's take a look at a few basic benchmarks so you can get an idea of how the dv5z stacks up.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, this processor benchmark program is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, it measures the amount of time to run a set amount of calculations.

HDTune storage drive performance results:

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Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls

The keyboard on the Pavilion dv5z has zero flex and excellent key travel with quiet presses. I can't say with absolute certainty, but I suspect the keyboard is the same part used on the dv6700t (or at least the dv6780se we previously reviewed).

The keys have a durable coating which makes the keyboard look and feel better when typing. The slight glossy texture of the keys won't develop the typical "shine" that begins to show up on keys after extended use.

The dv5z also features attractive touch-sensitive media buttons that seemingly vanish behind the "liquid metal" surface when the computer is turned off, but light up when the notebook is turned on.

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The palm rest area features the same "Mesh" Imprint Finish used on the lid. The touchpad is nice and large and features a durable and responsive surface that is also covered in the HP Imprint Finish. The marked vertical scroll section is likewise accurate and responsive. The touchpad buttons have deep feedback and produce quiet, cushioned clicks.

One of the nice features found on HP touchpads is the touchpad on/off button. If you press the small button above the touchpad you can disable it ... perfect for people using an external mouse. Although the touchpad is quite nice I would have liked to see the same style of touchpad that HP started using on the tx1000z, tx2000z, tx2500z and HDX notebooks ... perhaps on next year's notebooks?

The reason I mention the touchpads on the other HP notebooks is because I have mixed opinions about the glossy touchpad on the dv5z. The touchpad surface feels nice and smooth, but if you have even slightly moist fingertips your finger with stick to the touchpad and you won't be able to drag the cursor in smooth, straight movements. As long as you have extremely dry skin (or use an external mouse) this won't be a problem.

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Another added bonus is the inclusion of a media remote. This little remote tucks away in the ExpressCard slot and is great for moving through slide presentations or for controlling the notebook when it's connected to your HDTV.


The speaker quality was "above average" for a notebook without a built-in subwoofer. The speakers for the dv5z are located at the top of the keyboard area beneath the media buttons.

There's not much to write home about the Altec Lansing speakers. They get loud enough with minimal distortion and the sound isn't as "tinny" as is the case with nearly all laptop speakers. However, the speakers don't produce the kind of output that "fills a room" the way you might want if you're listening to your music collection on the built-in speakers. On the brighter side, both audio out ports delivered crystal clear audio to my earphones during the test period.

Heat and Noise

The Pavilion dv5z does a reasonable job keeping heat under control. The system fan and heatsinks in the notebook do a great job managing heat when the system is under load ... as we discovered when we ran multiple benchmarks back to back. Below are images with temperature readings listed in degrees Fahrenheit:

Noise was likewise a non-issue with the fan on the dv5z. The fan moved a significant amount of hot air but the noise was reasonably quieter than what we hear on most budget notebooks. When the fan is on low it is perfectly silent. When the fan is on high (such as when the system is stressed while playing 3D video games) you can hear it running in a quiet room but it's still not as loud as many budget notebooks we've reviewed. Of course, the manufacturer of the cooling fan in your notebook might be different and the dv5z will produce more heat if you configure it with a dedicated graphics card, so your mileage (or decibels) may vary.

Battery Life

We knew it was too much to expect a budget notebook to be perfect, but we were a little disappointed by the battery life from the dv5z. The 6-cell 47WHr Li-Ion battery provides sub-par battery life for the dv5z. With Vista's power management running in "balanced" mode, screen brightness set to 50 percent and wireless on, the 6-cell battery delivered 2 hours and 22 minutes of battery life. By comparison, most budget notebooks can deliver more than two and a half hours of battery life on "high performance" mode with the screen set to maximum brightness.

There is also an available high-capacity 6-cell Li-Ion battery for those users needing extended battery life. It's odd that there is no 9-cell or 12-cell battery option at the time of this writing, but that may change in the future.


As I mentioned in our First Look, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about this notebook. First, we're just glad to see HP release a new notebook chassis design since they were using the same old dv6000 series design for several years. More importantly, we're in complete awe over the performance of the integrated graphics on this machine.

Sure, you can get better gaming performance if you spend more money for a notebook with a good dedicated graphics card, but you would have to purchase a mid-range or high performance dedicated card to surpass the performance of the integrated graphics in the dv5z. For the first time consumers shopping for a budget notebook don't have to sacrifice performance in order to have a low-cost laptop.

In the end, the HP Pavilion dv5z left me more than a little frustrated. The simple reality is that this budget notebook packs the best integrated graphics solution we've ever seen inside its sleek chassis. However, battery life was far too limiting. In fact, this notebook would have received an Editor's Choice Award if it could have managed at least 3 hours of battery life ... but 2 hours and 22 minutes is just unacceptable.

Also, it's hard to understand why HP doesn't allow consumer to purchase this notebook with a Blu-ray drive unless the system is configured with a dedicated graphics card. The new ATI Radeon HD 3200 IGP is perfectly capable of running a Blu-ray drive, so it makes no sense for HP to require consumers to purchase a dedicated graphics card.

If you can live with the poor battery life and lack of Firewire it's hard not to recommend this notebook to anyone and everyone needing a laptop for less than $900.


  • Amazing integrated graphics performance!
  • Great design and build quality
  • Amazing integrated graphics performance!
  • Fabulous screen
  • Amazing integrated graphics performance!
  • Great keyboard and media buttons
  • Amazing integrated graphics performance!
  • Includes HDMI and eSATA ports
  • Did I mention the AMAZING integrated graphics performance?


  • Poor battery life
  • No Firewire port
  • No built-in TV tuner option at time of this writing
  • No Blu-ray option with integrated graphics even though the HD 3200 IGP can handle it
  • Touchpad surface is either great or "sticky" depending on how dry your fingers are