Laptop Review – HP Pavilion DM1

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I recently bought a HP Pavilion dm1 laptop – here’s my review..

As my two old Compaq laptops are starting to fail (both from fan issues – one having been through several fans already), I started to look around for a suitable replacement. I decided to take advantage of the trend towards smaller, slimmer, lighter notebooks and find something that would be good for both travel use (including inner-city rail commutes) and for serious home use.

As a programmer I couldn’t really settle for less than a full (or near-full) sized keyboard. Frequent multi-finger key combinations quickly become torturous as the keyboard size decreases.

The screen size also has some natural programming-enforced lower limits. For one, it must be able to display the full width of a standard webpage. HD resolution would be ideal. Playing around with laptops in-instore, it seemed that 11 inch screens were as low as I could reasonably go.

I wanted the laptop to be as light as possible. Ideally around the 1.5kg mark, so that it could be taken on as carry-on luggage if needed. My 3.5kg Compaqs take up about half of a typical carry-on allowance making them impractical for air travel.

I also wanted something with enough grunt that performance isn’t a bottleneck, like I’ve found it is with Intel Atom-based netbooks.

Other than that, I just wanted something as cheap as possible.

After rejecting a few options I found the HP Pavilion dm1, and found a local distributer selling it for $400.

It fit my criteria perfectly: 1.5kg, dual core AMD, 11.2 inch screen and a decent-sized keyboard. So I took the punt and ordered it without having physically seen it.

When it arrived and I got a chance to check it out, I was pleased with what I’d got.

The case was sleek. It’s not the most robust case (I managed to put a scratch in the plastic case in the morning while stuffing it into my travel bag), but the lightweight plastic casing clearly contributes to the low weight of the device.

Though the laptop has no CD/DVD drive (not something that I’ll miss), it otherwise has all the ports I need. That includes a VGA port, something that is lacking in many lightweight laptops.

The keyboard is a good size and easy to use. The only casualty of the slight reduction in keyboard size is that the up and down arrow keys have been made half-size (so they fit in the space of a single key). Annoying as this sounds, it’s actually easy to adjust to and has so far given me no problems.

The laptop came preloaded with the usual raft of unwanted vendor software (HP this time, of course). So I had to spend a day uninstalling all of this. One setting on the laptop which I have not yet managed to disable is adaptive screen brightness. I like this feature on the iPhone where it works as so: when it detects a lot of ambient light the screen brightens and it dims when the light is low. Makes sense and works perfectly. On my HP however, the following happens: If the contents of the screen is mainly white, the screen brightens and if the contents of the screen are mainly dark, the screen dims. Now the screen spends its time going brighter and darker as you switch windows. Very distracting and entirely unhelpful. Worse still, if you attempt to use it in the dark, e.g. in bed while your partner tries to sleep, it will flash bright whenever you open a white-ish window. And then dim to the point of unreadability at other times. Even worse, it doesn’t limit itself to mangling the brightness, it also messes with the colors. It sometimes entirely fades light greys to white, even when the brightness of the screen dictates the grey should be visible. I spent ages looking for what I thought must be a bug in Calcatraz, where I first saw the effect in action. Only after much wasted debugging time did I figure out what was really going on.

One other thing to note about the laptop is that the harddrive has a quite audible tick noise which occurs every second or two under heavy harddrive usage. It occurs at other times too, but less noticeably. It’s not generally a problem, except in the aforementioned working-in-bed scenario.

All up, I’m happy with the purchase. And I’ll be happier still once I find a way to disable the screen brightness adjustment (though it seems that even disabling the “adaptive brightness” service is not enough). For a total cost of $400 plus 2 days wasted time (uninstalling and false bughunts), I’ve got a laptop that is perfect for my needs, baring a couple of relatively minor issues.

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