The big test … Inter Core Power (Part 3) - HP DV7-6103ea & Packard Bell EasyNote TS13

4/26/2012 11:28:16 AM

HP DV7-6103ea

Price: $1200

Ratings: 4 stars

Description: HP DV7-6103ea - solidly built mid-range machine for multimedia at a good price

HP DV7-6103ea - solidly built mid-range machine for multimedia at a good price

HP’s surprising partnership with hip-hop producer Dr. Dre has not just increased the manufacturer’s cool points. More importantly, it has brought some much-needed quality to the beleaguered world of laptop speakers. Although HP’s mid-range, multimedia DV7-6103ea isn’t quite as sleek as the company’s Envy range, it has snaffled the Envy’s same design finesse and also comes with the superior Beats Audio experience.

Taking another leaf from the Envy range, this laptop is solidly built and looks fantastic. The burnished gun metal finish gives a great streaky effect, adorning the top of the lid and surrounding the chiclet keyboard. Shame it’s only plastic but, at 3kg, it feels sturdy enough.

In terms of portability, it’s never going to be light on a 17.3-inch chassis, but at 416 x 275 x 36mm, at least the DV7-6103ea is svelte.

The keyboard is a mixed blessing, however. Typing for long period is fine, thanks to the sturdy travel on the keys while number-crunchers will appreciate the full numeric keypad.

Unfortunately, the arrow keys are crushed into a single row and are difficult to find. We were also disappointed with the keyboard’s touchpad, which is a little compact for out liking.

Audio goodness

Opening up the DV-6103ea reveals the enormous subwoofer. Inside this sits above the board to deliver sound out and up rather than underneath, where it would be more muffled. As we expected, the laptop produces more powerful sound than most other laptops, though it’s never going to beat the throw of external speakers.

The Blu-ray player sits on the right-hand side and ports are standard fare, with two fast USB 3.0 and two standard USB 2.0 ports, a VGA out and an HDMI out so you can connect to other high-definition devices. There’s even a multi-card reader and internal USB remote and a fingerprint reader for added security.

The 1,600 x 900-pixel LED HP BrightView display is impressively vibrant, although the gloss sheen does make it harder to view in strong natural light. Watching The Dark Knight movie, the low lightning meant we lost a lot of detail, but the details revealed with the lights off impressed – even though it’s not Full HD.

The DV-6103ea has AMD’s Quad-Core A6-3410MX fusion GPU and CPU, which is great mobile technology for enhancing battery life. With a generous 6GB of memory, we had no lag or stutter on video playback but latest games will struggle, however. There’s an enormous 1.5TB of storage for all of your applications and media.

Students especially will love the cool design and the kudos that comes from a Dr. Dre-endorsed laptop, but if you’re more concerned with getting the most for your money, you may not be swayed by the DV-6103ea’s charms.

But, if you’re looking for a smart, new multimedia machine that’s adept with both movies and music, the DV-6103ea is a great choice that won’t break the bank.

Packard Bell EasyNote TS13

Price: $750

Ratings: 4 stars

Description: Packard Bell EasyNote TS13 - a 15-inch machine and a surprising result for a surprising price

Packard Bell EasyNote TS13 - a 15-inch machine and a surprising result for a surprising price

With its EasyNote TS13-HR-038UK, Packard Bell has created a big, colourful and well-built laptop for just shy of $750. Call us suspicious, but the question we instantly ask it, ‘what’s been left out?’ Fortunately, the answer is ‘not a lot’; it’s startling how much has been included.

For starters, this EasyNote is a looker for a family-oriented machine. The smooth surface isn’t too glossy, thanks to a patterned design laid on, and while the base is a bit plasticky it’s far from offensive. All the essentials are right: a solid keyboard; near-frictionless mousepad (if a bit cramped) and a screen that doesn’t wobble around when you start to type.

That screen is huge for the price too and comfortable for running 720p movies or playing the occasional game. Its resolution is a little low for such a large desktop area, which does make text and icons overly large and a little childlike. That said, it’s a far more vibrant and colour accurate panel than you’ll often get for twice the price. The screen is often the first thing to suffer when it comes to cost cutting, but this EasyNote beats the Zenbook for visual punch, even if it doesn’t have the deep blacks of the Acer 8951G.

Impressive performer

What’s interesting about this laptop is the Core i3 Sandy Bridge processor. It may well be at the bottom of the ladder for Sandy Bridge performance, but it’s a short ladder. Unless you’re editing HD videos for a living, there isn’t a noticeable difference between it and the most expensive processor for regular desktop applications – and there’s really no reason to spend more.

Even when it comes to gaming, you won’t find many more frames per second on a Core i7 compared with a Core i3, as the onboard graphic processor is identical in both – and that’s the bottleneck in performance, not the CPU. Team a Core i7 up with a discrete graphics processor and it’ll fly, but no laptop with just the stock Intel graphics is going to be good for gaming. The TS13 will struggle to get newer games such as Batman Arkham City running at all, but so will the Zenbook. Older titles – World of Warcraft, for example – are fine with some details turned down.

So where have the corners been cut? Well, first of all there’s the terrible battery life. We expected a lot more from the battery, but that large screen requires a lot of juice to run. In real world use, you’ll get more than the two-and-a-half hours our stress tests produced by lowering the brightness. But this is a laptop best used somewhere close to a power supply than out and about on the road. The speakers aren’t much cop either, but then few laptops can claim anything beyond the notorious end-of-the-telephone sound.

As a general-purpose machine to use around the home, it’s hard to think of one that betters this EasyNote. Yes, it’s absolutely worth upgrading to the Samsung for better graphics, but it’s not so much ‘entry level’ as a gauntlet thrown down to beat it.

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