When we first heard about the HDX months ago, we wondered exactly where the market for a 20-inch notebook would be. The answer became obvious once it hit our desks -- the luxury market. This thing can only be described as luxurious, although the term "really, really, freaking huge" crossed our minds a few times.
Since this "lapbehemoth" really doesn't fit the normal mould, there's a fair amount to cover here. A lot of the machine is done in piano black with inlaid tribal designs -- which does look reasonably nice, until all the designs become obscured by smudges from your fingers. An HP logo on the back of the screen lights up once the machine powers on, presumably using the monitor's own backlight as the source.
The monitor itself is connected to the base by a double hinge -- so after swinging it out from the base, the bottom of the screen can be tilted via another hinge at the top of the neck, for more comfortable viewing. A slight design flaw in the neck means that the monitor cannot be returned flush against the neck to close the notebook until the neck is almost 100 percent vertical -- not a show stopper, but definitely an irritant as you have flashbacks to playing with transformers as a kid, trying to get that one part to click in that never does. A basic 0.3MP Webcam is situated at the top of the screen, stereo microphone inputs flanking either side. Altec Lansing speakers are built into the bottom of the monitor, with separate bass and treble control.
The touchpad area is not recessed in the traditional style, HP choosing to raise the wrist rest instead and create an artificial dip. The touchpad itself is dotted with indents, like the perforated surface of an air hockey table, the scroll section isolated by a section with no indents. For some reason it also has an on/off button, although we never encountered a situation where it was accidentally activated, so we're not sure of the purpose. The two buttons beneath the touchpad sink far too much into the base when pressing to be comfortable, feeling sluggish and non responsive as a result.
The keyboard has possibly the best response we've had on a notebook, and the separated numpad will keep accountancy geeks happy, rather than having to do the function key dance.
Blue LED lit capacitive touch buttons above the keyboard give access to HP's "Quick Play" application suite -- a media centre that will run DVDs, let you watch television over the notebook's analog/digital tuner, access Vista's game browser, play music, or, heaven forbid, sing karaoke. The rest are the usual smattering of media player controls, with a wireless on/off and volume/treble/bass control to boot. A fingerprint reader sits smack in the middle of all of these, surrounded by piano black, a not so sensible choice considering it's somewhere you'll be continuously swiping your finger, leaving residue behind. A pointless optical drive eject button sits at the far right, around three centimetres away from the actual eject button on the drive itself.
To the left is a Windows Media Center compatible remote control, for all intents and purposes looking like a mobile phone. This needs to be released from the base using a momentary switch, but it'll function just fine if you leave it in. The docking bay it's kept in isn't as insulated as well as the rest of the notebook, meaning that the remote ends up feeling quite toasty when you remove it.
To match the monolithic notebook, a monolithic power adaptor is included, the power brick weighing in at around double the size of the average.
It's as if the designer took one look at the notebook shelf, and said "Yep! We'll have everything!" An HD DVD ROM sits to the right, although the 1,680x1,050 resolution of the screen will mean you'll only get true 1080p viewing by pushing video out the HDMI port on the left. VGA is also available, but there's a great lack of DVI and no HDMI > DVI converter is included, which means punters will have to buy a third party cable.
Four USB ports, one firewire, an SD/MS/MMC/xD card reader and express port finish out the pluggables, with the startling inclusion of an eSATA port, which we can only commend. HP's proprietary "Expansion Port 3" is there as well for HP bought docks, but frankly we would have preferred a DVI port. On the back is output for up to 7.1 sound, S-Video output and an aerial jack for the TV tuner.
On the networking side things are near complete, with Intel A/G/N wireless, gigabit Ethernet, and BlueTooth 2.0. There is no dial-up modem.
The hardware is nothing short of impressive -- including an Intel Core 2 Extreme X7800, at 2.6GHz. The benefit of the Extreme series is that it comes multiplier unlocked, allowing overclockers to get a bit more out of their system -- however HP does not offer any settings in its BIOS or software tools to take advantage of this, and a fair chunk of money could be saved by taking a slightly less speedy non-extreme edition, for which the average user will never see the speed difference. Dual 200GB hard drives, 2GB RAM, and an ATI Mobility Radeon 2600 complete the specs, meaning that the unit could potentially be a decent mobile video editing station as well -- although the 5400RPM hard drives could hinder this. While the ATI mobility Radeon 2600 is a DirectX 10 capable card, there are better solutions available from NVIDIA for gaming, so best to keep this as a multimedia device.
The default install was Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit, the first circumstance we've seen of a non-32-bit default install on a notebook. In a bizarre cross-branding, Google Toolbar was installed for Internet Explorer, yet Yahoo was set as the default search engine and homepage of the unit.
A lower model with an Intel Core 2 Duo T7700, a DVD+-RW in place of the HD DVD ROM and Vista Home Premium exists, and will knock a hefty AU$1,000 off the AU$5,999 asking price of our review unit. We apologise to those whose dreams just got broken and are sobbing in the corner over the cost. High rollers though, step this way.
Of course the performance was always going to be through the roof with this thing, although offerings like Alienware's SLI notebooks will clearly dominate the gaming aspect. 3DMark06 gave back a decent 4228, while PCMark05 gave a mind boggling 5586.
The sound is flat out the best thing we've heard in a notebook, although given the size this isn't surprising. Nonetheless it certainly helps fulfil the HDX's role as a media centre.
All of this power however contributes a massive power bill, and after turning off all power saving functions and setting the screen to maximum brightness, the nine-cell battery only survived 58 minutes while playing back a DVD. We don't expect this to spend long time away from wall power as it is, so the low battery time is unlikely to affect most people.
HP's Pavilion HDX is quite possibly the best example of a "because we can" item that we've seen in a while -- most will opt to save and simply buy a normal HTPC -- but for those who don't mind dabbling on the luxury side, are attracted to insane power and like showing off, then it's a must buy item.