The netbook-killing HP DV2

Analyst Opinion – The concept of the Netbook was originally based on the idea of a connected device with a few gigabytes of flash memory, a screen in the 7″ range, and a price target of $100.  The $100 price point turned out to be a pipe dream and netbooks kind of grew up.  Now they are priced in the $400+ range, generally have 10″ or larger screens, 60+ gigabyte hard drives, and are little different in their capability from a notebook computer with the constant variable being crappy graphics, a low powered CPU and that small 10″ wide screen. But there is another option.


   
At the other end of the spectrum we have had 12″ notebooks which offer more performance, but have been geared towards the high end of the space for some time. The DV2, which is kind of a cross between a $2000 Notebook and a $400 Netbook, comes in at a price point close to the netbook but with a capability closer to a small notebook making me wonder if those older concepts will survive much longer.
 
So, what if, for a few hundred dollars more, you could remove the performance limitations and create a product that had fewer major tradeoffs and could actually be your primary carry box even though it remained thin and light? And what if that product sold for around a third the price of many similar notebook computers?  That is what the DV2 attempts to do and I’ve been using one for the last several days. This kind of performance could mean the beginning of the end to idea of a netbook or even a small Notebook priced over $1000.
   
Let’s talk about what the DV2 this week, what it means to AMD, and what my initial impressions are.

AMD

The DV2 represents AMD first major set into the mobile space and it is as much a proof of concept as a new offering. They believe that the market can be better served by an inexpensive platform that better serves the graphics needs better then Intel does. You’ll see AMD build on the foundation they have created with this bundle of GPU and CPU with future products that increasingly benefit from the work they are doing to improve the optimization between both parts.  So this is designed to showcase that AMD can play in this space but, like all first attempts, expect strong improvement with future offerings. Think of this as one of an increasing number of products that will allow us to see the new AMD and what they are capable of.   

The DV2

The HP DV2 is a thin (.93”), light (3.8 lbs), and at around $750 (Costco has it for $750, others places have it for $899 + $50 rebate) it is clearly affordable. There is an $150 option for a Blu-ray external drive and this is the first product in its class that, to my knowledge, has this option. Like the MacBook Air, the optical drive is external, it comes with 4 GB of memory, a 1.6 GHz AMD single core Neo MV CPU, a whopping 5400rpm 320GB hard drive, LED backlit screen, built in Gobi (WAN), HDMI, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader.

It is covered in the now signature HP style of gloss black with a subtle inlayed design.   The touch pad looks like polished silver and looks very rich against the gloss black finish of the rest of the box.   It has SRS and Altec Lansing speakers which put out impressive sound, a built in 1.3 Megapixel camera and one of the nicest looking screens in the market with a 1280 x800 resolution and still rare LED backlighting (lower power, brighter screen).  

In the end, on spec, it compares favorably to the Toshiba R600, which costs nearly three times more. That is a nice value in a market screaming for high value products.  

In use

The product feels high quality and the graphics performance exceeds anything else short of a gaming box that I’ve had in this year. The mouse pad is just as good as it looks and the Blu-ray performance is stunning. For those that want to take Blu-ray on the road this may be worth it just for that.
 
It is similar to an Intel Atom, which is to say you miss the second core (for instance when you first get it and it is indexing in the background you’ll notice a lot of lag)  and the box runs a bit hot requiring the fan to run all the time. It’s not horrible but you’ll notice it in an otherwise quiet hotel room.  Most notebook computers make a similar noise though so this is hardly unique.    
If you like to play games like World of Warcraft work fine, this is a mobile discrete graphics system so you’ll still need to turn down your graphics settings a little if you want to play 3D games at decent frame rates.  But, even so, it should easily outperform most systems with integrated graphics.  

Even with the 6-cell optional battery, battery life isn’t great – it is listed at around 3 hours.  I put in the Blu-ray version of 5th Element and with the radio turned on, the system started warning at 10% battery life about 15 minutes from the end of the movie.  If I put it into a lower power mode and turned off the radio, it would complete the movie this is a natural for a bigger battery or an AC/DC aftermarket power adapter like the new iGo everywhere85.  
     

Blu-ray

One of the problems with Blu-Ray is that there are no portable players in the market yet and, when they arrive, they’ll likely be very expensive. If you want to watch a movie in multiple rooms of your house, or for the kinds in the car, or on the road, you really can’t unless you want to buy a very expensive and rare notebook computer that has the drive. Putting this capability into the DV2, albeit with an external gloss black and silver drive, creates what may be the most portable of the portable options for Blu-ray at the moment and that may be attractive to at least some who are thinking of this offering. One nit is I think the Blu-ray upgrade should come with a remote control, though I understand this will work with an HP laptop remote (I haven’t tried that yet). By the way, given this drive is USB and external, you could likely use it with other PCs as well.  


Wrapping up

In a market looking for values, this is a good one – particularly if someone wants a portable Blu-ray drive and it is a good testament to how far AMD has come since buying ATI. I’d still like better processor performance, less fan noise and better battery life to make this a near perfect offering, but it is hard to deny that at $750 this is one heck of a deal. As it was designed to be, this is a product that falls within the price range of netbooks and provides capabilities that exceed many $2000 products.
   
I think the DV2 is a picture of what is to come, ever more performance in an ever smaller size at an ever more affordable price.  Now that is a trend I can get behind. 


Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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