FIRST REVIEW: HP HDX 18: now this is how desktop replacements should be done

It certainly doesn’t come cheap but damn! The new HP HDX X18-1013TX (FZ946PA) is a beauty. With an 18.4in 1920 x 1080 screen a Blu-ray player a DVB-T/Analogue TV-tuner and a lovely speaker setup this is one of the most enjoyable desktop replacements we’ve managed to get our grubby little hands on. Whether it sits on its own or finds itself wired to a home entertainment system you’re going to get some serious enjoyment out of this notebook. A great many quotes come to mind but in the words of Donna Summer ‘she works hard for the money’.

Normally it’s prudent to jump into some specs and features but today we’re going to begin with the screen.  HP’s decision to run with an 18.4in widescreen display works brilliantly. The notebook itself doesn’t stand out as particularly big because of it but the booming screen has you like a dear in headlights. It’s beautifully bright – too bright at the max – and it’s wonderfully sharp. We noticed it exhibits some minor ghosting during specific tests but found our movie watching experience to be unaffected. All in all it’s a fairly pimpin’ display.

The speaker system really backs it up too. Not only do the premium Altec Lansing speakers dish out clean audio but a subwoofer kicks in the bass. Among the touch sensitive media controls above the keyboard is a set of volume controls including bass and treble volume adjustments. Admittedly it could be louder but it’s still sufficient to fill a small area in front of it; say from a coffee table to a couch.

Things on the inside are pretty sweet as well. Though there are more powerful notebook CPUs on the market the Intel Core 2 Duo 45nm T9400 running at 2.53GHz with a 1066Hz FSB and a 6MB L2 cache is a very solid piece of silicon. This combined with 4GB of DDR2 800MHz RAM give the HDX X18-1013TX plenty of room to move. Certainly in our PCMark Vantage benchmark test run under Windows Vista Home Premium we saw a promising score of 4012. This outdoes our recently tested HP Pavilion dv7-1101 by about 300 PCMarks despite the two systems being virtually identical in the core hardware specifications.

Also installed is an NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB of dedicated memory of its own. This plays a pivotal role in the smooth playback of high definition media such as Blu-ray discs but also provides some opportunity to play games. Notebook graphics are typically less powerful than their desktop equivalents and as such this card is not going to run games like Crysis with all the bells and whistles. However it’s no slouch either and many DirectX 9-based games should run even if you have to tone down the resolution a tad. In our run of 3DMark Vantage we got a score of 1233.

Some other fairly standard HP perks have been thrown in including a LightScribe DVD RW +DL drive which can burn funky labels onto special LightScribe discs by using the drive’s own laser. The aforementioned touch sensitive controls also include playback buttons an eject button a Wi-Fi on/off button and a shortcut button for HP’s MediaSmart software. MediaSmart is basically the same as the QuickPlay software that you’ll find on other HP models but has been tweaked a little. It’s not something that usually justifies a comment but we found the MediaSmart interface a little better. With a quick touch of the button you’re offered a Vista ‘Alt Tab’-like pane with shortcuts to the TV-tuner channel selection a video library music and photos libraries. It’s intuitive and agreeable.

If software’s your thing then you may also like the HP Total Care application which helps new users maintain their system by assisting with security updates and so forth. If you’re a veteran user then you’ll ditch it and all the other unwanted desktop icons in the first five minutes of buying this machine.

As standard a media card reader is present as well as an Express card slot four USB ports and a mini FireWire port. One of the USB ports shares its real estate with an eSATA port which is a tactic HP has taken with a number of its models. No media-centric notebook with a Blu-ray player would be complete without an HDMI port which is also included. We do like the way the HDX X18-1013 has all its ports on the side panels or below the front edge of the notebook omitting any need to reach around to the back of the unit. There’s a webcam and built-in microphone at the top of the screen for those Skype addicts out there.

The design is pretty schmick. The lid is a light grey with darker swirls and a few white highlights. The actual palm rest and speakers are a darker grey/black and the side panels are silver which looks suave overall. The keyboard itself is large and spacious with a full number pad on the right. Hiding down in the bottom right barely visible is a fingerprint scanner for a little extra biometric security. This may not be the biggest point of interest when at a whopping 4kgs it’s probably never going to leave your home. However the added option is certainly nothing to complain about.

Despite the large 8-cell battery that’s included in the package this monster really chews its way through the battery and only managed to muster an hour and 35 minutes of battery life. This is actually quite fair considering the size and power consumption required to keep a machine like this going but certainly pigeonholes it as a desktop replacement. Granted the DVD rundown test is a juice hungry test and the system will last longer under regular day-to-day conditions but don’t plan on using it away from a power source for long.

Although it’s going to put a fairly decent dent in your wallet the HP HDX-X18-1013TX is a really nice computer. Not only is it a great high-definition media centre but it’s portable and will double as a light gaming system or home-office computer. A big double thumbs up.