Mac vs PC 2011: Looking for the best 17-inch desktop replacement?

It’s round three in our series comparing the recently revamped Apple MacBook Pro range with Sandy Bridge CPUs against their nearest PC equivalents to see who offers the best product that combines style and raw computing power. We’ve previously looked at the best Core i5 13in ultraportable and best Core i7 13in ultraportable matchups and this time we’re jumping to the opposite end of the form factor spectrum: 17in desktop replacements. It’s the Apple MacBook Pro 17in’s turn (MC725X/A model) to sink or swim against the best opposition the PC world can muster.

Before going further it’s worth going over what we mean by “desktop replacement”. Most notebooks are portable to a greater or lesser degree but once the screen gets to 17in or higher the portability declines (and the components hopefully ramp up) to the point where it’s really an alternative to a full-blown desktop machine. Massive 17in notebook screens are great for tasks like editing images and videos watching movies or having more than one productivity application clearly visible at any one time. Effectively they’re supercharged all-rounder notebooks – capable of replacing your desktop while still offering portability (when you’re up to the challenge of lugging them around that is).

Looks like a Mac but can it outperform a Mac? HP’s Envy 17-2002tx.

Today’s competitor for the Mac is the most equal machine in terms of specs and presentation on the market: the HP Envy 17-2002tx. It has admittedly cribbed Apple’s style but the completely aluminium exterior and very high-end specs are a combination that’s as good looking as it is powerful. In terms of meeting the 17in MacBook Pro on its own terms you won’t find a more worthy desktop replacement competitor. The Mac retails for $2899 while the HP is just $100 more.

Apple MacBook Pro 17in (MC725X/A) vs HP Envy 17-2002tx

There’s a slight difference in processor between the two machines: the HP has an Intel Core i7-2630QM (2GHz that can turbo boost to 2.9GHz) while the Apple has the slightly faster Intel Core i7-2720QM (2.2GHz that can turbo boost up to 3.3GHz). Additionally the HP has 8GB of RAM compared to the Apple’s 4GB and the HP has 2TB of hard disk drive storage compared to the Apple’s comparatively tiny 750GB.

The HP packs an AMD Radeon HD 6850M which is slightly more powerful than the AMD Radeon HD 6750M in the Apple. Things continue in the HP’s favour when the screens are brought into the picture. The Apple has a 17in model with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 which is slightly higher than the HP’s 17.3in 1920 x 1080. Where the HP model pulls ahead is the fact that it is 3D capable – a nice addition and something we don’t expect to see on a Mac any time soon.

Sweating the small stuff

Both machines have Gigabit Ethernet a/b/g/n Wi-Fi cameras microphones and stereo speakers but from there it gets a bit murky. The Apple has a DVD burner one uniquely fast Thunderbolt port one FireWire 800 port a trio of USB 2.0 ports and a card reader along with a pair of audio jacks. The HP on the other hand has a Blu-ray reader along with a VGA port a HDMI port two audio jacks a USB 3.0 port two USB 2.0 ports one USB 2.0/eSATA combo port an RJ45 port and a Mini-VGA port. We’d have to hand it to the HP here; it simply has much greater variety which is vital in a desktop replacement.

Apple’s 17in model is the king of the MacBook Pro line.

Presence and portability

But specs aren’t all there is to the story. When it comes to battery life the MBP has a remarkable four-hour lead on the competition: the HP’s reported battery life is three hours while the MacBook Pro is quoted at a very respectable seven hours. Portability is another area where the Apple clearly pulls ahead. It weighs 2.99kg and measures a truly slender 25mm thick 267mm deep and 393mm wide. While still portable the HP lags behind noticeably; it weighs 3.28kg and measures a bulkier 31.7mm thick 275mm deep and 416mm wide.

Lookswise we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the smooth polished surfaces and svelte profile give the Mac a genuinely elegant and refined appearance. However HP’s offering looks pretty much identical. It may not have the Apple’s aluminium unibody construction but the overall presentation is still all smooth surfaces and polished metal. The slightly more slender profile of the Apple gives it a slight visual edge over HP but there’s not much in it considering how great both products look.


If you’re in the market for a heavy-duty 17in notebook we think the HP Envy 17-2002tx is the better choice. The specs of the HP are generally superior to the MBP. Storage and RAM in particular are significantly more generous while the graphics card is slightly better as well. While the Apple has a slightly better processor overall the HP’s advantages across the board generally outweigh this perk. The MacBook Pro is ahead in battery life by a massive margin plus it takes the lead in portability (both in weight and thinness) but while the HP is bulkier and heavier this may not be especially important given both machines will likely stick on your desktop most of the time. And a price difference of $100 is negligible at this level.

The MacBook Pro 17in is a fine product in it’s own right but for our money if we were in the market for a Sandy Bridge desktop replacement that’s as good looking as it is powerful the HP Envy 17-2002tx is what we’d choose.

Check our Notebook Hunter
service for good deals and Top 10 notebooks in several categories. If
you want to ask questions about notebooks go to our newly-launched
Notebook Hunter
Facebook page and submit one in the discussions area.