Affordable ultra-portable laptops are the in thing at the moment. Intel and Acer started the ball rolling last year with the Acer Aspire Timeline systems, including the outstanding Aspire 1810TZ (winner of our Best Portable Laptop award last year), but HP and AMD also teamed up to produce the promising (yet ultimately flawed) HP Pavilion dv2. Now the two have joined forces again to produce the HP Pavilion dm3-1020ea we're looking at today. And, though it's available with Intel power as well, the dm3 is proof positive that AMD might finally have a platform that can compete with Intel's.
While the dm3 is in fact larger than the dv2, based as it is on a 13.3in display vs. the 12.1in of the dv2, the shared lineage is clear to see. The dm3 has the same alluringly slim chassis and elegant lines that instantly drew us to the dv2; it's just a bit larger and, at 1.9kg, heavier.
It's prettier, too. Gone is the ghastly reliance on glossy black plastic; in is a chic-looking brushed aluminium adorning both the lid and body of the machine. It combines with the still glossy black bezel and faux-chrome trim to great effect, making this a machine that looks and feels a good deal more expensive than the £540 it'll set you back. It's a class act.
This design prowess is matched to a decent sounding spec. Directing proceedings is a dual-core AMD Athlon Neo X2 L335 CPU running at a decent 1.6GHz. It's backed up by a plentiful 4GB of RAM, ATI's capable Mobility Radeon HD3200 integrated graphics and a zippy 7,200rpm, 320GB hard drive - all good signs that the dm3 will perform well. And, despite the chassis being too slim to house an integrated optical drive, HP is kind enough to provide an external 8x DVD Re-writer drive in the box. It has LightScribe support as well, allowing you to burn disc labels using the drive.
Not everything is as we'd like, though. Network connectivity is restricted to slower 10/100 'Fast' Ethernet and Wireless-G Wi-Fi, as opposed to the Gigabit and Wireless-N Wi-Fi oft demanded these days, though Bluetooth is at least included. Whether the dm3's lacklustre network speed matters is up for debate. Many ordinary users probably won't see the problem, but those with more demanding tastes might baulk at these restrictions.
General connectivity, on the other hand, is good enough. It might lack niceties like eSATA or standby powered USB ports, but the dm3 has HDMI and VGA for video and a total of four USB ports - a good number for a portable machine like this. These are joined by a memory card reader, audio jacks for headphones and a microphone, and the Ethernet port.
All these ports are neatly integrated, with none jutting out or looking unsightly. Somewhat unusually the sliding power switch resides on the right edge, accompanied by a wireless radio toggle button. Other shortcut buttons of note include one above the touchpad for deactivating it, while the Caps Lock, mute and scroll lock keys all have small LED indicators next to them - all thoughtful touches.