You would expect some serious performance from a £950 laptop and, for the most part, the Pavilion dv7-6b51ea Beats Edition delivers. The CPU of choice is Intel’s Core i7-2670QM, a quad-core processor with support for up to eight virtual cores. It runs at 2.2GHz by default but can Turbo clock up to 3.1GHz, and will happily chomp its way through even the heaviest workloads. Incidentally, it’s the same chip we saw powering the Wired2Fire Vector Elite, a £1,500 gaming laptop.
8GB of RAM complements the CPU’s performance nicely. For permanent storage we have a 1TB hard drive, but no SSD. This is even more problematic as the HDD is a rather slow 5,400rpm model, resulting in relatively slow bootup times and long app loading times. On a system costing this much we would at least have expected a faster 7,200rpm drive or indeed an SSD. On the bright side, HP’s ProtectSmart tech will stop the drive if its accelerometer detects a fall, leaving your data more chance of surviving intact.
Graphics duties are handled by an AMD Radeon HD 6490M with 1GB of RAM. The 6490 is a budget to mid-range discrete card, slotting in below the 6500, 6600 and 6900 series. But at least it’s the top of its specific range, and will just about handle light gaming at low resolutions. TrackMania Nations Forever, for example, ran at a relatively smooth 55.1fps (frames per second) average, albeit at 1280 x 720 resolution and on Medium Detail. On the other hand, firing up Stalker: Call of Pripyat on the same settings got us an unplayable 25.7fps, so anyone who’s half serious about 3D gaming should look elsewhere.
Before we check out battery life, it’s worth mentioning HP’s CoolSense tech. This uses a sensor to detect whether the laptop is stationary (on a desk) or being used on your lap, and automatically adjusts clock speeds accordingly to regulate heat. This ensures you don’t feel like you could be frying an egg on your lap and keeps those fans from spinning up too much if you’re blocking any of the vents. Indeed, the Pavilion dv7 Beats Edition stayed nice and quiet throughout our testing.
Generally, desktop replacement laptops don’t fare too well when it comes to lasting away from the mains, but after the superlative performance of the Pavilion dm4-2101 with its nine hours, we had high hopes for this dv7. We weren’t disappointed either, as this 17in HP managed over six hours – that’s one of the best results we’ve yet seen from a consumer machine with a large screen and power-hungry innards.
Unfortunately, as with the other Beats Edition laptops before it, the £950 Pavilion dv7-6b51ea’s main stumbling block is its price, as you can easily get laptops with similar specifications – including screen resolution, CPU/GPU power, memory and storage - for under £800. However, they might not look as nice and most certainly won’t last as long on a charge, so if you’re looking for an attractive 17in laptop that you can take out and about, it may well be worth the premium.
Also consider that Apple will charge you more than double for a similarly configured MacBook Pro - £2260, in fact, and that’s without a Blu-ray drive. It might offer considerably more for that money - better build, better screen, slimmer profile, longer battery life, backlit keyboard and an arguably nicer OS - but in practical terms it’s simply not worth that difference. We'd much rather have this laptop plus a new iPad 3 and iPhone 4S, for instance. However, if you don’t mind a slightly smaller screen and don’t need Blu-ray, the award-winning Samsung Series 7 Chronos is a far better choice than either.
The HP Pavilion dv7 Beats Edition, and specifically the dv7-6b51ea model under review, is a stylish 17in desktop replacement laptop that’s crammed with power despite its slow hard drive. You do pay a premium, but if you want the closest thing to a 17in MacBook Pro or you need a large laptop that will last you hours away from the mains, it might just be worth it.