The HP Pavilion dv2 is the first laptop to use AMD's Athlon Neo processor, delivering reasonable power, in a tiny notebook frame, for a moderate price.

Some think that the netbook category will gradually disappear as the division between mini and regular laptop starts to blur. There's already a creep upward in price and specs of many netbook models, with Windows essentially ubiquitous, and a general drift away from the original ethos of small, cheap, and fast booting.

The common ingredient to most netbooks has been the Intel Atom processor, but now AMD has answered the challenge with a lower power processor, codenamed Yukon. Lower power it may be, at around 15W TDP, but this chip is still appreciably hungrier and hotter than a 4W Intel Atom.

The HP Pavilion dv2 is the first laptop to use AMD's new Athlon Neo MV-40 processor. But where Intel has pared the Atom down to the near minimum, sacrificing raw performance in order to hit lower power consumption targets, the Neo promises a little more oomph.

In size, price and performance, the HP Pavilion dv2 is certainly sitting between netbook and notebook. Its clock speed is 1.6GHz - the same as an Atom - although it will quickly underclock to 800MHz when idle.

You can find the HP Pavilion dv2 with an ATI Radeon X1250 integrated graphics processor; or as we tested, with a discrete HD 3410 graphics card. Other options are a choice of either dual-layer DVD writer or Blu-ray reader optical drives, available as external USB units supplied in the box.

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By giving the HP Pavilion dv2 a 12in screen, HP has reinforced that 'tweener positioning, being larger than the netbook 10in standard, and smaller than the 13in-15in size of most other laptops. In weight too, it's well below the 2.5kg+ of a regular notebook, at just over 1.6kg when packing its standard four-cell battery.

In processor performance, we were glad to see that the HP Pavilion dv2 is conspicuously more powerful CPU than the Intel Atom. They may carry the same headline figure of 1.6GHz, but in our tests the AMD Neo 64 was around 40% faster.

Where most netbooks with Atom processors will hit around 35 points in the WorldBench 6 real-world test, this AMD-equipped HP Pavilion dv2 notched up 48 points. And that's running the corpulent Windows Vista Home Premium. Give the dv2 a less onerous OS, such as the XP found on most netbooks, and we'd probably see the truth of a bigger gap between Atom and Neo.

The HP Pavilion dv2 is a neatly designed notebook, especially if you like high-gloss finishes. From the shiny reflective screen to the lacquered bodywork to the gleaming metallic touchpad, the HP Pavilion dv2 is a highly polished affair, rounded off with chrome-effect plastic side trim.

The HP Pavilion dv2 includes HDMI and VGA video outputs, three USB ports and a multi-card reader on its sides, and 802.11n wireless and 320GB hard disk inside. Graphics performance is better than that from any low-cost netbook - we noted 10 frame per second in our FEAR game test, a figure that can be raised to playability levels by dropping detail settings.

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As we've found with other recent HP laptops, the keyboard of the HP Pavilion dv2 is a something of a saving grace, possessing excellent action, crowned with beautifully sculpted key tops. Trackpad and mouse buttons are also commendably well specified and easy to use.

Unfortunately, battery life of the HP Pavilion dv2 was well short of our expectations for a modern compact notebook. So much so, we held back publishing our review after AMD promised that the impending next version, the HP Pavilion dv2z, had ironed out such issues. But that model, we now learn, is still some time away for these shores.

We measured 129 minutes lifespan using the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test. At little over two hours, that's a disappointing performance for a brand new portable. We were told that using Windows 7 would help - but if true, that would nudge up scores of all laptops and hardly improve the dv2's cause. A new BIOS update also helps, we were told. So we updated to the latest F.09 version, and then recorded an uptime of 132 minutes - close enough to suggest no real benefit.

The HP Pavilion dv2 with integrated, rather than discrete, graphics may stretch this running time more. Especially if it means that it now runs cool enough that the fan does not need to be running all the time, as it does with the all-too ephemeral dv2-1030 model.

NEXT PAGE: Earlier review from PC World US >>

The Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv2 defies simple categorisation: its combination of processor, price, and diminutive size put it somewhere between a mini-laptop (aka netbook) and a full-fledged ultraportable laptop. This model is the first laptop we've seen that features AMD's inexpensive Athlon Neo 1.6GHz MV-40 processor (formerly referred to as AMD's Yukon). Our initial impressions are largely positive.

Intel's Atom CPU, which powers most netbooks today, has tended to lower users' expectations about what is possible from a low-cost, lightweight netbook - a small screen, no Windows Vista, no high-resolution video or games.

The HP Pavilion dv2 aims to change those assumptions about mini-laptops. You get a 12.1in display, a 320GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a discrete ATI Radeon HD 3410 GPU with 512MB of video memory, all packed into a 1.8kg.

We haven't yet completed our formal Test Centre lab testing. Informal hands-on testing, however, suggests that the HP Pavilion dv2 seems perfectly capable of running Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit edition.

Video streamed from Hulu looks crisp and clear. We also tried copying a high-definition recording of a TV show (3.36GB for a half-hour show) that we had recorded on a Media Center PC and then playing it back on the HP Pavilion dv2 at full screen. Although the show took a few seconds to get up and running, it looked great once it kicked into gear.

The HP Pavilion dv2 uses HP's 92-percent-of-full-size keyboard, with the same flat, wide keys that we've come to appreciate in members of the HP Mini series. On the other hand, given how the keyboard is laid out, HP could have made the keys even bigger. Not that typing is a chore at 92 percent scale, but it is noticeable. Also, prepare to squint if you plan on using the function keys that line the top of the keyboard. As on the HP Mini 1000 netbook, these undersize keys are barely present and require neck craning to see which function key is which.

In contrast, the HP Pavilion dv2's smooth, mirrored touchpad is fantastic. It is responsive and wide enough that fingers feel comfortable - not crammed together - when we used it to navigate the desktop. And the long, wide selection buttons are exactly where they should be (at the bottom of the touchpad).

The HP Pavilion dv2's screen is no slouch, either. Capable of 1280-by-800-pixel resolution, this LED-backlit widescreen display looks good. Its glossy coating helps make images pop, though this also invites some sunlight-induced glare. But even when we ratcheted up the brightness, the display delivered an acceptable image: it just makes some colours on the brighter end of the spectrum seem a little more subdued.

As for the HP Pavilion dv2's design, the unit's trim lines and slickly coated, glossy black surface are snazzy and eye-catching. The unit measures 292x240x33mm, and weighs just 1.7kg, despite managing to squeeze in HDMI and VGA video outputs, three USB 2.0 ports, a PC Express Card slot, a flash-card reader, ethernet, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. In addition, HP throws in a matching external DVD burner.

The HP Pavilion dv2's front-firing Altec Lansing speakers sound hollow and tinny at best, but they're certainly not a step down from anything you'll find on competing netbooks.

Unfortunately, HP continues to load its laptops with software that you'll want to uninstall the second you get home (games, demos, and the like). The one standout among the pre-installed apps is the handy HP Advisor bar, which camps atop your desktop. While it is borderline obtrusive, it provides a handy shortcut for online searches - and the PC Health & Security button is an excellent one-stop window for obtaining a full status report on your PC.

If ultraportability is your bag, but you don't want to drop a fortune and you don't want to sacrifice performance, the HP Pavilion dv2 may be a good bet. We can't pass final judgment until our performance benchmarks are complete, but we like what we're seeing.

Darren Gladstone

HP Pavilion dv2: Specs

  • 1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo 64 MV-40
  • 12.1in (1280x800) 16:10 glossy LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 32-bit
  • 320GB 2.5in 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 2GB (1x2GB) DDR2 RAM
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3410 graphics with 512MB RAM
  • HDMI, VGA video out
  • external USB DVD±RW optical drive (supplied)
  • 100Mb/s ethernet
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • mic in, headphone out
  • built-in mic, multi-card reader
  • 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth
  • webcam
  • 292x240x23mm
  • 1620g
  • 1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo 64 MV-40
  • 12.1in (1280x800) 16:10 glossy LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 32-bit
  • 320GB 2.5in 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 2GB (1x2GB) DDR2 RAM
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3410 graphics with 512MB RAM
  • HDMI, VGA video out
  • external USB DVD±RW optical drive (supplied)
  • 100Mb/s ethernet
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • mic in, headphone out
  • built-in mic, multi-card reader
  • 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth
  • webcam
  • 292x240x23mm
  • 1620g

OUR VERDICT

There’s a promising compact laptop at heart here, with better than netbook performance, a slightly bigger and higher resolution screen, and great keyboard. Sadly it’s let down by very poor battery life, in a laptop that ought to run cooler and longer than it does with the AMD Neo CPU and ATI HD 3410 GPU chips currently installed. We await with interest how succeeding applications of AMD’s Neo processor platform will fare.

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