The HP Pavilion dv6-3085ea is an unusual laptop and not just because its model name is such a mouthful of gobbledegook. Where it strikes out from the mainstream is in its use of an AMD CPU with ATi graphics and Broadcom 802.11n wireless. As far as we can see there is no Intel hardware inside this model, which puts the HP dv6 firmly in the minority of the laptops we have seen in recent years.
The AMD 785GX chipset supports the AMD Phenom II P920 CPU which runs at a relatively lowly 1.6GHz, however the use of four cores means that it delivers plenty of performance. The chipset has a trick up its silicon sleeve as it includes integrated ATi RS880M graphics (aka ATi Mobility Radeon HD 4250) that have 40 unified shaders and 320MB memory. Added to that HP has included a discrete HD 5650 graphics chip with 400 Stream processors and 1GB of memory.
When you pull out the power cord (or plug it in) a utility called ATi Power Xpress springs into action and asks whether you wish to switch from the high power graphics to low power (or vice versa). The difference between the two chips is that the HD 4250 doesn’t have the ability to play serious games, although it does have the juice to display the Aero interface in the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system. The movie decoder in the graphics chips means that 720P HD movies play smoothly on the 15.6-inch screen with its 1366 x 768 resolution.
By contrast the HD 5650 graphics are definitely up to the task of playing games, however there is a trade-off with battery life, hence the need for Power Xpress to play its part. We found that the HD 5650 graphics delivered 100 minutes of battery life with continuous hard use, while the use of HD 4250 stretched the battery to 125 minutes, which is rather impressive.
Of course, the matter of which graphics chip is in action at any particular time is hidden away beneath the surface. There are plenty of features that are more obvious to the eye, starting with the chassis. The covering of the lid and the deck surrounding the keyboard are clad in metal that is machined with patterns that make the whole thing look rather interesting. HP has also included a fingerprint reader which can be used as a security device and also as a short-cut for signing in to instant messengers and other software.
HP includes a copy of its Support Assistant software to keep the drivers and software bundle up to date.
The keyboard looks good and feels solid when you type but it can get frustrating to use. A number of the keys carry short cut functions so, for instance, the F2 key dims the brightness of the screen and F3 increases the brightness. The trouble is that when you tap F2, intending to edit a file name, you’ll instead find that the brightness of the screen changes. If you want to use F2 as God intended you first need to hit the Function key, and that’s a pain in the neck. It should be the other way around.
We could live with the keyboard of the Pavilion dv6 as it has both good and bad, but the mouse buttons are beyond the pale. The click action is so heavy that the mouse pointer would move on the screen when we were performing a simple double click. Truly this is the worst mouse we have ever experienced.
Other features are laid out with a reasonable degree of thought. On the left hand side there are headphone jacks, an SD/MS/MMC/xD card reader, one USB port, one combo USB/eSATA port, Gigabit Ethernet and HDMI and VGA graphics outputs. Stereo Altec Lansing speakers are located on the front and there are two USB ports on the right side along with the tray loading DVD writer.
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