We’re not living so close to the cutting edge here at Maximum PC that we can’t see the utility of a no-frills, budget portable that’s capable of performing all the common day-to-day computing tasks. Whether it serves as a secondary machine for work on-the-go or as a primary PC for a school-age kid, we get it. It’s the same need that netbooks were meant to fulfill, if only they hadn’t fallen short of the mark. What netbooks taught us is that today’s common computing tasks—which include things like gaming and high-def video playback—require more power than an Atom processor and integrated graphics can muster.
AMD’s Fusion offers a more viable option, as evidenced by HP’s Pavilion dm1z—an 11.6-inch portable that starts at $450. The notebook’s E-350 chip comprises a 1.6GHz dual-core processor and a Radeon HD DX11-capable graphics part on the same die. Compared to the 1.6GHz N270 Atom in our standard zero-point netbook (a Lenovo IdeaPad S12)—well, there is no comparison, only horrific carnage. The N270 gets slaughtered by more than 50 percent in content-creation chores and three-digit margins too embarrassing to repeat in our gaming tests. Instead, we measured the Pavilion dm1z against the very best Atom-based netbook we’ve tested to date, the Asus 1215N (reviewed December 2010). The 1215N is an outlier in the category with a 1.8GHz Atom D525 (a dual-core with Hyper-Threading) and Nvidia’s Ion discrete graphics chip. At the time of its review, it was priced similarly to the dm1z config reviewed here.
Given the typical audience for this type of notebook, it’s not too surprising that access to the RAM and drive compartments is not easy or obvious.
The dm1z doesn’t run away with the win, but it does surpass the 1215N in the majority of the benchmarks, most notably by nearly 45 percent in 3DMark03 and 50 percent in Quake III. Before you start objecting that Quake III hardly counts as a game these days, we’ll point out that the dm1z’s score of 38.5fps in Quake 4 isn’t too shabby for a notebook of this size and price. What’s more, Call of Duty 4 was playable at the notebook’s 1366x768 native res.
The only benchmarks that the dm1z ceded to the 1215N were MainConcept, where the latter’s four processing threads gave it the advantage, and in battery life, where the 1215N’s Optimus technology was able to disable the discrete graphics and eke out an additional hour of juice in our video rundown test.
While Fusion will never be as power efficient as an Atom chip, we’d still happily exchange some battery life for greater performance versatility. That versatility also includes HD video playback, both online and via a Blu-ray player. The dm1z doesn’t come with an internal optical drive, but an external BD combo drive is an option for $130.
What does come stock are a glossy screen, a full-size island keyboard, VGA, HDMI, three USB 2.0 ports, a media reader, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Build quality feels fairly solid and the screen reclines a full 180 degrees on a seemingly sturdy hinge.
All and all, it’s a well-rounded value package, although we’re surprised it’s not actually a bit cheaper considering that there’s no overhead for a discrete graphics chip. Nevertheless, if you want a small, inexpensive, versatile notebook, this is it.