Hardware, design & build
No issues with the finish here. Everything sits nicely with no play, no ugly cracking sounds. HP have done a good job with this high-end 17-inch model.
The keyboard and the number pad use the chiclet (separated keys) design. The keys are well-proportioned, well-positioned and give supple, instinctive keying that minimises keying errors and gives the user a comfortable typing experience. The only downside is the rather plasticky noise they make when you press on them. This is a bit of a shame for a product that positions itself at the high end. We also regret that HP hasn't used the same soft coating for the palm rest area that was used for the Envy 14 inch and that we found so pleasant to use.
The multitouch touchpad is precise, sufficiently wide, and you can perform a right click anywhere on its surface. It's the same as the one we first came across in our test of the HP Envy 14-1114ef Beats. It has the same drawbacks: buttons on the touchpad itself and coating that sticks slightly on the tip of your finger.
The 720p webcam gives a good quality picture. Exposure is good, as is the level of detail in black tones and the restitution of movements. Perfectly okay for daily use.
The connectivity covers all the bases. On the left, you'll find the VGA, DisplayPort and HDMI outs, an RJ45, an eSata/USB 2.0 combo, a USB 3.0 port, a headphones/mic socket combo and a headphones socket. The left is a little less crowded with two USB 2.0 ports, a card reader, a DVD rewriter/Blu-ray combo and the power in. It's nice to have the Blu-ray reader rather than a simple DVD rewriter. The HDMI out means you can view BDs on the TV without having to buy a separate Blu-ray player.
While the Envy 17 isn't especially noisy, it does heat up. Those of who like to work with their laptop on their knees or left-handed users using a mouse rather than the touchpad are likely to suffer. The same goes for gamers because the chassis heats up on the left side of the keyboard, an area that is frequently used for movements in FPS titles.
The Envy 17's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
Underneath, with the panels off
VGA, RJ45, mini DisplayPort , HDMI, eSata/USB 2.0 combo, USB 3.0 port, headphones/mic combo and headphones socket
USB 2.0 port (x2), card reader, DVD rewriter / Blu-ray combo and power in
Processor power: good performance
The Envy 17 has a very effective processor. HP has gone for a Core i7-2630M, which has 4 physical cores and can launch two threads at the same time on each core. It will be twice as efficient as the Core i5-2410M with applications that are optimised for multithreading (sharing processing across all the different cores). It will handle anything you care to throw at it no problem: office work, file decompression, HD video encoding, 3D modelling.
You can play HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) videos no problem on this machine, which is good news as the HP Envy 17 inch has its own Blu-ray player.
Windows 7 Family Premium edition (64-bit) takes 43 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 10 to 15 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It takes under 10 seconds to turn off.
Good gaming capacities
With its ATI Mobility Radeon HD6850M, the Envy 17-2000 allows you to do pretty much all your gaming at native res (1920 x 1080 pixels). Older or less demanding titles, such as Half Life, Left 4 Dead or Starcraft 2 (single player) can run at max or high settings. Some concessions will need to be made on graphics options to retain decent fluidity in the most demanding games such as Crysis.
Audio: you don't have a USB headset by any chance do you?
The Envy 17 is pretty poor here. The speakers are only just average and that's the best we have to say about the audio!
Usually, we draw our graphs to display up to 10% harmonic distortion.
Here, we had to extend to 20% to get everything in...
With headphones, the quality is awful. The harmonic distortion curve (above) speaks for itself. To recap, we consider it to be audible above 1% in most cases, with a bigger tolerance for bass sounds. Here, we're at 12% on average with peaks at 17%. This is a shame as the headphones out is nice and powerful.
The second connector isn't for a mic but rather a headset with built-in mic and remote or a hands-free kit (4 point mini-jack). Don't bother trying to plug anything else in. It won't work. Leave your analogue connector headsets with mic in the drawer.
In other words, whatever your usage, you'll need USB hardware.