While ultrabooks -- those light, stylish computers that use Intel's Ivy Bridge processors -- are getting most of the attention these days, HP has stepped in with a less expensive alternative. The HP Envy Sleekbook 6-1010us offers an AMD processor and a larger display than most ultrabooks at a lower price.
The Envy Sleekbook 6-1010us has a smoothly rounded design that is 0.8-in. thick in front and 0.9-in. thick in back. At 14.6 x 9.9 in. x 0.8 in. and weighing 4.5 lb., the Envy Sleekbook is larger and more than a pound heavier than Fujitsu's Lifebook U772 ultrabook, but it offers the luxury of a 15.6-in. screen. If you add the power cord, it has a total travel weight of 5 lb. and just about fits on an airliner's tray table.
The Envy's black aluminum lid and base are complemented by its rubberized red plastic bottom -- a welcome change in a world dominated by dull silver systems. Unfortunately, the black-on-black keyboard area will likely prove hard to use at night without a light, and the surface picks up fingerprints faster than an episode of Sherlock. HP offers a backlit keyboard option for $25.
The system uses an AMD A6-4455M dual-core processor with 1MB of built-in cache that operates at roughly the same voltage range and power as Intel's latest Core i3 chips. The A6-4455M runs at 2.1GHz, but can sprint briefly to 2.4GHz when needed. That's faster than many Ivy Bridge chips; however, the A6 is produced using AMD's 32nanometer (nm) semiconductor process technology compared to the 22nm technology Intel uses for Ivy Bridge chips. (The smaller process technology translates to lower power use and faster speeds.) AMD is planning on moving to 22nm technology next year.
The A6 processor comes with AMD's Radeon HD 7500G graphics processor, which has 256 individual processing pipelines and 512MB of dedicated memory; it can grab up to 1.5GB of system memory for total available video memory of 2GB. The Envy 6's 15.6-in. 1366-x-768-resolution display is worthy of the processor -- it's sharp and bright, a welcome relief from smaller ultrabook screens.
The Envy Sleekbook also gives good video: Above the display is a webcam that can capture up to 1280 x 720 video, and it offers a dual-microphone array for good audio capture.
The review unit came with 4GB of RAM; it can hold up to 8GB. It's a good idea to decide how much memory you want before buying: As with ultrabooks, nothing on the Envy is user upgradable or serviceable.
The system has a 5,400rpm 500GB hard drive; you can also opt for a 7,200rpm 320GB hard drive, but there is no SSD option. As with the ultrabooks, there isn't room for a DVD drive.
The audio is surprisingly good for such a lightweight system. It uses AMD's high-end audio hardware as well as the popular Beats audio enhancements. I felt that it sounded like a much bigger system. That said, I prefer the volume thumbwheel that's on HP's Envy 17 gaming notebook rather than the Envy 6's keyboard-based volume control.
The Envy Sleekbook offers a good assortment of connections, including two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port, along with HDMI and audio jacks. There's no VGA connector, although HP offers an HDMI-to-VGA adapter for $40. In addition to 802.11n Wi-Fi networking and Bluetooth, the Envy has a fold-open Ethernet port.
Performance and power
This all adds up to a system that is a step behind the current crop of ultrabooks. The Envy Sleekbook scored a 1,003.5 on PassMark Software's PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark suite, which is 40% less than the 1401.1 scored by Fujitsu's Lifebook U772 ultrabook, which contains a 1.8GHz Ivy Bridge-based Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage.
Maxon's Cinebench 11.5 processor test mirrored this, with the Envy 6 scoring a measly 0.87 on the processor tests, well behind the Fujitsu Lifebook's result of 2.8. The Envy Sleekbook did better on the Cinebench graphics tests; it earned a score of 14.55 frames per second, more than 15% higher than the Lifebook's rating.
Part of the Envy 6's performance gap can be explained by its use of a hard drive versus the U772's faster flash storage. On the whole, the Sleekbook performed more like Intel's previous-generation Sandy Bridge technology on processor work but ahead of Ivy Bridge technology on graphics-intensive tasks.
If you want more power, the Envy Sleekbook 6z-1000 offers an optional AMD quad-core A10-4655M processor. This should close the performance gap, but it costs an extra $100 and uses 25 watts of power versus the A6's 17 watts. As a result, battery life will likely suffer.
Speaking of battery life: In my tests, the Envy Sleekbook 6-1010us' 3,700mAh battery (which is, as in most slim notebooks, not user-replaceable) powered the system for 5 hours and 41 minutes, nearly an hour longer than the 4 hours and 43 minutes that the Fujitsu Lifebook's 2,700mAH battery ran in the same test. Because the battery testing involves playing videos nonstop from a USB drive, the Sleekbook's results should translate into 9 or 10 hours of typical on-and-off use.
Like most notebooks, the Envy 6 includes a one-year warranty. Increasing the system's coverage to three years adds $199 to its price, about a third of the cost of the system itself.
Ultimately, its price separates HP's Envy Sleekbook 6-1010us from the competition. At $600 (compared to an average price of about $1,100 for an Ivy-Bridge-based ultrabook), it is a bargain for those who don't need the absolute smallest and fastest system.
Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.