Invasion of the large-screen notebooks: Bigger really can be better

Entertainment and business multimedia go hand in hand with these three big notebooks, but which one is a true blockbuster?

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HP Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook PC

After you get over its sheer size and bulk, the first thing you notice about HP's HDX is its massive silver hinge arm. A piece of industrial sculpture, the arm adds both to the system's sophisticated look and the ability to angle the screen just right.

Weighing in at 15.3 pounds, the HDX is a couple ounces heavier than the M590, but a tenth of an inch narrower and thicker. With the 1.9-pound AC adapter, the HDX weighs a cumbersome 17.2 pounds, but HP doesn't sell a special bag for this Tyrannosaurus Rex of a notebook.

The black and silver case has room for every feature I could think of, and then some. Powered by a 2.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the HDX comes with 4GB of RAM and a pair of 250GB 5,400 rpm hard drives that are set up as two drive letters (instead of the M590's single letter).

Large notebooks
HP Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook PC

The optical drive can play the latest Blu-ray movies on the system's mammoth 20.1-in. screen, which is capable of a 1,920-by-1,200-pixel resolution, perfect for 1080p high-definition movies. It's a step up from the M590's lower resolution screen. Graphics are handled by nVidia's GeForce 8800 GTS engine with 512MB of video memory.

HDX's articulating arm hinge allows the display to pivot up and down as well as in and out to get the best view. Although the resolution of the HDX's webcam is one-third that of the M590's camera, it has a microphone array that delivers clearer sound than the M590's single microphone. There's also a jack for an external mike.

While the 8920's CineDash panel catches the eye, I liked the HP QuickTouch panel (also to the left of the keyboard) better. In addition to playing movies and CDs and turning the wireless radio on and off, it can adjust volume, treble and bass; there's even a mute button. The keyboard has 19.0mm keys that have 2.2mm of travel, and the system has a fingerprint scanner.

The HDX comes with a good mix of ports, although with four USB slots, it is second best compared to the M590. There are FireWire, external monitor, HDMI, cable TV, and S-Video ports, and even an external SATA plug for a hard drive. It lacks the M590's modem, serial port and DVI ports, but the HDX has an up-to-date Xpress card slot and flash card reader.

The HDX has Bluetooth and a wired LAN connection and Intel 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi. At 13.6Mbit/sec., its wireless throughput was off the pace set by the M590, and its 105-ft. range was slightly shorter.

With five speakers, the HDX has excellent audio, although it doesn't get as loud as the M590 does. If you want more volume, the system has a pair of headphone jacks and an SPDIF digital optical audio plug for driving external speakers.

Powered by Microsoft's Media Center, the HDX's TV tuner makes it easy to record shows from the program guide, but every once in a while the software froze up on me or the audio was out of sync with the video. The system was slower than the other two at displaying TV; it took 17.2 seconds to start viewing and 1.3 seconds to change channels.

The HDX's remote control is a gem. Not only is it tiny compared to the others, it does everything it needs to and snaps into a handy place next to the keyboard. It had a range of 16 feet 3 inches, nearly 6 feet longer than the M590. My only misgiving was that it's too easy to lose.

The HDX runs quietly and stays cool, even under intense use. It's a powerhouse as well, with a score of 749.5 on the PassMark Performance benchmark; it ran for a phenomenal 2 hours 40 minutes on battery power. That said, the system's power use is on a par with the smaller 8920 and 50% less than the M590; expect to pay about $51.40 a year to power the HDX.

On top of Vista Ultimate, the system comes with a wide variety of games, security, video and basic productivity programs. Some are full versions, others with features limited and others are trial versions.

With a price tag of $3,250, the HDX comes with a one-year warranty, although that can be extended to three years of coverage for $270. A thousand dollars cheaper than the M590, the HDX is a blockbuster of a notebook that might break your back but doesn't break the bank.

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