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HP Pavilion dv7t desktop replacement laptop

The Pavilion dv7t is one of HP's "entertainment powerhouse" notebooks, just one step down from the ludicrously oversize 20-inch HDX. Beyond the 17-inch screen, and under the cool "liquid metal" exterior, lies Intel's new Centrino 2 processor. The result: high-octane performance in an extremely shiny package.

The dv7t, with its 2.53-GHz Core 2 Duo T9400 processor and 3GB of RAM, turned in a blazing score of 98 in our WorldBench 6 tests. Interestingly, MicroExpress's identically stacked all-purpose machine, the JFL9226, earned a mark of 103.

The dv7t's nVidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics card makes this laptop a better gaming rig than many other portables. It produced an impressive 152 frames per second in our Doom 3 and Far Cry tests (and a respectable 95.26 fps with antialiasing turned on).

Battery life was 3 hours, 1 minute, not bad for an 8.4-pound unit with a 17-inch screen. If only we could see the screen. In a typical fluorescent-lit office, seeing the display is hard. Even when ratcheted all the way up, the huge screen was not very bright--not what you'd expect from a high-end machine. Compared with the display of a 15.4-inch HP Pavilion DV6000t, in fact, the dv7t's screen was grayish. That said, the dullness shouldn't impede enjoying a flick on the Blu-ray drive or getting work done, especially with the lights turned down low. The 1680-by-1050-pixel resolution makes mainstream applications plenty easy to work in. Be sure to keep headphones handy, though: Despite the unit's subwoofer, to me it sure didn't sound like a Blu-ray movie was playing.

On the bright side, if you like shiny things, you'll love the dv7t. The lid and lower casing are black, but inside it resembles a slab of highly polished steel topped off with a similarly finished keyboard and icy-white status lights. It's so reflective that you can see yourself in the wrist rest, quite handy for surreptitious spinach-stuck-in-teeth and makeup checks. The keys gleam like pricey flatware, and even feel cool to the touch. Maneuvering about the keyboard is just as smooth, thanks to the great layout, the wide mirrored touchpad, and the dedicated number pad. The fingerprint reader is completely and conveniently out of the way in its right-bottom-corner location.

I only wish that the rigid mouse buttons depressed a little farther into the case, and that HP's volume swipe were better behaved. Though it's always a pleasure to use HP's signature one-touch QuickPlay media button for directly launching a movie and music menu and its forward and backward controls, HP still hasn't ironed all of the kinks out of its touch-sensitive controls. Getting the mute control working took a hard punch. The cranky volume swipe would lower but not raise volume--which, unlike movie sound, is quite loud and pleasing with CDs and MP3s. (We've had the opposite problem--the volume swipe raising but not lowering sound--on other Pavilions.)

If you can overlook those little problems, the dv7t is a handsome, fast unit. For our review it was nicely configured with a 400GB hard drive, a Blu-ray drive, and Windows Vista Home Premium. And if you're looking to replace a desktop, it's a better candidate than most other big notebooks because of its proprietary left-side connection for HP's xb3000 expansion base. Though the base is an expensive add-on, it incorporates a screen stand, a third hard-drive bay, far better speakers, and a wireless keyboard and mouse for a complete desktop experience.

Forget the peripherals right now, though. Without the docking station, the dv7t slightly stumbles as an end-all, be-all entertainment unit. If you're looking for the whole package, consider Toshiba's Qosmio line of massive desktop replacement PCs. They're hardly portable, but the Qosmios (or is that Qosmii for plural?) have consistently incorporated terrific audio into their designs.