The Hewlett-Packard Envy 13 offers an excellent example of what a cutting-edge ultraportable should be--and it moves past the Apple MacBook Air in some important respects, despite its overly ambitious price tag.
First, let me say that I use a MacBook Air as my main machine and am well aware of its merits. That said, it is beginning to look a little long in the tooth when juxtaposed with the Envy 13--which, like the Air, offers an aluminum chassis. I will also draw comparisons with 13-inch MacBook Pro since the Envy seems to fall somewhere between this and the Air.
(See CNET review of Envy 13.)
Let's start with the Envy's engine. The Envy offers a ULV (ultra-low-voltage) processor option that you won't find in any Apple MacBook: a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo SU9600 that draws a mere 10 watts. This is Intel's highest-performance 10-watt dual-core processor--a crucial power-saving and heat-reducing option for ultra-thin designs like the Envy or MacBook Air. The more widely used SL9600 (which many reviewers mistakenly refer to as ultra low voltage) draws 17 watts.
But HP charges a premium for this processor, too. Selecting the power-sipping SU9600 adds $200 to the cost of the Envy. But at least it's an option.
Next, graphics. The Envy has switchable graphics. What does this get you? More battery life. When plugged in, the Envy uses the "discrete" (standalone) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 graphics processor. When unplugged it switches to the less-power-hungry--and lower performance--Intel integrated graphics.
The truth be told, most of the time users don't need discrete graphics. But it can be a godsend in Windows 7, for example, when doing transcoding--which converts, for instance, a movie on a PC to a format that makes it viewable on an iPhone or iPod. And, of course, discrete graphics is needed for playing demanding games.
The ATI 4330 graphics seem to be more capable than… Read more