HP Pavillion dm4t Review

March 9, 2011, 8:51 p.m.

I've been using an HP Pavillion dm4t laptop since fall, and have come to really like this computer. I would recommend it for people looking for a portable but powerful laptop.

Disregard this. HP computers aren't worth your time and money. My dm4 - which I loved at first - failed after less than two years. I had to sent it in for repairs, and HP didn't have the parts to fix it. After 3 months of waiting, they finally sent me a replacement laptop... with lower specifications. I know at least a dozen other individuals who have similar HP laptops, and every single one has had some sort of problem with it. Dead screens, broken hinges, failed fans, dead batteries, etc. Don't buy HP.

Specifications

  • Processor: Intel Core-i5 430M (2.26 GHz, turbo 2.53 GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Memory: 4 GB DDR3 667
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 / Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD (switchable)
  • Hard drive: 500 GB 7200 RPM
  • Wireless: Broadcom 4313 802.11b/g/n with Bluetooth
  • OS: Windows 7 Professional (MSDNAA)

Overall Impressions

This is a very versatile laptop - I've used it for web surfing, writing reports and essays in Microsoft Office and LaTeX, processing large spreadsheets, watching movies, programming in various IDEs, running virtual machines, the occasional game, graphics editing, and more. The computer has been fast enough to keep up with all of this, even when I have dozens of windows open at once.

The best aspect of this laptop is its portability: it weighs only 4.4 lbs and is only 1.27" thick at its thickest part. This makes carrying it around between classes easy. The battery life is decent, though nowhere near as good as advertised. I get at most 3 hours out of the 6-cell battery, and at most 6.5 hours when I switch to the 9-cell battery. This is still always plenty of time, and I rarely find myself searching for a plug.

The dm4t suffered from one terrible - but fortunately easy to fix - flaw, which I will discuss in detail below. HPs are famous for bloatware, but the HP Wireless Assistant installed on this computer was worse than usual bloatware. I discovered that it was consistently consuming 25% CPU or higher, draining the battery and overheating the laptop.

Aesthetics

The dm4t look nice. The base is plastic, but the rest of the exterior has an aluminum finish. While the plastic on the bottom makes it slightly less aesthetically pleasing than the fully metal-encased HP Envy 14 or Apple's Macbook Pro series, the plastic does lower the weight and still looks fine. The screen is decent, though the 1366x768 resolution is a bit paltry. Some online reviewers have complained that their dm4t's have a pink tint, but have noticed no such coloring. The etching on the top of the lid is perhaps unnecessary, though it doesn't detract from the looks.

Touchpad and Keyboard

The "chiclet" keyboard on this laptop is very nice to type on. Many reviewers have complained at length about the touchpads in HP's latest laptops, but I have had no problems with mine, and like it more than any other PC touchpad I've ever used before. I like it so much that I went out of my way to figure out how to enable extra multitouch gestures on it. It took some time to configure things to my liking, but now that I have, it's been great.

Ports and Features

The optical drive is one feature this laptop has which is being phased out on lighter laptops. It has been useful on a couple of occasions, though I may eventually replace it with an HDD caddy so I can have both an SSD and an HDD in my laptop at once.

Another feature the dm4t has is a fingerprint reader. It works well most of the time, though is a bit of a gimmick. It was easy enough to set up, but frankly, I would have rather had the option not to have a fingerprint reader and saved a few bucks.

One glaring feature omission on the dm4t is a backlit keyboard. The dv5t has this option, and according to HP's service manuals, the non-backlit keyboard for the dv5t has the exact same part number as that for the dm4t, so it would have been trivial for HP to include it as an option in the dm4t. The decision not to was likely an effort to drive customers toward the more expensive Envy 14, which has the dm4t's dedicated graphics and the dv5t's keyboard.

Switchable graphics are a great feature, though ATI's implementation is not nearly so smooth as Nvidia's Optimus. Still, the ability to go between the battery-sipping Intel HD graphics and the ATI Radeon HD dedicated card is welcome.

One of the dm4t's three USB 2.0 ports doubles as eSATA. As somebody who believes in making frequent backups, this was one of the deciding factors in choosing this laptop over competitors such as the ASUS u45jc. A full backup of the 500 GB HDD is quick and easy.

This laptop has both an HDMI port and a VGA port. Oddly, the HDMI port can only be used when the dedicated GPU is enabled, though the VGA port works all the time. Combined with an HDMI-DVI converter, it works quite well with my external display.

Software

The dm4t is no exception to HP's tradition of bundling ridiculous quantities of bloatware on their laptops. When I first got my laptop, I performed a full reinstall of Windows, only to find that despite having installed all of the provided drivers, I was getting an hour less battery life than I had been with the default install. I did a restore from HP's restore partition (a ridiculous experience in and of itself), and promptly got back my hour. I am still stumped as to why this happens, but am disappointed in HP for this. Regardless, it was quick and easy to use Windows Anytime Upgrade to go from the included Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 7 Professional with my school's MSDNAA license, and the battery life remained the same after the upgrade.

Wireless

This is my one big complaint about the dm4t: the default wireless card is terrible. HP offers four options for the WiFi card on this unit: "Wireless-N card", "Intel Wireless-N card", and each aforementioned card with bluetooth. The Wireless-N card (which I ordered) turns out to be a broadcom card which, though it is technically a Wireless-N card, is incapable of operating at full N speeds. In fact, the wireless card doesn't even see mixed-mode (b/g/n) networks as supporting N at all, and simply connects with wireless-g at 58 Mbps. It will connect to pure-N networks, but at a mere 75 Mbps. I've confirmed this on three other dm4ts belonging to friends of mine, and the case is the same for all of them. Calling it a wireless-N card is essentially false advertising, because it is incapable of connecting at N speeds to most networks.

HP CPU Assassin

As mentioned above, the HP Wireless Assistant was taking up ridiculous amounts of CPU. HP has since confirmed that this is a flaw with some versions of HPWA, and it has allegedly since been fixed.

I first noticed the frequent CPU jumps only a few days after I started using the computer. The full tale of how I figured out what was causing it is documented on Super User. If you are considering getting one of these laptops, definitely make sure to uninstall the HPWA!

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am happy with this laptop. With HP's academic discounts and the frequent coupon codes, it can be specced out pretty well and still come out to an afordable price. With Intel's new Sandy Bridge processors coming out, faster options will start to appear, but for now, this is still an excellent laptop at a decent price. If HP would clean up their act on software, particularly by not including buggy software like the HPWA, and would put a little more thought into useful features like a backlight, this could be the perfect laptop.

 

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