Tuesday, September 4, 2012

HP m6 1045dx Review

The HP m6 1045dx was recently on sale at Best Buy for $699 - that's about $770 with our massive 10% sales tax here in California. I mention the cost because for some reason you can't buy this machine from HP itself for less than $875, and that's after a sale they're running - they normally want to sell it to you for $1000.

I couldn't find any useful reviews of this machine, so, even though I don't really review hardware: Here's a review.

The HP m6 1045dx is part of the HP mX 10X5 series, where they insert a number in place of those X's to mean "better than that other thing with the lower number." There seems to be no other formula to these numbers than that relative comparison, which is annoying if you want to compare to say, their other laptop lines. I looked over the variations in this line and a couple other lines and concluded this particular model is not only one of the easiest to find in stores, it also happens to be one of the strongest out of that selection. Here's the specs:

Aluminum frame
Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5Ghz
8gb RAM (expandable to 16gb by complete replacement of RAM)
Intel GPU (Intel HD 4000)
15.6in 1366x768 display
Backlit keyboard (can be switched off)
750gb 5400rpm HD
DVD drive/burner
3 USB3 ports

"Beats Audio" meaning it has a subwoofer in the bottom
Multitouch touchpad with configurable usage
Fingerprint scanner

Wifi, Bluetooth, Widi, HDMI, VGA, 1000gb ethernet, headphone output, mic input


A laptop this cheap with multitouch, an aluminum frame, and strong performance is a great deal. There are a lot of machines out now that cost more that have fragile plastic frames and no multitouch, and although I'm sure some shoppers fall for those still, they're decidedly behind the times. It performs well, and also gets about 5 hours of battery life, which is better than the 4 you'll get from your average buy. The screen dims and brightens across a good range, and the speakers are surprisingly strong at loud volumes in case you need to watch a quiet Hulu show across from noisy neighbors.

CPU - Performance

The CPU is a strong choice even though HP bills it as their weakest option, offering upgrades online to one of 2 Core i7s. The included i5 outperforms many i7s, and yet uses only 35W of power, unlike those i7s you can upgrade to. That's important in a laptop because it means it won't just wipe out your battery in a couple of hours. It also can tolerate up to 105C, which means the system can run the fan less even on a hot day under heavy usage. 105C isn't high for a CPU although many older CPUs have an upper bound of 80C, meaning a lot more fan usage.

Intel often points out the CPU has "up to 3.1Ghz Turbo Boost," which means that it can ramp a single core up to 3.1Ghz briefly, let that core get absurdly hot, then move the application you're using over to the other core while the first one sleeps and cools off. It's actually a pretty cool feature because most applications you'll run are still meant for single-core CPUs even though you really can't buy a single core CPU anymore. This lets you sort of pretend you've got a single super fast CPU rather than 2 middling ones.

RAM - Memory

The machine comes with 8gb of RAM. It happens to be DDR3, but that doesn't really matter other than to say it's the correct RAM for the CPU it comes with. The RAM is 2 4gb DIMMs, so it occupies both RAM slots in the machine. The machine supports up to 16gb of RAM, so if you were to upgrade you would need to go buy 2 new 8gb RAM DIMMs, and sell or recycle your old 4gb DIMMs. I personally use a laptop with 8gb of RAM for development on Windows 7 and have been able to run with my swap file completely turned off for years, so I'm going to pull a Bill Gates here and say: the included 8gb of RAM is probably all you'll ever need... for the next 5 years.


The display ramps from a good dim minimum brightness level that's pretty good for usage in a lights-out setting, to a max brightness level that's good enough in sunlight. If you're looking for the best laptop to use in the park, this probably isn't it. That said, it's no worse than most laptops I've used in this category. The color and resolution are about average compared to other laptops.


I got 5 hours of battery life in my usage, which is on the standard 6 cell battery that comes with the machine. You can upgrade to a 9 cell that would presumably get you closer to 8 hours. That battery life was using the default "HP Recommended" power profile, which from what I can tell is just the default Windows 7 "Balanced" profile with a pointless rename. In 2 hours of heavy usage the laptop wasn't noticeably hot, although it was warmer on the left side of the keyboard itself than the right.

Presumably you'd get longer battery life like HP's claim of 6 hours if you turned on the Power Saver profile instead, and much worse battery life if you were running something that pegged the CPU, like Virtual PC/Windows XP Mode. One complaint I have here is that HP has modified Windows 7 to always show the "Power Saver" profile in the list of power profiles when you click the battery icon on the right end of the taskbar, and they've limited the number of profiles shown to 2. That means if you add one of your own like say, "Stay Awake" for watching movies, you'll have to click several more times to dig around and select it every time you want to switch to it.

Storage and Boot Time

The clear weak point with this machine is its old school 5400rpm 750gb drive. It's both smaller and slower than nearly any hard drive you can buy today. Boot time is as slow as you'd expect with this kind of drive - about a minute. You should assume starting up drive-bound applications like Photoshop will be likewise slow to start. You can upgrade the drive if these metrics matter to you; we preferred to save the ~$300.


HP limits their installation of garbage on this machine to just a few minor annoyances. There's a nag to get you to register the PC with them that takes a little hunting in msconfig to turn off. "HP SimplePass" cannot be disabled and occupies significant screen real estate in Internet Explorer until you uninstall it completely. Note that uninstalling this scan-finger-to-sign-in-to-websites program is not related to scanning your fingerprint to sign in to the laptop - you can still sign in to Windows without SimplePass installed. Finally, there are a few sort of Adware programs installed by default, including "Blio," whatever that is, "HP Quicklaunch," "HP Launchbox," and Norton Antivirus. All of these were clearly named in the Program Install/Uninstall section of Control Panel and easily removed.

On antivirus, I recommend installing the free Microsoft Security Essentials, free anti-virus from Microsoft, rather than enduring the performance burden and subscription nags of Norton Antivirus. C'mon - we both know you've used a PC where Norton or McAfee has just expired for years and no one did anything about it. Anything is more secure than that.

Other Features

The Multitouch touchpad was a welcome add I hadn't seen with Windows machines before; I honestly assumed Apple had patented it. With it you get the obvious like 2-finger scroll, pinch to zoom and rotate. Software support for these functions is somewhat limited, and 2-finger scroll is not quite as intuitive as it might be: To get 2-finger scroll to work, you need to select the window you want to scroll, have the mouse cursor currently over it, and... get a little lucky. In our usage sometimes we just could not get a window to scroll that would scroll fine at other times. Fortunately webpages worked fine most of the time. Random Windows Setting dialogs 2-finger scrolled least effectively, about 1 in every 2 attempts. Clicking to select the window sometimes worked in the latter examples, but sometimes there was absolutely nothing we could do to get it to work. You can turn this feature off, as well as tapping to click (something I despise). You can also do some weird things. You can make 3 finger dragging change desktops. You can tap with 2 fingers twice quickly to turn the touchpad off entirely, to avoid interrupting typing something long like a paper. And the oddest, you can configure tapping once with 4 fingers open a single application. I can't really imagine a scenario where I want exactly one magical 4 finger shortcut, but hey, it's there if you can.

I was also surprised to find the aluminum frame on this machine. About half the mid-priced laptops available at Best Buy had some variation on an aluminum frame, and I appreciate both how sturdy that is and how much cooler to the touch that tends to be.

The backlit keyboard was a thrill in low light - I'm never buying a laptop (or keyboard attachment for a tablet) without a backlit keyboard after using this one. I also like that you can turn it off with a simple keypress rather than counting on a fiddly light meter that's inevitably going to get it wrong.

HP seems to have borrowed/stolen from Apple in more ways than one, with the keyboard diverging from usual Windows usage. The Function keys - F1-F12 - don't act like function keys by default. Instead, pressing the Volume Down/F3 key acts like a Volume Down key first, and like F3 (Find in Windows) only if you hold down the Fn key. I personally like this shift towards the Mac, but people who are used to F3 doing something different may not. The backlight toggle, display dim/brighten, and mute all work this same way.

The keyboard also has a numpad, which may come to the excitement of some geeks and those with a background in data entry. The arrow keys on the other hand are half-sized and a bit hard to find on the keyboard. If you're a gamer you may be bothered by these arrow keys.

Then again, if you're a gamer you absolutely should not be buying something with an Intel "HD" GPU built-in; Intel graphics are garbage by today's 3D standards. That said, Google Earth renders just fine on this limited GPU, and of course it does use a lot less power than a mobile 3D card would. The only major drawback in simple 3D applications like Google Earth is the lack of anti-aliasing due to a weird and confused stance the CEO has taken against it. Anti-aliasing prevents jagged lines when looking at a diagonal or curved edge of say a mountain or skyline. You'll be getting those jagged lines in 3D apps on this laptop. If you care at all.

I was pleased to see USB3 finally become a standard offering on midrange laptops. I'm also glad someone is making a good loud audio option available on midrange laptops.

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