(CNET) -- The differences between the HP Pavilion dv9700t and the dv9500t we reviewed last year are subtle.
Externally the two laptops are identical, but the dv9700t includes a current Penryn processor, an upgraded graphics card, and a higher display resolution.
Also, the dv9500t's HD DVD drive has (out of necessity) been replaced by a Blu-ray drive in the dv9700t.
The landscape of laptops has also changed since we last examined the 17-inch Pavilion model.
CES 2008 saw the introduction of Gateway's FX series of low-cost desktop replacements, which give the Pavilion dv9700t a run for its money, performance wise -- especially the $1,999 gaming-oriented P-172X FX.
However, the Pavilion dv9700t's primary advantage over the Gateway lies in its Blu-ray drive, HDMI connectivity, and massive hard drive capacity, all of which make it the superior machine for HD video.
In the end it comes down to your primary reason for buying an entertainment-oriented desktop replacement: if for gaming, choose the Gateway P-172X FX; if for watching high-definition movies, choose the HP Pavilion dv9700t.
The Pavilion dv9700t has impressive heft when you lift it out of its box; weighing 7.9 pounds without its power adapter, this is not a laptop you'll carry every day.
Nevertheless, it is lighter than many other entertainment-oriented desktop replacements, such as the 9.3-pound Gateway P-6831FX and the 11.1-pound Dell XPS M1730.
The dv9700t's case features the familiar Pavilion design, with rounded corners and a glossy imprint finish -- with a subtle circular pattern -- that create an overall sleek look.
We're fans of the Pavilion dv9700t's glossy display, which features a crisp 1,680x1,050-pixel native resolution.
The screen produced rich colors and sharp details, and there's plenty of screen real estate for traditional computer work as well.
Like all Pavilion laptops, the dv9700t includes a row of light-touch buttons above the keyboard that launch the media player and provide volume and playback controls. Altec Lansing stereo speakers, located above those controls, deliver decent sound, though we prefer the depth and clarity of the sound produced by the speakers (and subwoofer) on the Toshiba Qosmio G45.
Our Pavilion dv9700t review unit incorporates HP's optional VGA-resolution Webcam with two built-in microphones for Web conferencing. (Opting out of the Webcam package saves you $25.)
Like almost all desktop replacements, the Pavilion dv9500t's keyboard is full-size and includes a 10-key numeric keypad.
The somewhat compact touch pad includes a scroll zone, and we love the power button at the top of the touch pad, which is handy when you want to use an external mouse. To the right of the touch pad, a fingerprint reader (which is bundled with that $25 Webcam option) lets you log on to Windows and Web sites with the swipe of a finger. The final design feature of note is the handy Wi-Fi power switch located on the laptop's front edge.
The dv9700t has a typical array of ports and connections for a desktop replacement, plus a Blu-ray drive and HDMI output so you can watch high-definition movies on a TV. Unfortunately the HDMI jack comes in lieu of one USB port, leaving just three USB ports for you to attach peripherals. We do like the laptop's dual headphone jacks, which make it easy to share movies and music with friends.
Our HP Pavilion dv9700t review unit's 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo T9300 processor -- just one step down from the top of Intel's Core 2 Duo line -- carried it to the head of the pack on most of CNET Labs performance benchmarks.
The primary exception is our Photoshop test, where the Pavilion dv9700t fell behind the Gateway P-172X FX, which has 4GB of RAM to the Pavilion's 3GB.
The difference between the two systems was more dramatic on our Unreal Tournament test, where the gaming-oriented Gateway displayed nearly three times as many frames per second as the Pavilion dv9700t. The Pavilion dv9700t's frame rates, while acceptable, seem best suited for watching HD movies and playing casual games.
We hardly expect such a massive system to perform well on our battery tests. However, the Pavilion dv9700t lasted an impressive 2 hours, 36 minutes on our taxing DVD drain test. That battery life would be admirable on a smaller laptop and is downright impressive for a desktop replacement with such a large screen.
HP backs the Pavilion dv9700t with an industry-standard one-year warranty; term extensions are available for up to four years.
Toll-free telephone support is available 24-7 during your warranty period, and the HP support Web site includes real-time chat with a tech representative. If you want to troubleshoot problems yourself, you can search through the site's thorough FAQ database.
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