by Jeffrey Schramm
HP recently refreshed the tx Tablet PC line, replacing the half-year-old tx2000 with the new tx2500. The refresh brings many improvements over its predecessor, the most important being AMD's new Puma architecture. As one of the first tablets to use Puma,expectations were high for improved performance, battery life and heat output. While not perfect, the tx2500 is a big step in the right direction in the world of multipurpose tablets.
I have the retail version of the tx2500 that is available at Circuit City (HP tx2510us). Specs on this machine are:
This is available at Circuit City for $1,100. It is interesting to note that a similar configuration direct from HP costs $1,279.
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Design and Build
The tx2500 borrows almost all of its design cues from the older tx2000. The "echo" finish remains and the same black/silver color scheme is used. The excellent "golf ball" trackpad returns as well. The dimpled pad gives better traction to your finger and allows more delicate movements than smooth versions.
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Build quality is on par with most low-midrange consumer laptops. The plastic encasing around the screen feels cheap and hollow. There is a lot of flex in the bezel and lid plastic, and putting pressure on the lid causes the screen to ripple from the pressure. The lower half is far more substantial and even the two pieces of the plastic shell seem to be connected better. There is no flex around the keyboard and it does not bend even when putting pressure on both ends.
The hinge is very well built for a low-end tablet. It actually takes a little bit of force to twist the screen from one of the two locked positions. I can imagine the hinge still being strong in a few years even with moderate tablet use.
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Many of the buttons feel cheaply made. The button that opens the lid does not always work correctly and frequently sticks on the first try. The power button also doesn't work as well as it could because the slider design is almost impossible to use with just a finger due to it being so stiff. I have to use my fingernail to make sure it moves enough to turn it on. The DVD player buttons along the right side of the screen are functional, but are also so stiff that there is almost no feedback when you press them. Maybe a little breaking in will work.
The extra weight of the tx2500 over the tx2000 probably comes from the larger heatsink needed for the new CPU/GPU combination. If you use the weightsaver instead of the DVD drive the weight would be more in line with the original tx2000, but 5.49lbs. isn't that excessive.
The display is also a bit of a mixed bag. The screen is washed out because of the passive digitizer and definitely takes some getting used to if you have never used a tablet before. It looks much better during movies and games because the colors tend to be sharper. Under heavy fluorescent light or in direct sunlight the screen is very hard to read because of the high gloss finish.
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Under lower light situations it is much easier to read. The left-right viewing angle is almost 180 degrees. Up-down viewing angle is a little more hit-or-miss and it makes finding a good angle during tablet operation more difficult. Overall the screen is acceptable and actually works well for the entertainment portion of the tablet.
Performance and Benchmarks
The increased performance is the big selling point of the tx2500 over the tx2000. The new Puma platform combines a new Turion Ultra processor with an improved ATI integrated graphics chip. The HD 3200 is built on the HD 2400 architecture and brings integrated graphics up to the level of low-end dedicated cards. The performance of these new components is very impressive for such a small machine and makes a giant leap over the tx2000.
These benchmarks are for the 2.4GHz Turion model. Because of this the PCMark and SuperPi performance will probably be a little lower on the 2.1GHz model found in the retail version, but not enough to drastically change the findings. 3DMark05 and 3DMark06 probably won't be different given that the GPU is almost certainly the bottleneck on those tests.
All benchmarks are courtesy of evensong:
Comparison of 3DMark05:
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|HP tx2500 (2.4GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra, ATI HD 3200)||2,914 3DMarks|
|HP tx2000 (2.3GHz AMD Turion 64 X2, Nvidia Go 6150 graphics)||636 3DMarks|
|Asus R1E (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, GMA 965 chipset)||923 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 (1.2GHz ULV Core 2 Duo, GMA X3100 graphics)||566 3DMarks|
|Gateway C-140x (2GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X2300 HD graphics)||1,956 3DMarks|
|HP Compaq 2710p (1.2GHz ULV Core 2 Duo, GMA X3100 graphics)||634 3DMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA X3100 graphics)||812 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA X3100 graphics)||925 3DMarks|
|Gateway E-155C (1.06GHz ULV Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||500 3DMarks|
|LG C1 (1.2GHz Intel Core Duo, Nvidia Go 7300)||1,392 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook S2210 (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1150)||810 3DMarks|
|PortableOne UX (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||590 3DMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite A135 (1.73GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950)||519 3DMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,092 3DMarks|
As you can see the HD 3200 absolutely blows away any other tablet on the market in regards to graphics performance, even the LG and Gateway that have dedicated graphics cards. These numbers bring it up to par with an Nvidia 8400gs which is extremely impressive. While certainly not designed for gaming, it is more than capable of playing even some newer games, you just have to adjust the resolution and eye candy to something below “high”. So far the only two games I've tried are SimCity4 and Sins of a Solar Empire, both of which run very well at native resolution with varying effects ranging from medium to high.
Comparison of PCMark05:
|HP tx2500 (2.4GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra, ATI HD 3200)||3,875 PCMarks|
|HP tx2000 (AMD Turion 64 X2 2.3GHz, Nvidia Go 6150 graphics)||3,738 PCMarks|
|Asus R1E (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, GMA 965 chipset)||4,679 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||2,334 PCMarks|
|Gateway C-140x (Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz, ATI X2300 HD graphics)||4,342 PCMarks|
|HP Compaq 2710p (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||2,453 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||3,473 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||4,171 PCMarks|
|Gateway E-155C (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.06GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,205 PCMarks|
|LG C1 (Intel Core Duo 1.2GHz, Nvidia Go 7300)||2,568 PCMarks|
|Toshiba R400 (Intel Core Duo ULV 1.2GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,187 PCMarks|
|HP tx1000 (AMD Turion X2 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 6150)||3,052 PCMarks|
|Asus R1F (1.66GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,724 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X60t (1.66GHz LV Core Duo)||2,860 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950)||2,732 PCMarks|
PCMark05 shows that the tx2500 is on par with most other tablets on the market. It's pretty obvious that the AMD processor is the limiting factor because even with the vastly superior GPU the score only nominally increases over the tx2000.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|HP tx2500 (2.4GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra)||1m 32s|
|HP tx2000 (2.3GHz AMD Turion 64 X2)||1m 33s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook U810 (800MHz Intel A110)||6m 22s|
|Fujitsu T2010 (1.2GHz ULV Core 2 Duo)||1m 40s|
|Gateway C-140x (2GHz Core 2 Duo)||58s|
|HP Compaq 2710p (1.2GHz ULV Core 2 Duo)||1m 39s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 10s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo)||54s|
|Gateway E-155C (1.06GHz ULV Core 2 Duo)||1m 58s|
|LG C1 (1.2GHz Intel Core Duo)||1m 49s|
|Toshiba R400 (1.2GHz ULV Core Duo)||2m 10s|
|Asus R1F (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 20s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X60t (1.66GHz LV Core Duo)||1m 24s|
|IBM ThinkPad X41t (1.5GHz LV Pentium M)||2m 02s|
|HP TC4400 Tablet PC (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 13s|
|Dell Latitude D420 (1.06GHz Core Solo ULV)||2m 11s|
The Turion again is a limiting factor to this test. It falls behind much slower clocked C2Ds, even the low voltage variates. Apparently AMD processors have historically not done well with this test, and the new Puma variates don't change that.
HP did a good job with the keyboard, keeping the QWERTY keys full sized which makes the transition from something bigger to the smallish 12” tablet much easier. Some sacrifices had to be made, such as the smaller row of F keys and the linear placement of the PgUp/PgDn keys, but this shouldn't be an issue for someone coming from another portable notebook. The keys feel good with a slight click to them.
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However, the pen is what makes this a tablet. I found that the pen supplied with the tx2500 was of good quality and is easy to hold even with my larger-than-average hands. The button, however, leaves some to be desired. It does not fit snugly on the pen and can be difficult to use because it gives very little feedback with a click. The pen does lock nicely in its silo and I am not worried about it getting lost or accidentally pushed out.
Screen functionality is exactly what I would expect from a Wacom tablet. It is accurate and the 256 levels of pressure seem to work perfectly. It does require the occasional recalibration, but that is easy to do due thanks to the dedicated mobility center button on the screen bezel. I find that I only need to recalibrate once or twice a day, depending on the work I am doing.
Heat and Noise
The tx2500 does tend to run hot, even during regular web browsing. PC Monitor show temperatures to fluctuate between 60C and 75C under these conditions and between 75C and 95C under load. That being said, I've played games for well over two hours and never had the temps go above that maximum, so as long as it is not sitting on your lap during an intense gaming sessions, it should not be a problem. The vent on the upper right of the system does blow air that is hot enough to burn, so make sure it is open at all times to ensure these temperatures. The right handrest does get warm but not enough to be uncomfortable even during extended typing sessions.
The fan has two settings; low and high. It is always spinning, but on low you can not hear it even in a silent room. During games and benchmarks it becomes noticeably louder but still not enough to impede listening to music or a game. I never hear the hard drive spin or any other noise aside from the one fan.
The tx2500 is sold as an “entertainment notebook” and there are enough features to warrant that designation. It comes with a mini remote that fits in the ExpressCard slot and works with Windows Media Center and the HP QuickPlay software. I'm not sure of the benefit as the small screen makes it impractical to sit it far enough away that the remote would be needed, but its a nice option to have if a group of friends don't have any other means of watching a movie in a hotel room or on a train.
The QuickPlay software does what it is supposed to, playing back DVDs with no stutter even in balanced mode. I would not recommend watching on power saver because my movie skipped frequently. It has a dedicated DVD button on the screen bezel that starts the software even if the system is off. It does boot faster this way but most of the operating system still needs to load for QuickPlay to start.
There is a wide array of ports available on the tx2500, identical to the tx2000. It does not have a DVI or HDMI output, but that is not a big negative given the small size of the notebook.
Front view - Power Slider, 2x headphone jacks, 1x microphone jack, Wi-Fi slider
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Right side view - 1x USB, 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x Expansion Port 3, 1x VGA out, 1x S-Video out
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Back view - 1x modem jack, 2x USB, 1x Lock
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Left side view - 1x DC jack, 1x ExpressCard/34 slot, 1x multi-format card reader, DVD drive
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The speakers are placed below the screen and are front-firing. They are accessible even in tablet mode which is an important point for tablet functionality. The speakers are not loud, especially during DVD playback. In any kind of noisy environment you must use a pair of headphones to make out anything that you are listening to. Music and Internet video are marginally better, but I found myself turning all volume sliders up to the maximum in order to hear anything.
Despite this sound quality of the Altec Lansing system is better than most laptops I have used in this size category. There is no bass to speak of, but the SPDIF output could easily remedy this with a good set of speakers. The integrated sound system works for casual listening, but I would suggest a good pair of headphones for any gaming.
The only other low point I found was that the sound occasionally skipped during music and movie playback. I believe this is a driver issue as it happens randomly and does not sound like the crackling of a bad connection. Hopefully a more mature sound driver fixes this problem.
When doing some informal tests I found battery life to be acceptable for this size notebook. My tx2510 came with a 6-cell battery that sticks out slightly from the back, but it acts like a handle in tablet mode so its a welcome addition for me. On high performance I got 1.5 hours with full screen brightness and Wi-Fi on during casual Web browsing. This number increases to between 3.25 and 3.5 hours on power saver with Wi-Fi on. My DVD playback stopped after 1 hour and 29 minutes on balanced and screen brightness set to maximum. From a fully dead charge it takes 4.5 hours to fully charge the battery during use. I would imagine that the number would be lower if the tablet was off.
My unit came with Vista Home Premium. The tx2500 runs Vista very smoothly and the Aero interface is very impressive. I have not run into any compatibility issues and the hardware seems to be functioning properly with the factory-installed drivers.
The Draft-N WLAN card works well, with impressive range with both N and G networks. I am able to be anywhere in a two story house or in the yard without losing signal.
The DVD burner functions just as it should. Vista natively supports burning DVDs and makes disc creation easy. The fingerprint reader works surprisingly well too. It recognizes my thumb on the first swipe almost every time.
The tx2500 sets a benchmark high for Tablet PC gaming and 3D performance. The new Puma architecture improves on many of the issues raised with the original tx2000 including a new GPU and a decrease in heat production. Many of the positive points remain, including the fantastic Wacom active digitizer and its unique style. This tablet will definitely appeal to a college student and those on a budget. The features that come in a small 12” package at one of the lowest Tablet PC prices on the market make the price/performance ratio incredibly high. It's not perfect, but the tx2500 is an excellent improvement to an already impressive consumer-based Tablet PC.
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