When the magic works, it’s wonderful. And when it doesn’t …

Jim Aikin, whose writing you know from Electronic Musician, Keyboard, his books, and many other places he pops up, has been having a pretty bad time with a brand new HP laptop and his shared his misery on the forums. The computer in question is a Hewlett Packrat Pavilion dv8000 dual-core machine. (Here’s confusing model numbering for you: the dv8000 series includes both Intel Core Duo and AMD Turion models; Jim has the Intel version.) It’s the latest-and-greatest on the inside, but it sounds as though Jim either got a lemon, or there are problems with the way HP configured this machine, bad luck, or a combination of the three. I think there’s some sort of FireWire issue going on from the symptoms Jim is describing. If you haven’t already read this thread, please feel free to offer a better diagnosis if you’ve got one.

Updated: Don’t you love it when companies do the right thing? Jim writes: Hooray!! HP very generously agreed to take the machine back, even though the 21-day grace period had passed.

So, hip, hip, hooray for great support from HP. Now, erm, that said, someone want to suggest a laptop from a maker other than HP that might fit Jim’s (and other’s) needs? More after the break …

This does raise a broader issue: user experience on Windows can be widely variable. Different hardware vendors choose different components, drivers, BIOS, and other setup options that can have a big impact on your experience. It’s tough to go back to a “clean” Windows install, too, because Windows XP out of the box supports only some of your hardware; things like chipset drivers mean you’re reliant on your product vendor. And, yes, this is generally not the problem you have with Apple since they build the “whole widget.” (Or Linux, since most driver support is community-based and open source, though that generates some other problems.) It’s part of the reason I decided to build my new PC, for a level of control you don’t get from PC vendors — or Apple.

Of course, there’s another possibility, which is that the laptop itself is fine and either a component is working incorrectly or an installation got botched. For what it’s worth, the dv8000 has gotten pretty good reviews from Laptop Magazine and PC Magazine. (Though, interestingly, those reviews both cover the AMD models, not the Intel Core Duo, meaning they may have zero bearing at all on Jim’s machine since it has a different motherboard.) Unfortunately, the symptoms don’t narrow down the potential source of the problem.

But here’s another question for you: is there a PC laptop maker with whom you’ve had great experience? I notice today on Engadget, Alienware has their own Core Duo-based laptops now. And there’s even the option of building your own laptop, as covered recently in Maximum PC magazine. Any success stories to go with the sob stories? (In my own experience, I’ve been disappointed with a Toshiba M35-S320 PC and pretty happy with my rock-solid, if slightly underpowered, PowerBook G4 1.5.)

I will say, laptop music making can be a fantastic experience. But, like everything else, that’s only true when the magic works.

  • http://www.badscience.net bengo

    i've had a toshiba m30-604 for a couple of years and it's been rock solid, i've used it with ASIO drivers and RMA hammerfall DSP, m0audio firewire 410, digidesign mbox, and more, it's never fallen over or done anything hideously wrong. all pc's cock up a bit here and there, i guess it's just life. the random total incompatibilities that you used to get with some firewire cards, for example, seem not to be moaned about so much these days tho. and i reckon hardware drivers (esp asio) are a bit better. egosys wami rack was a nightmare for me for years when i was too poor to replace it, likewise a friends egosys portable pcmcia box. if i met any of the egosys people in the pub i would piss in their drink while they were in the loo.

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis Loveday

    My main laptop is an IBM Thinkpad (R40), and I am extremely happy with it. It's about 4 years old now, and has taken poundings in gigs, slung around europe in a backpack for a year and been in basically constant use. It's still going strong.

    Note that I'm not a music producer, so I haven't used it with any cool sound devices. However both audio-producing members of my band also have thinkpads and they seem very happy.

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis Loveday

    … Although I must add (after Peter reminded me) that these machines are all pre-Lenovo Thinkpads, so I can't really vouch for their current state, and let's face it, my next laptop is going to be a Mac so it hardly matters anymore :)

  • Seth

    I would say it doesn't matter- all the tier-one vendors, including Apple, outsource the manufacture, configuration and shipping of these products to a handful of companies in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Dell's and Toshiba's are made by the same company. HP's and Lenovo's have parts made by the same company. So, what your looking for is support- and looks like he got good support through HP.

    In this day, who you choose is more an emotional decision than a pragmatic one.

  • richardl

    I think that HP must just be a lemon, or it's got something fundamentally wrong in its design that prevents it from working properly with your audio interfaces.

    I just this week got an Acer 8204 Core Duo notebook, and so far it works flawlessly. It's a 2.0 GHz CPU with 2GB RAM, 120GB/5400 HD, 256MB ATI X1600 GPU, 4 USB2 ports, Cardbus, ExpressCard/34, 1 Firewire (kind of annoyingly located on the front edge), built-in SPDIF out, dual-layer DVD-R, 15.4" 1600×1080 widescreen display. Overall the hardware specs are very much like the Apple MacBook Pro but upgraded in many areas. If anything the system while very fast is a bit generic as a Windows PC, but that's fine for me.

    My initial testing so far has been with Live 5.2 and Reaktor 5.11 and an M-Audio ProjectMix and an Edirol PCR-1. I'm using the ProjectMix for audio I/O with its buffers set to 128 samples.

    I have been testing it with 8 mics simultaneously recording (16/44kHz) to an external USB2 hard drive. 25 pre-recorded tracks playing. Two MIDI tracks recording Reaktor. So far the thing doesn't even break a sweat. Not a glitch in sight. The Live CPU meter is up around 60 and Windows TaskMan says CPU usage is 40-50%. I was able to get some glitches when I set the ProjectMix buffers to 64, but at 128 it's solid so far.

    So far my results have been what I would expect. It's looking like I can throw whatever I want at this system which is what I wanted.

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis Loveday

    @Seth, it's not really the quality of the components which is a concern (though of course that is important). The big issue is the specific parts and drivers used. For instance, Dell laptops use a certain USB controller which has caused problems with many peripheral devices. This kind of issue has lessened over time, but it's still definitely something which requires consideration and research. As swapping components isn't really an option with a laptop, if your interface of choice doesn't work with the laptop you've bought then – as Jim found – you'll have some product returning to do.

  • http://www.musicwords.net Jim Aikin

    Hey, Peter — Any particular reason why you're running a great big picture of the machine that I had to send back?

    I'm learning two things in the past few days (more info still being gathered). First, the chipset on the motherboard, which is not a spec that many manufacturers quote, can apparently cause problems with USB or firewire audio. Second, the question of whether a 2GHz Pentium M or Centrino Duo will perform as well with DSP-intensive synths and plug-ins as a plain old 3GHz Pentium 4 is not easy to find answers to.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I thought we could immortalize your laptop, Jim. Or you can print it out and use it as a dart board.

    Signs sure tend to point to the chipset, to the FireWire/USB controller. And as others are saying here, that doesn't necessarily mean a badly-manufactured component; it's more often a badly-designed component or interaction between components or interaction between drivers. Complex possibilities, but a company like HP is supposed to resolve these things for you. Ironically, a lot of custom system builders do a better job. Anyway, I'd say a laptop that can't reliably output audio over USB is "broken".

    As for the Pentium M vs. P4 vs. Core question, I've seen plenty of Ableton Live bechmarks that demonstrate some pretty nice numbers for the Core. And that's without the multithreaded enhancements coming later this year. The Pentium 4 is an older architecture, and it's usually combined with other components running at slower speeds (especially on a laptop). Ultimately, this comes down to trying out some real world tests, which are all that matter. The Ableton forums pass these things back and forth all the time. I had to do something similar when evaluating Core's performance on the Mac:

    http://www.macworld.com/2006/04/firstlooks/logicp

    But what I've heard from developers and users alike and seen in my tests is that, for the kind of calculations audio and synthesis require, the Core is very fast. (The Pentium M, on which many aspects of Core were based, also runs audio quite well; even my 1.5G Pentium M eats right through a lot of Reaktor projects I throw at it, even if I develop them on a dual-G5.)

  • Marcello

    Sure would like to know how you got HP to do the right thing. I'm on my second replacement dv8000 lemon which malfunctioned right out of the box. Retailer replaced it, replacement has been to HP for repair 2 times, still has a malfunctioning keyboard, not to mention other major issues, HP flat out refuses to replace it or give me my money back on a 3 month old computer. Many other dv8000 owner's are having the same problem. The dv8000 is a horribly defective computer.

  • http://www.LindaGRealty.com Linda G

    Hi all:

    Just thought I'd let you know. I just returned two (2!) brand new out of the box dv8000s: AMD Turion versions, 8310us models to Fry's. Both had the same keyboard issues right out of the box. When I called tech support at HP to find out if this was a common issue, they claimed they'd never heard of such a thing. I asked them to put detailed notations in my case # so that it could be passed on and recorded for posterity. When I called back and asked for a read on what was put in the notes, the guy had put a single sentence that didn't come close to describing the problem. I've since done a google search and found that it is a very common problem and HP is aware of it…seems they don't want to do much about it. I've since ordered a Dell.

  • david

    I allso have a keyboard glitch problem with my dv8000. No help from HP with it though. Avoid this laptop like the plague.

  • Dave S

    Using dv8000. No problem so far, however, I started to use a usb zippy keyboard and usb mouse as it is more comfortable to use. had problem with it crashing after a while on internet. removed norton internet security, ans set up different firewall/anti virus and it is working great! Its faster too without the symantec sludge on it. They are getting as bad as microsoft with their software.

    cheers, dave

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  • Gustavo

    I'd been following the problem of Jim's HP. 'Cause I have and older one HP nx7010 (centrino 1.73) and a firewire 410. , and i'm looking to buy a new laptop now. I think the problem may be in the chipset via that these hp models use for the firewire port. Other models of hp, and also other laptops that people say are doing well, use other chipset to manage the firewire port, for example the ti(texas instruments) and have no problems at all. I'm not sure about this but i'm trying to know more before buying a new laptop

  • pinup

    want to know wich laptop recomendation to use sonar 6

    thanks

  • Darren C

    After having a Toshiba for years I foolishly bought an HP dv8000. The first one had a motherboard problem right out of the box but it took a month of misery to get HP to replace the notebook. Finally got a new replacement dv8000, had it 6 months then had the primary drive fail. Then back to fighting with HP to get them to replace the drive. Can't wait to move back to Toshiba.

  • Leandra

    And here I thought I might need a priest! I am the owner of a HP dv6000 that worked fine the first 4 months and then started showing signs of possession! Randomly, keys will stick without being touched. I am never sure which key it is since it usually keeps me from logging in, won't fix itself even if I restart and stops as mysteriously as it starts. Since I'm on daily, I can expect the problem to crop up at least twice a day. The problem has even locked me out of my computer for days. But since I can't get it to stay in the malfunctioning condition, how can I get HP to fix it? Any ideas?

  • BrazilBuzz

    I also have one of these HP Lemons. I have not had it have a problem with CAPs lock since it came back the second time, but it still misses random keystrokes. I am amazed that it hasn't missed any up to now in this post. I know this site has old postings but any suggestions do I send it back again, or just sell it and buy a new one?

    Thanks to anyone who comments.

  • Arthur

    I was in love with my dv8000 for about a year. HP phone support is terrible, espescially if you are out of your 90 day free period. I have no idea what my problem is now, but last week it had problems going into hibernate mode and hasn't come out since. Add this to the problem I had with an hp monitor last year and I will never buy hp again. The monitor had a problem with inductors overheating and melting off their connections. No more hp for me, thank you.

  • Steve

    My PC doctor told me to trash the 16 month old ComPaq laptop that just quit working. The controller is probably fried from overheating – from sitting on a pillow while using it. I blocked the air flow and laptops run hot anyway, destroying the inner parts.

    WHOOPS!

  • Bruce B.

    I have a Compaq A931NR Notebook PC that doesn't get along with Direct3D. I can't run anything more intense than Peggle on it. HP refused to replace it with a model that has a capable GPU – and although they admit that that is the only way the issue would be resolved, they refuse to do it. Now I'm writing everyone uder the sun trying to get pressure on them to actually resolve this problem. I'll know better than to buy HP EVER again.

  • Ed Mann

    I have an IBM Thinkpad T42 1.5 Pentium M that is one of the best computers I have ever owned – it is my first Windows machine..I would like to get something more powerful to run Kontakt, ableton, etc…but maybe I do not need to. Would prefer to avoid apple simply becoause of budget.

  • Andy

    I had an HP dv7000 and frankly am glad to see the back of it, its pretty much been a sinkhole for money. After I bought it I had no end of problems and 2 days after the warranty ran out it gave up completely and I had to get it repaired privately only for it to go again. What caused the problem a lot was the NVDIA graphics which due to a soldering fault overheats and freezes. Its a known issue with the dv series and it really annoys me that HP sold me a computer which ahsn't had this issue resolved. Sure we all know we can get widely different experiences with exactly the same model laptop, but hell if theres a design problem with your laptop you dont keep selling it you should fix it. Its personally put me off every buying an HP laptop again, which is a shame as until this model I was a very loyal customer and always bought HP.

  • Charlie

    I still have a HP laptop Dv9880ed, it didn't caught fire yet, just have only half of the vertical lines at the moment. 2 key covers released, the obvious overheat GPU chip, the left hing screws fell out, the power connector connnects only when i put something under it. The shiny panel above the GPU has come loose because of the loose left hinge. This is the first time i really hate a computer or any product and the company that made it. I dont want a repair, I want my money back, Never spend about 1500 USD to a big widescreen laptop that does everything anymore. If you really need a laptop, my advice is, buy a small one, connect a cheap LCD screen to it when you need it big, and NEVER buy anything from HP.

    Just don't think you are the lucky one to have a big do it all laptop that lasts for mor then 1 or 2 years.

    It's not that they made crappy products, even a lot, just they left us customers with the frustrations, of having spend a lot of money, getting bullied, repairs with the same faulty chips, underclocked GPUs, BIOS updates which let the fans make even more noise by running at top speed, overheated battery packs switching off the laptop every half hour.

    If they had some human decency, they just repayed all the custumers the money we earned in a fair way.

    Today I've read HP knew in 2006 about the problem with the video chips and told it to Nvidia. I bought my laptop 2 years later. Toyota's president makes humble apologies when something might go wrong with there pretty safe cars.

    HP's president should also make a public statement crying and bowing humbly while promising all customers to repay 110% of the money they payed (10% extra seems small for the annoying experience of owning it for 2 years) and making a promise never to do that to people again.

    If this isn't going to happen, I wish their stocks go down because of noone ever buying anything with the HP logo on it.

    Kind regards

    Charlie

  • sighnacongmi

    Help me please HP laptops a suitable name of computers? I'm purchasing a new notebook some time and I'm curious is HP a good enough computer. I was thinking does it last for yers and have long enough battery. I really want a Sony… That one is too expensive. Thus i was deciding if it worth to buy HP laptops.

  • inezcom

    Is HP laptops a good brand of laptops? My friend a new notebook in a while and i was wondering is HP a good notebook. Who can tell me it last for yers and have long enough battery. I really want a MacBook however this thing is to expensive. So i was deciding if HP laptops are good laptops.