Introducing the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart

As we saw last week with Mythlogic's Callisto 1512, ultrabooks in the 15.6" form factor are strange beasts. It's pretty clear the industry as a whole is moving towards thinner, lighter notebooks at every traditional size; Intel's ULV processors aren't as fast as the standard voltage parts, but they're close enough that it can be difficult to justify the added bulk of a thicker machine. Couple this industry transition to slightly slower but much more power frugal parts with the increased emphasis on touch interfaces that Windows 8 brought and you end up with the most upheaval in notebook design we've seen in a long time.

With that upheaval we also get unique designs like the one we have on hand today, the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart. Spectre is essentially HP's premiere notebook brand until you get into their enterprise-class hardware, and so the Spectre XT TouchSmart is destined to be the absolute cream of the crop. The aluminum finish, glass touchpad, and 1080p IPS display are evidence enough of that. Yet while HP may have buffed the value proposition in a lot of places, the Spectre XT TouchSmart is unfortunately not without potentially severe compromises.

HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-3517U
(2x1.9GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM77
Memory 2x4GB DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1150MHz)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 1920x1080 IPS Touch
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus Thin 500GB 5400-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD

Samsung PM830 32GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD (used as cache)
Optical Drive -
Networking Realtek RTL8168 Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino 6235 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio IDT 92HD99BXX HD Audio
Quadrophonic speakers
Combo mic/headphone jack
Battery 4-Cell, 48Wh
Front Side -
Right Side SD card reader
Combo mic/headphone jack
USB 2.0
AC adapter
Kensington lock
Left Side Ethernet
2x USB 3.0
Back Side Vent
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 14.87" x 10.01" x 0.87"
378mm x 254mm x 23mm
Weight 4.96 lbs
Extras 1080p IPS touch display
HD Webcam
SSD cache
BeatsAudio quadrophonic speakers
Backlit keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited parts and labor
Pricing $1,299

Chances are if you've been paying attention, two things popped out at you from the spec sheet: the Thunderbolt port, and the SSD caching. One of these additions is a fantastic value add; the other almost seems like a sad joke. Understanding that there are a lot of premium features on the Spectre XT TouchSmart, and that Thunderbolt isn't inexpensive to add, being stuck with an SSD cache backing up a dismally slow 5,400-RPM mechanical hard drive in a $1,299 notebook is inexcusable.

It's frustrating because the rest of the design is firing on all cylinders. The Intel Core i7 CPU is more than fast enough for the majority of tasks, HP includes the requisite 8GB of DDR3-1600 to guarantee a comfortable Windows experience, and 5GHz wireless networking is accounted for. Connectivity is healthy with USB 3.0 support alongside Thunderbolt, there are four speakers with BeatsAudio branding, and the display is even a quality 1080p IPS panel. So why hamstring the build with Intel Smart Response Technology instead of just installing a 128GB SSD minimum? Was the cost savings really worth it?

In and Around the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart
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  • arthur449 - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Experience is subjective, you're right.

    I'm not saying that I can quantify experience with a number. (Uhh, I rate this laptop a 6.5 on the User Experience Index.) In 20 years, I can count on one hand the number of laptops I've bought or set up for coworkers, friends, or family that had an acceptable amount of included software pre-installed. Acceptable in this case means the computer didn't grind to a halt on startup while it loaded Horton Speedy Disk, Extra Discount Firewall with Extra Popups, Super Unnecessary Manufacturer Splash Screen to tell me when I've pushed a button to disable wireless, etc. All of them with very few exceptions did this, and the addition of an SSD is the most effective throw-money-at-it solution.

    Oh, and for the record, the HP dm1z is the first PC that came to mind with an acceptably low amount of bloatware. And it was a netbook.
  • Scott66 - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    One reason I love Apple machines. Very little bloatware especially once they got rid of the trial version of Office.

    I used a Momentus Hybrid drive in an old macbook and it added a few more years of usability and much more storage.
  • Peskarik - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    4GB of RAM IS necessity. Hello.
  • Flunk - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    I think if you take in that this is a $1299.99 system it is a necessity. There are a lot of systems you can get around the $1000.00 mark that ship with 128MB SSDs. This system is certainly not trading on it's high CPU or GPU performance so it really needs that SSD to justify the high price. You can get a computer that will perform as well as this for $400. Premium casing isn't worth $899.99 to most consumers.
  • andrewaggb - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    much rather have a 256gb ssd. And get rid of the bloatware. They need to take you to a screen in a setup process where you can check which items you want installed or not installed. Or make a real uninstall page where I can check off 20 metro apps and 10 desktop apps and uninstall them all at once. I had to setup 9 lenovo windows 8 laptops last weekend and it was painful removing all the crap one piece at a time.
  • Egg - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    I think hughlle was being ironic.
  • wanderer000 - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    4GB is a necessity to properly run Windows 8. Ram usage on my desktop is high for Win8, I can't imagine how slow it'd be on a laptop with anything under 4GB. That point btw is the last stop before 64-bit becomes a necessity, because 32-bit can't handle anything over 4GB of RAM. Times change as do positive out-of-the-box experiences.

    That being said, something that doesn't change is the factor of not having to manage software in the background. This is always a point in that section, as is low noise and heat. So in regards to that, yes. An SSD should be mandatory in a PREMIUM product nowadays.
  • kkwst2 - Monday, May 27, 2013 - link

    Maybe for you. My "necessity" is at least a 256GB SSD plus at least a 500GB, preferably a 1TB HDD. That is why I have stuck with the Thinkpad T-series despite the crappy screens and poor battery life. If you could configure this with a 256GB SSD in the mSATA slot plus the HDD, that would be ideal for me. The battery life is still an issue, but I can deal with that more than I can the lack of storage. I need the HDD for all my data files. Won't fit on even a 256 SSD.
  • hughlle - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    I happily run all OS's on my old shuttle with two gb of ram. Sure it's not as fast as with 4gb but it still does the job just fine. I happily use my parents bloatware ridden pcs with old mechanical drives and they work just fine too.

    I am not arguing that an ssd or more ram should be mandatory for an expensive product, that is just common sense, like a £100,000 car should have a big engine etc. I'm just stating that the term necessity is wrong. There is no requirement for these things, but rather it is just highly recommended for you to have them, but i have neither and the machines work just fine, so clearly it is not a case of HAVING to have these better components just that it makes more sense.
  • Solandri - Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - link

    I actually prefer the mSATA cache SSD + 2.5" HDD configuration. It gives you the most flexibility, provided the notebook is designed so you can easily swap out these parts.
    - If you like it as is with a cache SSD, use it as is.
    - If you don't like the HDD, you can replace it with a SSD.
    - If you like the HDD but want a bigger SSD, just replace the cache SSD with a larger mSATA SSD and configure it as your boot drive.
    - If you want large capacity SSD, replace both the mSATA SSD and 2.5" HDD with large capacity SSDs. That'll give you nearly 1 TB of storage for a reasonable price.

    The single SSD design limits your options and your max storage capacity. It's much better to have both mSATA + 2.5" storage bays.

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