written by Wigner
HP & Compaq were the second manufacturers to join the 64-bit mobile world after Emachines introduced its Model M6805 to the market. So, there wasn't really much attention and applause when their products debuted. The Compaq R300Z is a desktop replacement style notebook and because of this it is not easy to carry around (travel weight can easily go over 9 lbs). With an optional 64M dedicated nVidia GeForce 4 440 Go graphic card and a powerful 64-bit CPU, some people may consider the R300Z a low-end gaming machine. However, for many people the graphics card will be considered outdated for the latest games.
Nonetheless, if you are paranoid with being out-of-date in terms of owning the latest high-tech product, the 64-bit CPU may put you somewhat at ease. The 64-bit CPU is certainly the next generation in technology that processors will progress to. Intel is not even close with regard to developing a personal computing CPU at this level. I bought mine in early June and the following are some experiences I had with this model.
In late April, 2004, PC Magazine rated the Compaq R3000Z as the top budget notebook http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1579098,00.asp. At the time this machine was rated, it had an Athlon XP-M 3000+ CPU, which is actually a 64-bit CPU with the 64-bit capability disabled. Reportedly HP itself requested this design just to cut the system price. Available CPU's for this model share the same motherboard, the major difference between a XP-M 3000+ and a Athlon 64 3000+ is the L2 cache size, the latter has a 1M L2 cache instead of a small 256k one in the XP-M 3000+.
With 1.3 x 14.1 x 10.0 inch dimensions (height x width x depth), the bare machine weighs about 7.8lbs, which is not a really portable piece. Moreover, the AC adaptor is almost as big as a piece of brick. I was thinking the adaptor of my old Dell Latitude C640 is bulky, but the R3000Z is even more so. So I definitely don't like to drag it everywhere that I go. With the adaptor, battery, a wireless optical mouse and a sturdy backpack to carry them, expect to put a 9 lbs+ weight on the shoulders.
There are several options with the screen selection, ranging from a 15.0" TFT XGA (1024 x 768) standard LCD to a 15.4" WVA WUXGA (1920x1200). The last one may be good to watch DVD's, but it will make the font extremely tiny if one uses it for text processing.
The system I am going to review has the following configuration:
Available configuration options for the Compaq R3000Z are:
AMD Athlon XP-M 3000+ 1.60 GHz, Athlon 64 3000+ 1.80 GHz, Athlon 64 3200+ 2.00 GHz, Athlon 64 3400+ 2.20 GHz
Microsoft(R) Windows(R) XP Home, Microsoft(R) Windows(R) XP Professional-only $49
256M, 512M (1x or 2x), 1.0G (1x or 2x), 1.5G, and 2.0GB DDR 2700 SDRAM
30 GB 4200 RPM, 40 GB 4200 RPM, 60 GB 4200 RPM, 80 GB 4200 RPM
Primary CD/DVD Drive
8X DVD Drive, DVD/CDRW Combo, 2X DVD+RW/R & CD-RW Combo Drive, 4X DVD+RW/R & CD-RW Combo Drive
54g(TM) Broadcom 802.11b/g WLAN, Built in 56K Modem+10/100 LAN, 802.11b Wireless LAN, 54g(TM) Integ. Broadcom 802.11b/g WLAN & Bluetooth, 802.11b Wireless LAN & Bluetooth Combo
15.0" TFT XGA (1024 x 768) , 15.4" WXGA (1280x800), 15.4" WVA WSXGA+ (1680x1050), 15.4" WVA WUXGA (1920x1200)
32MB NVIDIA(R) GeForce(TM) 4 420 Go, 64MB NVIDIA(R) GeForce(TM) 4 440 Go +1394 & 5-in-1
8 Cell Lithium Ion Battery, 12 Cell Lithium Ion Battery
From the lowest to highest configuration, the price difference is a whopping $2300 (a low end price of $776.26 vs. a high end price of $3066.10, excluding accessories, software packages and extended warranty).
I had been shopping around for a notebook since mid May.when an issue of PC Magazine featuring the R3000Z caught my eye. I wasn't really interested in the XP-M chip since I thought it would be another Celeron type of hybrid CPU. I’ve owned a Celeron processor based machine for more than 3 years now in my desktop (another Compaq). But soon I found out it actually had options to go 64-bit and the price fit my budget. I wanted to get a desktop replacement to replace my old desktop that has a tiny 15" CRT monitor, runs slowly and also is low on disk space. I intended to use a laptop to do some programming, document editing, web surfing, maybe some video editing, and for vieing DVD movies. Before making the decision, I thought about Dell Inspiron 8600 and 5150. However, the complicated configuration and sometimes misleading price labels (changing of prices from one page to another) finally got me annoyed, at the same time I also heard of complaints of overheating in both models. On the other hand, HPshopping.com has relatively simple configuration options and less variable prices, besides, I can take the APP discount as a student (education friendly). So I opted for them eventually.
Compared with local electronic stores (e.g. Circuit City), HP's online store actually has much lower prices for the same model. For example, the R3140US in Circuit City asks for $200+ more than an equivalent CTO model through Hpshopping; plus, when you shop online there is no tax or sales people who try to pull more $$ out of my pocket, although that's their job.
Right now, HP still offers free ground shipping (5-7 business days). Actually it didn't take that long. I placed my order on 06/08; it showed the estimated shipping date was 06/22, when I tracked it online, the tracking number showed up on 06/15, and the next morning (06/16) it was delivered to my door. I originally thought HP had factories in either CA or TN since there is sales tax in these two states (if a computer is delivered from a location within the state you live in then you must pay sales tax). But this was obviously not the case; the point of shipping for my notebook was from China!
A second experience with shipping time occurred after I requested an exchange by calling HP (actually I placed another order, I will talk about the reason for exchange later), this time the waiting time was longer. I ordered it on 06/17 (est. shipping 06/28) and thought it would be just another 8 days for delivery, but this time I was wrong. The tracking number showed up on 06/23, but it stayed there without letting me track for 3 days. Probably the factory only ships HP products on Tuesday. Guess that's the tradeoff for the US brands made in foreign countries, you get a cheaper price, but have to spend more time waiting.
It was easy to put the system together and a 10/100 Ethernet was alive and ready once I started up Windows. Unlike in many Dell models, the battery bay is on the bottom with an easy slide-in design, so there is no ugly black hole around the machine if you want to take the battery out and keep the machine plugged-in most of the time.
The chassis of this machine is pretty sturdy. It uses conventional gray and dark-gray for the bottom and back of the LCD, while for the inside Compaq chose silver as the major tone. There is a full size keyboard, the keys are beige-like in color. The LCD was held in place quite stably, some people were worried about this, so from my experience that is not necessary.
Side by side view with a Dell Latitude C-640, which has a 14.1" screen (view larger image)
This model has a 15.4" wide view (WXGA 1280x800) LCD screen, which makes DVD viewing a pleasure. When it the screen is turned off, there is a little green hue floating on top of the LCD, I think it is some kind of anti-reflection coating. The image is crisp and bright even in daylight. Other than the traditional function keys to control the brightness and contrast, the graphic card has its own control panel to do this job. By the right hinge there is a white plastic pin sticking up that controls on/off of the screen and sending the machine into hibernation mode when the lid is closed. This is not so pretty looking,. I remember more than 4 years ago there was such design in a Toshiba laptop. At least my Dell doesn't have one of this, Compaq should have cleaned up the look in regards to this.
Around the Chassis
There are 3 USB 2.0 ports, two on the left and one on the right. Also on the left is a 5-in-1 card reader and, with my R3000Z configuration, a64M nVidia video card is also on the left. Finally, a DVD/CD-RW is conveniently located by the two USB ports on the left hand side as well. One complaint is that the black plastic CD tray in the interior of the DVD/CD-RW drive looks cheap and not well finished. But hey, I got a good price on the machine, so I can't blame this too much as long as it works fine.
Left view (view larger image)
In the front, two indicating LEDs show the activity of HD and battery charging information.
Front view. (view larger image)
At the right front corner, a purple LED that shows the wireless status sits by the wireless On/Off button. This button is a little awkward to press because it's so tiny, so I have to look down and confirm the light goes on every time when I want to turn on the wireless connection and use it.
Right view, note the wireless indicator on the left corner of this picture. (view larger image)
On the right hand side, there are three buttons that control the volume, with one On/Off button. Go further, there are earphone and MC jacks, USB port and an IEEE1394 port, the latter came with the 64M video card as well. A port replicator port, ethernet porte and S-video are located at the back right corner of the notebook.
The back of the notebook is very simple. There are two vents that pump out warm air, an external monitor port and a parallel port (somewhat rare in laptops today) that can be used to hook up to a printer. All other legacy ports (P/S2, serial) are gone.
On the bottom, there are two more vents for heat dissipation. Battery bay, memory and hard drive cover are also here.
Two JBL Pro speakers are located under the hood where you put your wrists when typing. In my opinion the sound is very good, this may be because I have used my old Dell for too long and never expected laptop speakers could be like these. The first time when I turned on the machine, the Windows background music was really loud and clear and it had more depth than the handheld radio-like quality made by my Dell. I didn't have a chance to compare this model to other HP laptops, but there I’ve heard there exists an HP laptop has much better sound than this one.. I had planned to hook up the R3000Z to a pair of external speakers, but now it seems rather a hassle and not worth it given the fact the internal speakers are good enough. However, like most desktop speakers, if the volume is turned too loud, the sound might break a little bit. Well, guess I never expected to use the computer as a boombox anyway.
Like I mentioned above, this computer has a full size keyboard, which makes typing on it very easy. But the keys feel a little too springy. Thus when I type on them, the noise level is obviously higher than my Dell.
Under the keyboard there is an On/Off button for touchpad and two mouse buttons. It is easy to switch off the touchpad when typing to avoid unneeded interruptions. I prefer to turn on the "tapping" function of touchpad that substitutes as a double-click of the mouse, especially when sometimes I get tired of using the mouse since I have to reach my hand for it, from Control Panel -> Mouse-> change the setting. Then instead of moving the hand, fingers can do just as much. On the right ~1/5 of the touchpad there is a scrolling area for scrolling long files or webpages. But I prefer not to use it because this time a mouse will be much more comfortable.
With a 64-bit processor 3000+, it is suggested that performance and speed is equivalent to a Pentium 4 3Ghz processor. In other words, the CPU is really quite fast. After getting rid of a lot of junk software that was pre-installed on the laptop, the startup time is close to 50 second from powering up to fully functioning. The only available hard drive speed option is for a 4200rpm, but 5400rpm is becoming the mainstream and even 7200rpm is widely available on other brands, so this is not very exciting. But a faster HD can be always installed later (given the fact that HD price is almost constantly dropping), look into threads in www.notebookreview.com, there are some people that have done that.
With 512MB RAM on board, the performance is outstanding, files are opened faster than ever. MatLab program (an engineering program that is used to do heavy mathematical calculations) runs smooth and fast too.
Power supply and Battery
Before I bought this machine, I checked the AMD website and Googled for information about the battery and processor. It appears this model of CPU is not exactly power saving, and AMD didn't release the actual number of Watts the CPU consumes. Although I didn't expect it to be working unplugged for very long, a 3-hour minimum would make me feel a lot better than some of the older models' I’ve used with 1-2 hour battery life.
With a 12 cell module, it turned out the battery is quite satisfying. With light use of the optical drive and constant web surfing and word editing the battery lasted around 3 hours and 40 minutes. This is pretty decent for a desktop replacement model, as I heard that the Dell Inspiron 9100 only lasts around 2 hours. So at least I can do something on the go without worrying about the power outlet for quite a while. Like I said before, the adaptor is BIG, don't understand why PC makers can’t make smaller adaptors like that of Apple Powerbook's kind.
OS and Software
Since I need to do some .Net programming, it is necessary for me to have Windows XP Pro. Besides, HP only charges $49 for the OS upgrade. This costs a lot more if not from HP, for example, Dell asks for $79, the tech store in my school asks for $82, anywhere else in local stores the upgrade costs well above $100.
There are some other software applications pre-installed on this computer, including Norton AntiVirus 2004 with 3-month trial, personally I’m going to get rid of this and install school licensed McAfee after the trial period ends. Besides this, there are MS-Money, MS-Works suite, iTune, Quiken WinDVD, RecordNow! as well as some trial version games.
Included in the computer box came a bunch of disks, including WinXP Pro, application recovery, hardware drivers, Compaq tech library CDs and a latest Windows security patch DVD (this took about 10minutes to install all Microsoft patches). And of course an AOL CD was included, it is everywhere!
Product Quality and Customer Service
It is good so far. Actually I did use HP's service to request an exchange because the first laptop had a bad pixel at the lower right of the LCD, which is not very obvious and I missed it when I checked up the screen the first time. I called HP the next day, and the service rep was is in US, which is a good thing. He was quite friendly when I explained why I wanted an exchange (I had 30 days to return anyway and there was no shipping charge). Then he gave me a return number and helped me order the exact same system over the phone. The old one was picked up the following day, which was Friday (06/18). The credit showed up on my credit card 3 days later. That was pretty fast. Having heard of some complaints about their customer service, one of my friends had put on hold for more than 40 minutes for a cable modem question, and the reps were all Indians, guess those people are in charge of tech problems. Like the first day when I used online chat to ask a tech rep (guess she/he was also an Indian from the name) about the bad pixel, she/he even suggested me to check the video card, no matter how I emphasized the fixed position of that pixel and the video card had nothing to do with it! Maybe HP should consider changing some more experienced people for technical support.
Sadly, although the replacement I received on 06/28 had no problem with screen, the NIC card is not functioning right. First I tried the school LAN without success (it can only access the school web sources). A tech rep told me to try an independent internet access elsewhere and I went to my buddy's house and tried it on his cable modem and it didn’t work there either. I can tell the NIC card has a problem because when a cable is plugged in, one little LED indicating web traffic doesn't go on at all (the other one is constantly on, the previous one worked perfectly with the LAN once I started the windows only a week ago). Reloading Windows XP and all drivers from scratch did not help get things working either. While still having some faith in the HP/Compaq brand, I ordered another replacement and plan to send this current one I have with a faulty NIC card back again. Hope I will have better luck next time. Again this time, the tech people were friendly, and quite helpful on resolving this issue.
This computer has a one year limited warranty; it'll cost $99 more to get a year accidental coverage or 2 year extended standard warranty. Of course there are some more options for extended warranty ranging in price from $99-$299.
If there were no hardware problems, I would say that I feel completely satisfied with the R3000Z. It fits my budget, can do what I want it to do and it's got the brand new technology of the AMD 64 processor. If you are a student or a home office user and looking for a budget notebook that you can use for everyday work, this is a very good choice.
Remember, check all ports and connections and LCD before you decide to keep the notebook if you get your computer online. I think Compaq really needs to make an effort to do better quality control.
For wireless connection strength and other things you might want to learn that is not in this article, I suggest the reader visit PC Magazine's website for the details, again the link is:
Where to Buy
HP sells through various retailers nationwide, chances are you can find an R3000Z model at one of the electronics dealers in your neighborhood. If you are looking for a good deal and configuration that you desire, maybe Hpshopping.com is a better choice. That way you can just spend some time clicking on the mouse instead of driving around and putting more $$ into the gas tank. But if you are really worried about the quality over price, I would suggest you buy one in store, at least you can see if there is any problem before swiping the plastic!
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