by Sanjeet Ganjam
As a first time buyer with little experience in notebooks and their specifications, I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices before me. As a college student, I was limited by a budget (a meager $1500) and certain must-have features. All immediate sources advised me to go with Dell for the “At-Home” support, low costs, and the accidental damage protection. While Dell laptops came highly recommended at school and among friends, almost all online sources highly criticized Dell computers for a variety of reasons. It was then that I started looking into HP/Compaq models. To my surprise I found that, albeit, at a higher cost, HP offers similar support and accidental damage protection plans. In addition, most notebook forums recommended HP over Dell, citing over heating problems, design flaws, and a few other problems. The biggest surprise of all was that HP was offering a notebook for a cost that was significantly lower, and far superior to the Dell models.
The HP ZT3000 Series Notebook can be categorized as either a desktop replacement notebook or a mid-range, thin and light model. Because it comes with an Intel Centrino Mobile processor rather than a Pentium 4, the ZT3000 is really made for portability. It is only 1.3 inches thin. However, It’s large 15.4-inch widescreen makes the notebook too large for practical mobility. Personally, I was more concerned about weight and thickness than how large the notebook is; therefore, the ZT3000 was the ideal choice for me.
HP ZT3000 Left-Side
HP ZT3000 Right-Side
The Specifications listed below are the complete list of all configurable specifications available. The specifications that I personally chose will be in Red. The following review is based on my specifications. Keep in mind that Performance will vary based on the specifications that you choose.
Primary CD/DVD Drive
Warranty and Support
HP has literally hundreds of coupon codes, mail in rebates and discount programs from which you can choose. The cost of this laptop for me was $1487.03 with tax. This includes a $299.99 3-year HP Accidental Damage Protection with Express Repair extended service plan, $96.98 in taxes and FREE 5-7 day shipping (Fed-Ex delivered it in 3 days for me). I had to combine a lot of discounts and offers to get this price. I used the APP student discount plan, which takes off about 8% of the cost. Then there was an instant rebate of $100 at the time. There was also a $25 off coupon code, which I used. Finally, there was a $100 mail in rebate. So the actually price of the computer without the Warranty and taxes is $962.04. Through the discounts, I roughly saved about $350.
Exterior and Design:
This was the part that most attracted me to the HP ZT3000 series. The notebook has a nice clean design and an excellent color combination of light blue and black. The lid itself is almost entirely light blue except for an HP logo in the middle. I also liked the fact that the lid has a flat surface. The top and sides of the laptop are very sturdy and composed of hard plastic. The bottom on the other hand is not as sturdy as I would like, perhaps because of all the compartments, and removable areas. In particular, the area under the DVD/CD player is very flimsy. When pressure is applied, it collapses inwards a little. I find that I have to be careful when holding the notebook in that area. The weight, at approximately 6.5 lbs is excellent for a desktop replacement. However, it is a bit on the heavier side if you are looking for a highly portable notebook. Although it is not difficult to carry around the zt3000 notebook in a bag, 6.5 lbs combined with its large size seriously inhibits its portability. One advantage of its large size is that it sits comfortably on my lap without having to bring in my legs closer (a matter of personal comfort).
HP ZT3000 Back-View (view larger image)
HP ZT3000 Screen and Front-view
The screen is absolutely gorgeous. Although I only purchased a simple WXGA screen, it was nevertheless quite good. There are numerous advantages for having a 15.4-inch screen. It gives the user, extra screen space when surfing the web or when doing any type of word processing. I tested Half Life Counter Strike online and there was no frame lag. The refresh rate is great and was considerably better than even my LCD monitor that I use for my desktop computer. I found no dead pixels whatsoever. The screen has variable brightness levels, which does provide flexibility, especially for watching movies and playing games.
Notebook speakers in general are never going to be as good as desktop stereo speakers. However, the ZT3000 comes with Harman/kardon speakers that provide some level of stereo quality sound. I would still use a good pair of stereo headphones, but compared to a lot of other notebooks, these speakers are quite impressive.
Performance wise, this laptop is excellent. I highly recommend the Pentium M 725 processor because it is a great value and still gives you the power of a 2 MB cache found only in Dothan processors. The 1.5 GHz 705 processor is actually part of the older series and only contains a 1 MB cache. This will significantly affect performance. 512 MB RAM is a must and definitely recommended. Since I have no future plans to add to my RAM, I went with 2 DIMMS rather than a single chip. It is about $50 cheaper to select 2 memory sticks instead of one. This laptop also contains dedicated video memory, which is still rare in laptops of this price range. Whether you choose to upgrade to 64 MB of video memory is a personal choice. Unless you are a hardcore gamer, there is no real point. I can run Half Life and Battlefield Earth, very well. Half Life especially is excellent because it supports widescreen resolution and is therefore great on the ZT3000. The front-side bus for the ZT3000 is 400 MHz, which is standard for most laptops now.
I run Windows XP Professional. With a few tweaks from Tweakxp.com (www.tweakxp.com), I can start up the computer in less than 30 seconds. Shutdown is also very quick. For this reason, I rarely even use Hibernate, there is hardly a time difference between starting up from hibernate and starting up after a complete shutdown.
One of the advantages of having a Centrino processor is that the CPU speed dynamically switches based on the demands of the system. It does not always operate at 1600 MHz. For normal word processing and web surfing, the processor runs at 600 mhz. However, the system automatically switches to higher speeds when dealing with multimedia and games. This allows the laptop to conserve battery life and produce less heat.
I have yet to have this laptop hang up or lack in performance at any point. I would have thought this would definitely occur because of the dynamic switching of the CPU speed. However, I found no such effects and am thoroughly impressed by the performance of the processor.
Keyboard and Touch Pad:
HP ZT3000 Keyboard and Touchpad (view larger image)
The keyboard is a standard one. Keys press down deep enough and are spread apart far enough that the keyboard is quite comfortable for typing. I have seen no reason to use an external keyboard. The touch pad is also excellent. On the right side, is a printed scroll bar which works great; the bottom edge is also a scroll bar for horizontal scrolling. All these regions can be configured and controlled through Synaptic touch pad program, however, it is nice to have a designated scroll area. Right above the touch pad is a small button that allows you to deactivate the touch pad altogether. This is a very useful feature as it prevents any accidental movement of the mouse when typing or when an external mouse is connected.
Wireless, networking and Ports:
The notebook pretty much has the standard set of ports, most of which are on the back. It comes with 3 USB ports, 1 fire wire port, 1 parallel port (for printers), 1 Ethernet, 1 phone, 1 S-VIDEO, and 1 monitor. On the left side is a single PCMCIA slot; on the right is an infrared port, power cord plug in, and notebook lock mechanism. The built in Intel(R) Pro Wireless 2200 802.11b/g WLAN card is excellent. There is a button on the front edge of the notebook that allows you to activate the wireless card. As soon as you do, the notebook connects almost immediately to the best available connection. Windows XP also allows you to see all available networks in the area. I have noticed no significant power drain while using the wireless card. Also, for an extra $20, HP offers a built in bluetooth upgrade which allows you to use a wireless mouse, headphones, etc. I personally did not choose this option, however, I am sure it is quite useful for someone who needs bluetooth.
HP ZT3000 Back-Side with Ports (view larger image)
At the very front edge of the notebook, there is a built in SD card reader. I wish that HP offered a multi-card reader option rather than just an SD slot. Nevertheless, I think this feature is very useful, especially if you have a digital camera that takes SD cards.
HP ZT3000 Front-side with SD Card Reader (view larger image)
I am a bit disappointed with the battery life. Although HP advertised a 4 -5 hour battery life, I can rarely get over 3.5 hours. However, the 3.5 hours is pretty consistent whether you run movies, play games or just use word processing. Thanks to the new Lithium Ion batteries, charging does not exceed 2 hours. 3.5 hours is pretty decent because it allows you to watch a full-length lord of the rings DVD and still have a few minutes to spare. For the price range, I believe the battery power is quite decent.
OS and Software:
The choices for OS are Windows XP and Windows XP Professional. I opted for the professional just because it gives me a bit more control than the standard home edition. The notebook comes preinstalled with all the software listed above plus a free 1-month trial of Microsoft Office 2003 edition and some other useless CD burning software. I opted to do a full reinstall because I did not want the preinstalled copies of Microsoft Office Trial and AOL. One thing I liked is that the notebook comes with 2 driver CDs that contain up-to-date drivers for all ports, cards and features in the notebook. As soon as I do a completely reinstall, all I have to do is to stick in the driver CD and it automatically installs all necessary drivers. I found this to be very convenient as I frequently format my hardrives.
Warranty, Service and Support:
The HP ZT3000 comes with the usual 1-year service and support and limited warranty. I opted for the $299.99 3 years Extended Service and support and Accidental Damage coverage. This should protect me against any damages in the next 3 years. Although HP lacks at home service, the Express support is the next best thing. They arrange for a pickup, which is usually the next business day. The turn around time is a maximum of 3 days, which is okay in my opinion. Then they delivery it back to your home. The whole process can be setup and negotiated either through online chat support or through phone support. Both are highly responsive and there is usually no wait time when on the phone.
Overall, I believe that I made a good choice in buying this notebook. For this price, it is not only the best deal on the market; it beats out its nearest competitor by a long shot. Albeit, the ZT3000 is a bit big for serious mobility, it is great for a college student like me. I have no problems fitting it in my backpack and at only 6.5 pounds; it is only a pound heavier than most higher end notebooks designed specifically for mobility. The one complaint I have is minor. There is a small design flaw where the power outlet is on the right side. The power cord can sometimes get tangled up with the mouse. Other than that, I highly recommend this notebook to pretty much any type of user. It is great for multimedia, gaming, word processing web browsing and is powerful enough to run just about any major application that the average user needs.
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