by Mark W., Virginia USA
The HP nc8230 is HP's desktop replacement notebook that combines the processing and graphics power of a desktop PC with the portability and convenience of a notebook PC. The nc8230 offers a choice of three different 15" widescreen displays in a thin and wide form factor. It offers a complete array of integrated wireless choices, input/output ports, and security options that make it an ideal mobile platform and desktop replacement.
HP nc8230 (view larger image)
HP NC8230 specs as reviewed:
Reason for buying
After three months of exhaustive research, and two short-lived (and costly) stints with other notebooks, I finally settled on the HP Compaq nc8230 business notebook. This notebook succeeds a nearly two-year positive ownership experience with an HP Compaq Evo N610c business notebook. The nc8230 is an evolution of the HP Compaq business notebook line, incorporating Intel's Sonoma chipset and some of the latest features found in today's notebooks.
Initially, my requirement was for a 14" thin and light notebook that offered enough power and performance to be used as a desktop replacement. My primary computing uses are Web surfing, e-mail, Office applications, photo and video editing, and video encoding. Although I'm not a gamer, having the video capability to play many of the latest games was also a consideration.
I could not find a 14" notebook with the right mix of hardware and features that met my requirements. I was reluctant to consider 15" notebooks because many have a form factor that is too large for my tastes and too heavy to be considered to be portable. The HP NC8230 has relatively good balance between size and portability. With the lid closed, the nc8230 is relatively slim at 1.2" high in the front and 1.3" in the rear. At 14" wide and 10.2" deep the nc8230 will easily fit into many laptop bags.
At 6.1 pounds, the nc8230 isn't heavy. But, it certainly isn't light. The nc8230, with its lid open, tends to tilt backwards when picked up with both hands because the 8-Cell 69Wh Lithium Ion battery adds additional weight to the rear of the system. When carrying the nc8230 in my laptop bag, which is slim and compact, with power adapter, portable 2.5" hard drive, various cables, documents and folder, my bag feels very comfortable on my shoulder and does not cause any discomfort or fatigue.
I took advantage of the available 128MB video memory option by customizing my system configuration via the HP web site. Customizing the system and executing the order were both very easy. HP gave me a build time of approximately two weeks from my order date.
I checked the status of my order via the HP web site on a regular basis after I placed my order. The HP order status page offered very little information related to the actual build status of my system. But, it did show the availability of parts to be included in the system build.
As the system neared the stated ship date, HP e-mailed me to inform me that shipment of my system would be delayed due to the build process being delayed. I received this message on Friday. My system shipped the following Monday and arrived to me the next day.
HP still has a long way to go, however, in terms of providing meaningful order and configuration status information via its build-to-order web site. I think the customer buying experience will be greatly improved as HP's site improves.
Design and build quality
The nc8230 is dressed in a graphite color shell with a black keyboard and plastic trim. The overall look of the system could be described as sleek and professional. The various LED status lights on the system are very bright and add a bit of edge to the overall design.
HP nc8230 (view larger image)
The system feels solid and sturdy with no creaking or flexing in the plastic. HP seems to have paid careful attention to the hinge design on the nc8230 by integrating the hinge housing into the base of the notebook. Opening and closing the lid will require a firm pull and slightly less firm push. The magnesium alloy LCD enclosure appears to be very protective. When the outside of the lid is firmly pressed, mild waving can be seen only in the upper middle of the display.
Input and Output Ports
Buttons and ports are all well-placed around all sides of the system. The back of the system is occupied primarily by the battery. The VGA and AC adapter ports are also placed along the back next to the battery.
Back side of HP nc8230 (view larger image)
Front side of HP nc8230 (view larger image)
Bottom of HP nc8230 (view larger image)
The left side of the system has an RJ-45 LAN port, RJ-11 telephone port, S-Video (TV output) port, exhaust vent, one firewire port, one USB 2.0 port, PCMCIA slot and SD card slot.
Left side view of HP nc8230 (view larger image)
The right side of the system features the serial port, MultiBay II port for CD/DVD-ROM drives and other HP expansion options, two USB ports and headphone and microphone jacks.
Right side view of HP nc8230 (view larger image)
HP nc8230 screen (view larger image)
The nc8230's WSXGA+ display is excellent. The display is very bright. It is easily one of the brightest displays I have ever used on any notebook. Text is very crisp and sharp. Image quality and color are rather impressive as well. The display does exhibit a fair amount of red push in comparison to my Samsung 172T 17" desktop LCD monitor, however. I corrected this by calibrating the color settings in the ATI Control Panel.
The WSXGA+ has very good viewing angles. I am able to view images and video very clearly from a variety of horizontal and vertical angles. The LCD's response time also seems to be very good as well. I did not notice any flickering or strange behavior when scrolling quickly through pages.
The nc8230 is equipped with an ambient light sensor. The ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the brightness of the LCD display to the most comfortable viewing level for the ambient light in which it is being used. The sensor also serves a power management function by automatically adjusting the display to the appropriate lighting conditions to preserve the system's battery.
Although a nice feature, I find that the nc8230's ambient light sensor works too aggressively. Under normal lighting conditions, the ambient light sensor dims the display significantly. For those who are accustomed to working with bright displays, the ambient light sensor might prove to be bothersome. This function can be easily disabled via the HP QuickLaunch software. Manual brightness control functions are restored once the sensor is disabled.
Under certain conditions the ambient light sensor works very well. I don't know if it has something to do with the positioning of the notebook under certain lighting conditions. Or, if it's a function of my eyes gradually adjusting to the brightness set by the ambient light sensor. This is something I will have to look into further. I would, however, like to see HP offer a firmware/driver update because I believe the sensor works a little aggressively.
The nc8230 has two speaker grilles positioned vertically along the keyboard's right and left edges. The speakers are very loud and clear. They are perfect for playing music in an office cubicle, small office, or room. They do not produce any bass. If you are into vocals and non-bass instruments, then you will be very happy with the nc8230's speakers. If you prefer bass, I would recommend a desktop or portable speaker solution to meet your sound preference. Other nice features are the volume controls and mute button positioned directly above the keyboard.
Ergonomics, keyboard, touchpad and pointing stick
HP nc8230 Keyboard and Touchpad (view larger image)
The nc8230's keyboard features full-size buttons for all of the primary keys. The Function keys, scrolling and editing, and arrow keys are about half-size and are relatively easy to locate due to the bold lettering on all of the keys.
The keys are textured and have a light tension to them. They do have a fair amount of travel to them but offer good feedback when pressed. The keyboard appears to be geared toward the precision typist as the textured surface does a good job of preventing fingers from slipping off the keys. There is no flex in the keyboard or chassis no matter how firmly it is pressed. Most of the keys have a notable click when pressed. Typing noise from the nc8230 should not be too disruptive in quiet environments.
The nc8230's moderately recessed touchpad won't have you scrolling out of the touchpad area. It is comfortable to use, fast, light and responsive to the touch. Although I am not a fan of pointing sticks, the rubber-tipped touchpad pointing stick moves very quickly and accurately.
The nc8230 comes with two sets of three-button mice, one for the pointing stick and one for the touchpad. The buttons have a very light feel and respond quickly when single or double-clicked. The buttons are rubber coated and offer a very good feel. For some, depending on how the touchpad and/or pointing stick and buttons are used, and how the fingers are positioned, there is potential to irritate your thumb or develop a blister due to the friction created between your skin and rubber surface.
One drawback of the three-button function is that the buttons are small. There is the potential to inadvertently click the middle mouse button when trying to click either the left or right mouse button. I replaced my three-button touchpad with the two-button touchpad found on the nx8220. Replacement is very easy and does not require any physical modifications to the system's chassis. The two-button mouse can be ordered directly from HP.
The vertical scroll area is very useful and works very well. It scrolls very quickly when activated. Activating the scroll area does occasionally require a firm tap.
The palm rest is quite comfortable, does not have any sharp edges, and is coated to protect from wearing too quickly. The nc8230, unfortunately, does not have the textured and very comfortable palm rest surface like the Evo N610c and other HP business notebooks.
From a performance standpoint, the nc8230 delivers quite well for my requirements. I'm sure this is attributed to the 1.86 GHz Intel Pentium-M 750 CPU and 1GB of system memory. From power-up, the system boots to the Windows XP login screen in less than 60 seconds. Launching and switching back and forth between applications is very quick. The benchmarks I ran seem to support my impression.
The nc8230 calculated Pi to 2 million digits in 1 minute and 44 seconds, faster than my Pentium-4 3.0GHz desktop system with 1GB of RAM, which performed the calculation in 1 minute and 53 seconds. The nc8230 also achieved a 3D Mark 05 Score of 1249 and a PC Mark '04 score of 4081. See the following table for a comparison of the nc8230 time for calculating Pi to 2 million digits to other notebooks:
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|HP nc8230 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 44s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Pentium M)||2m 28s|
Although the nc8230 performs exceptionally, it does get quite hot when running at full throttle. HP must have come to the same conclusion since the system features four intake vents on the bottom of the system. I would not recommend leaving this system on your lap while the system is performing any intensive functions, at least not with the configuration referenced in this review. I would also recommend a laptop cooler to provide additional cooling, protection while the laptop is sitting on your lap and protection against system overheating.
The nc8230's exhaust fan works quite nicely. When the system isn't under load, the fan cannot be heard and barely emits any air out of the exhaust vent. As the system performs more intensive functions the fan speed increases accordingly. The fan can be heard but will not be disruptive in a quiet environment. The fan also spins down and returns to its quiet state as system load decreases or when the system becomes idle.
The nc8230 referenced in this review comes with both Intel 2200bg 802.11 b/g wireless and Bluetooth. Both wireless functions can be activated and deactivated using the wireless on/off button above the keyboard. The HP Wireless Assistant software will have to be installed in order to enable the button's functionality.
Wireless range and throughput are both very good. I have not yet tested the Bluetooth feature yet since I do not have any Bluetooth devices to test with.
The nc8230 comes with an 8-cell 69Wh battery that offers impressive battery life. I ran two tests using Battery Eater Pro '05. In Classic mode, when all power-saving options are disabled, the nc8230 gets approximately two-hours of battery life.
In Reader's Test mode, when all power-saving options are fully enabled, ambient light sensor enabled, and Bluetooth and Wireless LAN enabled, the nc8230 gets 4 hours and 10 minutes of battery life. Additionally, the display was left on for the duration of the testing and ran a photo album screen saver through the majority of the test.
For those who are away from the office or home for an extended period of time, and don't have access to an AC power source, the nc8230 should offer exceptional battery life with the appropriate power management settings.
Operating System & Software
HP ships most of its nc8230 systems with Windows XP Professional. An OEM CD is included in case the user ever needs to perform a system recovery. I have to give credit to HP for shipping this system with a Windows build that wasn't filled with all types of unnecessary software that eat up system resources. HP also ships an nc8230 instruction manual on CD and a separate driver disk to install and enable hardware components and system features.
HP also includes Adobe Acrobat reader, HP mobile print driver, HP ProtectTools Security Manager for added security capabilities, Sonic RecordNow!, Symantec Norton Antivirus with complimentary 60-day LiveUpdate, and Intervideo WinDVD.
Service and Support
The nc8230 comes with a three-year limited hardware warranty, 24 hours a day 7 days a week telephone technical support, as well as various online support resources available through its web site.
My impression at the time of this writing is that the ambient light sensor works too aggressively. In spite of this, it seems to work relatively well and makes the display very easy on the eyes after prolonged usage. I will, however, have to look into what the ideal brightness setting for the average user is when using a laptop.
Another complaint is with the docking connector on the bottom of the nc8230. The docking connector is completely exposed, which could result in damage to the docking connector depending on where the notebook is placed or how it is transported. On the other hand, my Evo N610c notebook's docking connector was covered. The cover, however, would occasionally slide open under a variety of different conditions.
HP, apparently, still has not been able to come up with an effective docking connector solution. My preference would be to have the cover on the nc8230 even if it occasionally troublesome.
The HP NC8230 offers the right balance of portability and performance in a thin and relatively light form factor. For those looking for a desktop replacement functionality and performance in a thin package, I would strongly recommend the HP nc8230.
Pricing and Availability
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