by Paul Sisson
The Hewlet Packard nc6230 is more tool than toy. This is not the kind of bling bling notebook you see people conspicuously flaunting at your local Starbucks.
HP nc6230 (view larger image)
It appears the HP 6200 series is meant to compete directly with IBM/Lenovo's Thinkpad T series of business-class notebooks. I purchased the 6230 after returning the HP nc6220 which I used for one month. The two models are identical, except the 6230 has a stand-alone graphics card and a larger hard drive for only $150 more.
I bought my HP nc6230 directly from Hewlet Packard's small business Web site. It was configured with the following specs:
Why I bought the nc6230
I had a few basic considerations in mind when I went laptop shopping. My system needed to cost ~$1,500, have a Pentium M processor, weigh about five pounds, have at least a three-year warranty, a 14-inch screen and a full-size high-quality keyboard. My new notebook will usually be used at home, but will need to be portable for trips and for some fieldwork associated with my job as a full-time working journalist.
After considering the spectrum of available thin and light notebooks from Asus to Toshiba, I narrowed my search to three: The HP, Dell's new D610 business class machine and the Thinkpad T series. After reading every review I could find on all three, I opted for the HP because it seemed to offer solid build quality and up-to-date specs for less money than the IBM models. Specifically a comparably-equipped Thinkpad T-42 cost $392 more and a T-43 cost about $500 more. Those prices were from Lenovo's Web site. A T-42 could have been had from a third party Web site for about $1,500, but with only a one-year warranty. Dell's D610 cost about $75 less than the HP, but it seemed the HP's build quality was a bit sturdier.
As I type this review the notebook feels rock solid under my fingertips and is well balanced in my lap. Opening and closing the system is a pleasantly silent experience, with none of the creaks, groans or flexing associated with cheapness.
The nc6230 is clad in a combination of metal and plastic. The screen is wrapped in a dark grey metal case while the bottom half of the notebook is matching metal on the top plane and plastic on the sides and bottom. In addition to the Synaptics track pad there is also a eraser-style pointer with its own pair of dedicated right and left buttons.
HP nc6230 screen (view larger image)
The screen seems well designed and renders photos and text crisply and with good contrast. HP also includes an ambient light sensor to dynamically control screen brightness. This feature is designed to improve battery life, and it seems to do a decent job of detecting ambient light and adjusting screen brightness accordingly, though sometimes I wish it would give me a little more luminance. Luckily there is a function key that can toggle this feature on and off.
Audio performance is about what I expected from a business notebook. It plays music well, but we're not talking surround sound here.
Overall this laptop's fit and finish is sturdy and subtle. Sure, the case is more muted than others, and some may find it bland. But I prefer a functional design without the silver plastic look that has taken over most notebook design these days.
Overall the system seems to respond immediately to my instructions, whether it's opening a web browser or loading a photo for editing. I have not yet had any blue screens and boot up is about 30 seconds. Shutdown can sometimes take a bit longer, and I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps it's the 5,400 rpm hard drive? The ATI X300 graphics card seems decent for a notebook. I could play Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Need For Speed Underground 2 at full resolution without noticeable pauses. The 3D graphics engine scored 713 3dmarks in Futuremark.
Here are a few benchmarks covering overall system performance:
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|HP nc6230 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 40s|
|IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||2m 02s|
|Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M)||2m 40s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 28s|
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores|
|Dell Latitude D410 (2.0 GHz)||HP nc6230 (1.86 GHz)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||3.8 MB/s||3.37 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||29.21 MB/s||24.41 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||25.28 MB/s||1696.87 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||11.78 MPixels/s||55.27 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1889.02 MB/s||1349.58 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||3.0 KB/s||-|
|File Decryption||58.7 MB/s||55.27 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2684.73 KB/s||-|
|Web Page Rendering||6.01 Pages/s||4.72 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||54.23 FPS||50.95 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||93.54 FPS||-|
|Graphics Memory - 64 Lines||373.98 FPS||829.17|
|Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores|
|3DMark Score||192 3DMarks||-|
|CPU Score||1762 CPUMarks||-|
|GT1 - Return To Proxycon||0.8 FPS||-|
|GT2 - Firefly Forest||0.5 FPS||-|
|GT3 - Canyon Flight||1.0 FPS||-|
|CPU Test 1||1.1 FPS||-|
|CPU Test 2||1.3 FPS||-|
|HD Tune Benchmarks|
|Minimum Transfer Rate||16.0 MB/sec|
|Maximum Transfer Rate||34.2 MB/sec|
|Average Transfer Rate||27.7 MB/sec|
|Acess Time||18.1 ms|
|Burst Rate||60.1 MB/sec|
Wireless performance and other I/O
This notebook comes with the same Intel 2200 b/g wireless card that many other manufacturers use. When I first purchased the nc6220 I noticed that the wireless signal constantly fluctuated, sometimes dropping so low that it disconnected from the access point. I also frequently got unacceptable levels of packet loss and some programs, like the Skype Internet telephony program, crashed the wireless connection.
When I returned the 6220 and purchased the 6230, I hoped the new card would not have the same problems. But it did. HP tech support was absolutely no help. However, after doing a fair amount of Web research, I found that Intel has released a new beta driver which has completely fixed the problem. The wireless card now works flawlessly.
I still do not understand why HP would ship this notebook with a crappy wireless driver.
Left side view of HP nc6230 (view larger image)
This laptop has three USB 2.0 ports but no fire wire. It also has a serial port, a standard PC card slot and a SD memory card slot as well. All the ports seem to work well and are well located on the right and left sides of the notebook. There is no parallel port which does not bother me at all. There is also an infrared port though my model does not have Bluetooth which is available as an option.
HP also included an SVideo out port which I have used to play several movies on my television with no problems.
Keyboard and Touchpad
HP nc6230 keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)
The keyboard is one of my favorite aspects of this laptop. The keys have a slightly textured feel and perfect key travel and spacing. I find I can type full speed on this keyboard with no problems. Likewise the touchpad has a similar textured feel and seems to be very accurate. The separate pointer is a nice touch as well, though I find I do not use it as much as I thought I would. Mouse buttons are well located.
This is an area where the nc6230 seems to have taken some knocks compared to the competition. Reviews on Cnet and PCWorld both knock the notebook for comparatively short battery life compared to the IBM T series. I find I get more than three hours of regular use on the standard three-cell battery and have noticed that many of the comparable IBM reviews include a six-cell extended battery. The nc6230 scored a 1 hour 59 minute score on the battery eater torture test.
Standard stuff here. XP Pro with a restore CD and some generic CD recording software I quickly replaced with Nero. It also included Norton Antivirus.
I am of two minds here. I found the tech support to be quite ineffectual with the wireless problems I experienced and had to rely on Google and the notebookreviews.com forums to make it work. However, HP's small business center is another matter entirely. When I called to return the nc6220 I got through immediately and the person who handled the return was polite and extremely competent.
This notebook perfectly meets my needs. It fits in my existing briefcase and has enough battery life to make me happy. The HP does not include some of the nice additional features that the Thinkpad does, but it also costs less. I guess I would consider the Thinkpad a BMW and the nc6230 a Volvo or a Volkswagen.
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