by Blake Feinstein
HP nc8430 Review
HP nc8430 15.4-inch screen business notebook (view large image)
The following is a review for the HP Compaq nc8430, a business oriented mainstream notebook with a 15.4" screen. The nc8430 is currently one of HP's best selling business models with its great combination of power and portability.
HP Compaq nc8430 (SKU #: EY688AA) specs as reviewed:
This notebook also comes with a few nice bells and whistles like Bluetooth, Intel's Centrino Core Duo mobile technology, biometric fingerprint sensor, an ambient light sensor, a wireless on and off button, as well as a presentation mode button, integrated smart card reader, and a SD media slot.
Reasons for Buying:
The warranty ran out on my old Dell Latitude D600 which is about 3 years old now and currently needs a new motherboard. I decided to just go ahead and buy a new computer as my Dell's hardware always seems to be failing. I wanted something with good build quality, the ability to play some of the latest games, and something that was mildly portable. First I looked to IBM because I have had great experiences with them in the past, but the graphics cards they offered were not as powerful enough for the games I wanted to play. So after some research and much help from the notebookreview.com forums I decided that the HP Compaq nc8430 was the best fit for me. There is an overwhelming amount of mainstream notebooks out there today and making a decision is very difficult. I decided to purchase the HP nc8430 over all its other competitors like the Dell D820, Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi, Compal HEL80, and the Asus Z96J because of the following features the that nc8430 offers:
Where and How Purchased:
I was originally planning to buy it from HP directly but as the salesman on the phone told me "HP has a presence in every state" so there was approximately $200 of tax, so I looked elsewhere to avoid the tax. I bought this notebook from MacMall.com because I got free UPS shipping. I paid $1,699.99 for the laptop. I also purchased 2GB of ram from New Egg for $159.98, both of the DIMMs came with an $8 rebate so it was a pretty good deal.
Build and Design:
HP nc8430 top view of the closed lid (view large image)
The HP nc8430 has a very sturdy feel. The HP as mentioned before has a magnesium chassis and display enclosure. There are no creaks any where on the computer. The hinges on the screen are very strong, and there is no rippling or wobbling. The material around the keyboard deck does not feel quite as nice as to me as those found on an IBM T43 but that may just be that I like the more textured feel of the IBM's plastic compared to the HP's smooth plastic. The keyboard deck is fitted with what HP calls an "in-mold lamination" which is designed to resist scratches. The over all the build quality is most impressive.
As far as the design goes it is a little on the plain side but that is what one expects from a business machine. Everything is laid out nicely with the exception of the USB ports which I feel are too close to the front of the keyboard and get in the way when in a tight space with the ports filled. There are nice little pictures along the edge of both sides of the keyboard deck which make it easy to find the port you are looking for. As I mentioned above I upgraded the ram and it was the easiest memory upgrade I have ever preformed on a laptop. To get to the first DIMM it was just one screw to take off the little cover on the bottom of the computer. To get to the second its just two screws on the bottom then four little tabs and the top of the keyboard you just slide down and then you just lift the keyboard right out and that's it. I used this computer on my lap for a little over an hour the other day and I had no problem with blocking the air intake as it is on the bottom is near the middle of the computer. For the most part the notebook is very clean and straight forward and I like the design of it very much.
HP nc8430 open with screen turned on view (view large image)
The 15.4" screen in my opinion is very good. I went with the WSXGA+ (1680 x 1050) resolution because I like multi-tasking and fitting a bunch of stuff on the screen at one time.
I found the viewing angles to be very good. The horizontal viewing angles are impressive -- you could have a bunch of people huddled around the computer watching a movie and everyone would have a good view as there is very little distortion and change in color when viewed from the side. The vertical viewing angles are not quite as good; there is a sweet spot of sorts and if you move out of that sweet spot you will see the colors either become darker or lighter depending on which way you move it.
The screen also comes with an ambient light sensor that chooses the proper brightness based on the amount of light in the room, and it seems like it works pretty well. The screen is noticeably brighter than the ones found on the IBM T43, Dell D600 and Apple iBook G4. I ran a dead-pixel test and noticed no dead pixels. There is a very small amount of light leakage. The leakage runs the length of the bottom of the screen but is very minimal and no more than a few millimeters high.
The speakers on this machine are better than any of the notebooks I have had in the past, but they still are not great. The speakers are placed on the right and left side of the keyboard and like on most laptops the speakers are a little tinny in my opinion. They do not sound that bad at lower volumes but at max volume they are not great. They are a bit louder than the speakers found on my Dell D600. The computer also has three nice volume control buttons above the keyboard: one to mute, one to increase the volume and one to lower the volume. If you are going to be using the computer to listen to music regularly I would get a pair of good quality headphones or external speakers. I used a pair of Koss Porta Pros to listen to music on the notebook and they sounded very good.
Processor and Performance:
The overall performance of the nc8430 has been pretty impressive with the 2.0 GHz dual core processor, 256MB ATI x1600 graphics processor and 2GB of ram. It boots up very fast, never seems to lag and always is quick to perform. So far the only games I have played on it are Far Cry and Call Of Duty 2. I have no problem running both games on maximum settings.
3DMark06 Comparison Results: The 3D Mark 06 score come with 1694 which is pretty decent HP nc8430 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) Dell Precison M90 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia Quadro FX 1500M)
3DMark 06 Results
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800GTX)
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB)
3DMark06 Comparison Results:
The 3D Mark 06 score come with 1694 which is pretty decent
HP nc8430 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)
Dell Precison M90 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia Quadro FX 1500M)
3DMark05 Comparison Results:
I would have liked to have seen the 3D Mark 05 score a little higher but it is not bad.
Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results HP nc8430 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 3,763 3D Marks Asus W3J (1.83Ghz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 3,925 3D Marks Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 1,791 3D Marks Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 4,236 3DMarks Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB) 7,078 3D Marks Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB) 2,530 3D Marks Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,273 3DMarks HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB) 2,536 3D Marks Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB) 2,090 3D Marks
3D Mark 05 Results
HP nc8430 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)
3,763 3D Marks
Asus W3J (1.83Ghz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)
3,925 3D Marks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)
1,791 3D Marks
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)
Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB)
7,078 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)
2,092 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB)
2,530 3D Marks
Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)
HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)
2,536 3D Marks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB)
2,090 3D Marks
Super Pi (Pi calculated to 2 million digits of accuracy)
The Super PI test time came to 1 minute and 11 seconds which is pretty good.
HP nc8430 (2.0GHz Core Duo)
Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)
Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)
Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)
Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
The 80GB 5400RPM Fujitsu hard drive is not the 15,000RPM Seagate Cheetah hard drive I have used in desktops, but it's not bad at all to use; CPU usage is fairly low which is nice a benefit of a lower speed hard drive on a notebook, saves battery life and there generates less heat.
Overall the benchmarks are respectable for this machine's specifications.
Heat and Noise:
The nc8430 has one good sized fan and a large vent on the right side of the computer. The fan is on almost constantly. When performing not so intensive tasks the fan usually shuts off or runs very quietly at a low speed. When playing graphics intensive games you can hear the fan if you mute the volume of the game but it is pretty quiet and never whines. As far as heat goes it stays fairly cool considering the power of the machine. The exhaust vent blows out warm air; it is never hot.
One thing I do notice is when playing a game the part of the keyboard deck that is right above the exhaust vent -- the area the left speaker inhabits -- gets pretty warm. The palm rest on the left gets a little warm when playing games but never becomes uncomfortable like it would on my Dell D600. I played Far Cry on my lap for a little over an hour to see if the temperature would become uncomfortable on my lap and heat never became a problem. The keyboard never gets hot and seems to keep a pretty consistent temperature throughout the entire keyboard. The nc8430 does a good job of keeping the temperature cool and while the fan does seem to be on a lot the computer stays pretty quiet.
Here is a picture of the cooling system as well as a memory slot and optical drive under the keyboard (view large image)
Keyboard and Touchpad:
The keyboard is very nice to type on. The layout is good and everything is where it should be unlike many of the notebooks today which have the right Ctrl and Fn buttons flipped. I know that always trips me up.
I noticed that there is a slight almost wave form to the way the keyboard lies. Meaning there is a very slight dip right in the middle by the pointing stick. It is not very noticeable but it is there. This dip does not affect typing experience on the keyboard so it is nothing to worry about. There is some flex in the keyboard on the far right but not on any of the letter or number keys.
One of the things I do not like about the keyboard is the thick font which I do not think looks as nice as what is found on your average notebook. Also all of the keys that can be used with the "Fn" button have little blue boxes around their secondary function so they really stick out which results in a keyboard that is not the cleanest looking.
The nice thing about the HP nc8430 is that it comes with two pointing devices -- a touch pad and a pointing stick. I am used to working with pointing sticks and it was a slight factor in purchasing this computer. The pointing stick is very good -- better than others I have used on Dell and Toshiba notebooks, but it cannot compare with the latest IBM Thinkpad pointing sticks which are the best out there.
The touchpad works very well. I like that is recessed a good bit lower than the keyboard deck. At the right edge of the touchpad there is a dedicated scrolling area which is nice. There are three buttons for each of the pointing devices and the middle one is a scroll button. The three buttons are all the same size, I had to get used to the greater reach between the right and left click buttons...no big deal, but I would have liked to seen bigger right and left click buttons and smaller scroll button. The buttons are rubberized and have a very nice feel to them.
Input and Output Ports:
Front side view of nc8430 (view large image)
Right side view of nc8430 (view large image)
Left side view of nc8430 (view large image)
Back view of nc8430 (view large image)
The ports on the nc8430 are pretty standard as far as a notebook is concerned. Just about all of the ports can be found on the left and right side of the computer with the exception of the VGA/external monitor port, and the power connector.
On the left side the ports are as follows (back to front): Kensington lock slot, Ethernet port, phone jack, s-video TV out, IEEE port, one USB 2.0 port PC card slot, SD media slot, integrated smart card reader.
On the right side the ports are as followed (again from back to front): Serial port, Integrated DVD/RW optical drive, 2 USB 2.0 ports, microphone jack and headphone jack.
One of the things I do not like about this computer is that the battery takes up the entire back of the computer which makes very little room for ports back there, so they have been pushed to the sides of the computer. It would be nice to have a couple of USB ports and the Ethernet port on the back as I feel you have to make more room for cords when the ports are on the side.
The HP nc8430 has integrated Intel 3945 802.11a/b/g wireless which works very well with my network at home throughout the house and it was able to pick up a few of the neighbor's networks. I have had no problems with the wireless thus far. The nc8430 also comes with optional integrated Bluetooth. The model I bought came with it. I do not currently have a real use for it on my computer but I did try it out with my Blackberry and it worked just fine.
HP nc8430 underside view (view large image)
The nc8430 comes standard with an 8-cell battery which fits nicely and is flushed at the back. I tested the battery life with the screen at half brightness and wireless on. During the test I surfed the internet and did some word processing with Word. I got a very respectable 3 hours and 36 minutes. The nc8430 also comes with HP's Fast Charge Technology which HP claims "recharges your battery up to 90% within 90 minutes when the system is off." Which I believe only works with the standard 8-cell battery. Unfortunately I have not tested how well the Fast Charge Technology works.
Operating System and Software:
All HP nc8430s come with Windows XP Professional fully installed with all of the drivers. I got no discs with this computer. One of the things I did not realize when I bought it was that there is no reinstallation disc either. Instead about 6.0GB of the hard drive is partitioned to act more or less as the reinstallation or recovery disc. I believe it is possible to request a recovery disc from HP but don't quote me on that. The HP came with very little bloatware which was a very nice surprise...you get a little help software that is easy to remove. You also get HP's "Protect Tools Security Manager" which allows you to mess with the BIOS configuration without actually having to go into the BIOS. The Protect Tools also contain HP's "Credential Manager" which stores passwords and also is the software that is used with the fingerprint scanner which seems to work pretty well. The computer also came with Sonic Digital Media Plus v7 which allows you to burn CDs and DVDs. You also get InterVideo WinDVD to watch movies.
I called tech support just once as this computer comes with very little literature (which is not such a great thing). I wanted to know how to properly install memory on this computer. When I called I got ahold of someone to help me very quickly -- I would say within two minutes, which was pretty impressive. The gentleman on the phone was very easy to understand and told me how to do it step by step. While I did not really present HP's tech support service with any tough problems to deal with I was impressed with my brief experience. The nc8430 comes with a 3 year parts and labor warranty standard which is definitely above average. There are available upgrades that extend the warranty and you can also add on-site services as well as an accidental damage program.
In conclusion the HP Compaq nc8430 is a great notebook. There are so many other mainstream notebooks out on the market today; choosing one is by no means an easy task. If you can afford the price of entry the nc8430 is a great choice. Few can match the combination of business class quality, gaming power, and portability of the nc8430 which makes it a real winner.
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