By Jaime Parsons, Australia
Overview & Introduction
– Note to readers, this B2800 notebook is currently available in Asia and Australia only –
The model being reviewed is the Compaq Presario B2800. This model is the first of its kind and is the result of a manufacturing agreement between Hewlett-Packard Compaq and Asus, where the latter will produce some of the notebooks under the Compaq brand for the Asia-Pacific market. This deal was revealed in the Taiwanese newspaper Taipei Times (Saturday, Dec 03, 2005, Page 10).
The Compaq B2800 is a 14”screen laptop with an overall weight, including the 6 cell battery, of around 2.2 kg (just over 4.8 lb, for those readers not use to the Metric System). This, together with its slim profile, clearly puts in the Thin and Light’ category.
My exact configuration is as follows:
- Pentium M 740 at 1.73 GHz.
- Intel 915PM Express chipset.
- 14″ screen with a resolution of 1024 x 728 with Brightview (that is a glossy coating, according to HP-Compaq branding name)
- 512 DDR2 SDRAM 533 MHz. This module is welded to the Motherboard
- HD Hitachi Travelstar 80 Giga 100 ATA at 5400 rpm.
- ATI X600 SE with 128 discrete memory and 128 mega of Hypermemory (shared with the RAM). This brings it up to a theoretical total of 256 megs
- SoundMAX HD Audio.
- Integrated Intel WiFi b/g, Intel Pro/Wireless 2200BG
- Integrated Bluetooth
- Matsushita DVD-RAM UJ841 S. Super-Multi Dual Layer DVD RW/ R.
I know that there are some other configurations available, for example in Malaysia they offer the exact same model but with a Pentium M 760 running at 2 GHz. Apart from CPU speed and price I have seen no real variations in this model that doesn’t seem to be that widely available and is not configurable.
Reasons for purchase
I had been searching for a laptop to replace my aging HP nx9010 for around 2 months prior Christmas 2005/6 but hadn’t decided on anything. After coming back from holidays at the beggining of February I had made my mind up and purchased the Compaq B2800.
The old nx9010 was too uncomfortable to carry around due to its bulkiness and weight. Its performance was also lacking and didn’t allow me to play the newer 3D Real Time Strategy Games (RTS) or RPG.
I had a budget of A$2000 to A$3000 (that is Australian dollars). Preferably I wanted it to be closer to 2000 than to 3000.
There were 4 main criteria, apart from price, that influenced my buying decision:
- Build: First and formost was the build quality. My previous notebook was definitely not stellar in this aspect.
- Design: The design of my old notebook was simply quite poor.
- Performance: By no means is it the fastest notebook, but it is quite well balanced and no single component lags behind the rest.
- Weight: If I wanted to use the notebook at work I needed it to be lighter than 3 kg otherwise it was too much of a hassle to carry it from home to work and back home.
My newly purchased B2800 notebook does all of that perfectly and even proves very good in some of the other areas, especially in build quality and design.
The alternatives I had been considering before Christmas were many as I had looked at innumerable models by many manufacturers and brands. I nearly bought a NEC P1800 but it didn’t seem very nicely designed and it was a bit heavy closer to the 3 kg mark than to the 2 kg. I nearly bought a Sony S series but it was a little to small for every day use and slightly outside my budget.
Where and from whom it was purchased
The Compaq B2800 was purchased at Harvey Norman (an Australian electronics retailer), in Central Melbourne. I chose to purchase at Harvey Norman because I didn’t consider that saving A$100, if purchased online on the HP Shop, was worthwhile. Especially when you’re already spending over A$2000, you want to make sure your investment turns out fine so buying it at Harvey Norman provided me with that confidence. In total, with GST (value added tax), it was just under A$2500.
The box was well packed and protected and the contents were few, but all useful. Apart from the computer it came with the recovery CD, Windows XP Home, Microsoft Works, a short manual and some various warning papers. It also came with a travel power A/C power adaptor.
It also came with its own custom white optical mouse. This mouse works OK but is slightly small, even for my liking, but is fine for everything except gaming. It has two LEDs, one red one at the back and a central LED that constantly changes colour. As any mouse nowadays it has two buttons and a central wheel.
Build & Design
As mentioned earlier these are two of the strong points in regards to this notebook.
The build quality is very good. The only notebooks that have an equivalent build quality are more expensive models by Sony, Asus, Lenovo and Apple and maybe by manufacturers such as Sager and MSI.
The screen, when pressed in on the back, does not produce a ripple effect on the display and only gives in slightly when pressed strongly around the centre.
The design is characterised by the pristine white that is in every single element of the notebook. The back of the screen itself is built with a white glossy, shiny and quite reflective plastic. It feels nearly like a white mirror. They call the finish colour Piano white’, on the HP-Compaq website.
The rest of the notebook, including underneath the unit, is made of a white plastic material that is slightly rough and textured. This means that it doesn’t get scratched or smudged easily. It also seems very resilient, so resistant that I suspect that it’s a composite material.
As can be seen in the following image, the notebook can have its CPU (the unit with the heat sinks and fan) and HD (the unopened compartment to the right of the picture) updated and also has the capacity to incorporate another SDRAM module, bringing the maximum available RAM up to 1.5 GB. We can also appreciate the location of the battery at the back of the unit and its latching mechanism, which is simple and straight forward.
Another nice touch is the fact that all the LED lights are in blue that combines nicely with the white scheme found on the rest of the notebook. The LED’s show the status of the System Power, NUM Lock, CAPS Lock, Battery charging, HDD/Optical activity (in one LED, but the optical drive has its own orange LED on the tray) and WiFi.
The screen is one of the week points of this notebook. For some reason it isn’t a widescreen, but it is true that widescreen have taken a bit longer to be adopted in Asian notebook models, except by Sony. But still, at this day in age they should offer this notebook with a widescreen.
The resolution is a very standard 1024 x 768. This is good and bad. It’s good because you only have a 14″ screen and it means that text is easily readable without any short of magnifying software. It also means that, having a very standard resolution, you will have no problems with games or similar programs. On the downside is the fact that you have less real estate’ for image editing programs such as Photoshop, Dreamweaver, 3D Studio Max, etc.
The screen is a glossy screen, what HP-Compaq defines as Bright View. The games, movies and photos do gain from the glossy finish but, as happens with nearly all glossy screens, it can be uncomfortable with productivity software such as Microsoft Office. I personally don’t find it annoying, especially in environments with less light, like my living room. In the office I do find it a bit annoying, but increasing the brightness tends to solve the problem and I must admit that at the office the light is very stark and somewhat annoying to start with.
There is some light leakage at the bottom of the screen, this is far more noticeable with certain colour schemes than with others and actually isn’t very bad at all with black. It can be a bit annoying, I wouldn’t consider it terrible, but again it isn’t up to the standards of other competitor models.
This is probably tiresome for most of the frequent readers of NotebookReview.com, but I must say that the speakers are just barely adequate. But what do you expect in a thin & light’ notebook? With this I am not implying they are bad, they are perfectly fine for simple, non-demanding sound tasks. They have no real bass, but on the other hand, the sound they emit is not distorted and the volume is adequate.
I must admit that I’m a bit of an audiophile, so I don’t listen to music using notebook speakers. So the quality of the speakers is not an issue. I care more about the audio output from the jacks as I use decent headphones. And it seems fine but I haven’t had enough time to really test it out.
The notebook has an integrated microphone in the screen, which, surprisingly, records sound quite decently. It is not a feature I will use much as I have my own headphones with integrated microphone and because I find that talking out loud to a screen seems kind of strange.
Processor and performance
The results are what you would expect from a Pentium M 740 machine. It is much faster than my old Pentium 4 HP notebook and is also a bit more responsive than my AMD Athlon XP 2000+ desktop. It is more than fast enough for nearly anything you would ask of it. If you want further speed you could also buy a faster CPU model like the Pentium M 760.
The computer takes around 25 to 30 seconds to start up and a bit less when closing. The time it takes to restart after hibernation is also satisfactory. All in all it is good. It must be considered that these are the results obtained with the default installation and that they can be improved.
The hard drive is a 80 GB, 5400 RPM 100 ATA, that returns just average results. It is not as good as my desktop HD that runs at 7200 RPM but it is quite OK for a notebook.
Actually SuperPI gave a pretty good mark when calculating Pi to an accuracy of 2 million decimals. The time it required was 1:43, which is above average for a notebook with a Pentium M 740.
The results that 3D Mark 2005 shows are decent and enough for most people’s standards, but don’t expect to be able to play games such as Doom 3 at the highest settings because the ATI X600 card is simply not up to the match. You can overclock the memory and the core and it does give some improvement. The results shown are with the default settings and hardware configuration of the notebook and therefore are what a normal use will experience.
(view large image)
Below are the results from HDTune for this notebook, they are not particulary impressive, but not very bad due to the good quality of Hitachi HD.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The keyboard is one of the strong elements of this notebook. I must say, before continuing, that it is a keyboard of a thin & light that means if you have very big hands you might find it uncomfortable regardless of its build quality.
I find it has all the keys I need, with a good placement and I especially like that they are large enough and have adequate travel. It is a well balanced keyboard because it isn’t too soft or too hard and the battery at the back actually lifts up the whole keyboard area giving it a slight tilt, which is nice ergonomically. The keyboard feels clean.
If you are a great fan of multimedia buttons you will be disappointed with this model because most of the functions are integrated into the keyboard itself and only accessible through FN combination of keys. You do have buttons that activate/de-activate the WiFi-Bluetooth, Touchpad and a quick access button for the web browser and e-mailing client.
The area for the wrists is, at least for me, the perfect size; which means that it isn’t too large or small.
Input & Output Ports
It has the basic array of input/output ports that are situated at either side of the notebook. There are none at the back, except the jack for the power A/C adaptor and the Kensington security lock, as that is where the battery is situated.
Right hand side (from the user to the screen):
- 1 slot for Type I/II PC Card Slot with support for 16-bit PCMCIA and 32-bit Cardbus.
- A 4 in 1 memory card for MMC, XD, SD, MS & MS Pro.
- Two jacks one for audio in (microphone) and for audio out (headphones, speakers, etc). The audio out doubles as a SPDIF with an adaptor.
- IEEE 1394 port.
- Three 2.0 USB ports.
- The heat exhaust.
On the left hand side (from the user to the screen):
- The optical drive tray.
- An additional 2.0 USB port.
- A VGA port.
- A RJ11 port for the integrated MODEM.
- An Ethernet, Fast Ethernet RJ45 port.
- S-Video port.
As you can see there is no IrDA (infrared) port available. That doesn’t seem an inconvenience for me because nothing uses IrDA anymore apart from remote controls, and some mobile phones. And, as mentioned earlier, this notebook has integrated Bluetooth so any new mobile phones will not need to be connected to the notebook using IrDA. The lack of IrDA will only be a problem if you have legacy periphericals such as my old Palm M505, but I never used the IrDA to connect the Palm with my old notebook as it is directional and quite slow, making it inconvenient.
The Intel Pro Wireless 2200 BG card serves as the integrated WiFi card. That means that this notebook is a fully Centrino compliant model, not that it means that much apart from maybe a somewhat reduced battery consumtion.
From my home living room I can receive the signal of 7 WiFi conections. Furthermore three of them have maximum signal strength, where as before, with my WiFi PCMCIA Card I could only receive 4 and only my own router with excellent signal quality. That is definitely an improvement.
On the other hand it has integrated Bluetooth which I personally think is a plus as I tend to use a bit for my mobile phone and might consider buying certain Bluetooth peripherals. It seems to operate fine with two Sony-Ericsson phones I own. I haven’t tested it with other peripherals though.
The 6-cell battery in this notebook lasts around 3 hours with light use. This means text input on a program like Word, WiFi constantly on, some web browsing, etc. This is accomplished by underclocking the CPU to a more leisurely pace of 800 MHz and having the screen brightness level just over half, which is more than an average user would need.
The power brick, A/C adaptor is quite small and light and is of good quality. This makes it easy when carrying the notebook and all of the necessary cables without having to drag along a bag that weighs over 3 Kg.
Operating System & Software
The B2800 comes with Windows XP Home preinstalled together with some other software and drivers. Some of the software included is Microsoft Works, Money, Norton Protection Suite, etc.
The amount of software is fine, and there isn’t much bloatware. I do tend to eliminate most of it, but that is my personal preference.
It comes with the recovery CD for most of the software and also for the operative system, and drivers. This is definitely a good feature. Another good feature is that it comes formated with one large NTFS partition which is the most ideal configuration for my needs.
Support is something that I really can’t give much information about. I have had some dealings with Harvey Norman (the retailer I bought this from) and their guarantee seems fine. But I haven’t tested HP-Compaq in Australia to have an opinion.
The website seems fine, but is not wonderful and the amount of information is just adequate but seems easy enough to find. I haven’t used their technical support as I nearly always resolve the issues myself. But they do offer a 12 month limited warranty for labour and parts.
The screen. Simply put, the screen should be a widescreen. This is the major complaint and problem I see with this notebook. The quality of the screen itself is nothing that great and is poor for today’s standards. This is the main failing of this notebook by far.
It doesn’t have an IrDA port. But I do not think that nowadays that should be considered a major draw back.
It only has one RAM slot available for expansion which with the integrated 512 DDR2 RAM can amount to a maximum of 1.5 GB. I don’t see it as much of a problem, as 1.5 is enough for most programs, including more demanding memory usage programs like Photoshop. If you need more than 1.5 GB of RAM in the near future you should be looking at a thin and light notebook.
Beautiful design. It is true, to a certain extent, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but only to a certain point. This notebook has definitely got a much more attractive design than your average Dell, HP or even Toshiba and compares well to other more up market brands such as Sony.
Dedicated graphics card. The ATI X600 isn’t the best, but it is more than enough for older games and for non 3D shooters. It is more than enough for the likes of World of Warcraft and AOE 3. And it can be easily overclocked with no problem whatsoever.
It is very silent. The fan only turns on when the temperature goes over 65 C and this rarely happens during the normal operation of the notebook except when gaming. Even when the fan does turn on it is very silent and the heat expelled isn’t terrible.
Good build quality. This applies to everything in the notebook from the keyboard to the solid screen backing. It is a very sturdy notebook for its weight and size.
This is not a notebook for everybody, this may sound obvious but this is a notebook for those that are searching for a 14″ stylish notebook that has a dedicated graphics card. If you’re looking for a very good deal, for excellent performance or the lightest notebook this isn’t for you.
On the other hand I must say that I’m very satisfied with it because it does all I need it to do and it pleases my eye and it even allows me to carry it with relative ease from one place to another. It is good for casual gaming, it is good for word processing, spread sheets and similar and is powerful enough for some web designing.
My personal recommendation is to add another GB of RAM and it will make this notebook a decent performer.