Compaq Presario v5207 Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (34,401)

by Christopher Wyckoff

Introduction

 
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There was a time when notebook computers were financially unreachable for all but those with the highest budgets for computers. Now we have reached a point where a decent quality notebook can be had for a few hundred dollars, as opposed to a couple thousand. While these bargain basement notebooks often don’t have all the bells and whistles of the higher end machines, they are typically more than capable of being a reliable every day system for the average user. The Compaq V5207 could be had this week at Best Buy, for $399 with no rebates, and no convoluted internet service sign-ups. Is the Compaq worth the money even at this price point?


Appearance

At first glance, the Compaq is not exactly a great example of style and grace in a notebook. In a previous review, I tackled Apples MacBook unit, which could be considered one of the more fashionable notebook computers available thus far. In contrast, I have never been a fan of the two tone black top/silver interior scheme that a lot of the Compaq units share. I don’t see the purpose in it, and it only serves to make the notebook look cheaper. The black exterior also picks up grease and fingerprints quite easily. I would suggest that a dust cloth be the second thing you purchase along with this machine. After actually opening the machine, a few more things become apparent. If you’ve used previous Compaq notebooks you are familiar with the flimsy latch mechanism. The latch system feels much sturdier than it has in previous Compaq offerings. Frequently the button which released the latch would become loose, and rattle around after frequent usage. A welcome change from a build standpoint is that the latch is now a metal ring as opposed to a plastic hook. Physically this doesn’t look that pleasing to the eye, but I would suggest that this is better than having a unit that doesn’t close properly after a few months of heavy use.

Keyboard

 
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The keyboard is also revamped from previous versions of the Presario series. Previously the keys were among the worst in portable computing, having a mushy, cheap sort of feel. The keys tended to wobble back and forth while partially depressed, as if they were too large for the springs they sat on. Add to this the fact that keys popped off at an alarming rate, and you had deal breaking problem with the lower end Compaqs. Now the keys appear to be more stiff and sturdy, using a method of construction similar to the last generation Dell Inspiron models. While I would not rank the keys as one of the best I have ever experienced, I would place them on par with what you would expect from a midrange notebook. Typing for extended periods of time caused no discomfort, and going from my desktop keyboard to this machines keys, took only a few minutes to adapt to. I am naturally very critical of keyboards, being that I spend a great deal of time typing. It may sound as if I have a middling opinion of the V5207 keyboard, but in fact I am happy at the changes Compaq has made to the construction and feel of these keys, and I have no glaring complaints about them thus far.

 
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If I had to describe the computer in a word, I would call it — cluttered. Each port on the sides of the unit is denoted with an icon on the face of the machine, and really lends a non-uniform sort of look. Whereas a pricier machine might appear to be molded from a single piece of material, this notebook (and most others in this price range) appears obviously pieced together. There are lots of places where the assembly starts and stops again, and the small rubber pieces that jut out from the units frame (presumably to stop the LCD from sitting flush against the keys), don’t help matters. If you are looking for a notebook that sits at the top of the style chain, the V5000 series is not the one. Fortunately notebooks are judged not solely on the beauty factor, but on the performance to price ratio, as well as other intangibles.

Specs

The unit is spec’d about as you’d expect for such an inexpensive machine. There are very few surprises here.

  • 15.4 inch Widescreen Brightview” Display
  • 6.5lbs
  • 1.46GHz Celeron M 410 (1MB L2 Cache)
  • 60GB 5400 RPM SATA HD
  • 512Mb PC3200 DDR Memory (2×256, Upgradeable to 2Gb (2x1GB)
  • DVD/CD-RW Combo Drive
  • Broadcom 802.11g/b Wireless Card
  • 2 USB 2.0 Ports
  • 6-cell battery

Size

The 15.4 inch widescreen unit isn’t exactly easy on your back, but it’s not so heavy that it becomes a burden to carry around. At 6.5 lbs, it’s right in line with most units of this screen size. If you travel frequently in standard sized airplane seating, this may not be the computer for you. While it will fit on typical trays, the sides of the computer will spill over into the area of whoever has the misfortune to sit next to you. In addition, the height of the computer doesn’t allow you to bend the screen back to a comfortable angle, unless you have it positioned snugly against you. This can get uncomfortable rather quickly. The V5000 isn’t exactly thin either, but its small enough to fit in a decent sized backpack/bag.

If you sit the notebook on a flat surface you will notice it does not sit at an even angle. The rear half of the notebook sits on a sort of platform, about a half inch extended from the rest of the enclosure. Judging by the placement, and the presence of a fan on the right side, I would assume that this has something to do with the cooling of the unit. Maybe a smaller thinner enclosure would have produced more heat. I wouldn’t call this a deal breaker, and I would actually prefer this, to having higher temperatures. Its just something you hould note when trying to shop for notebook bags and cases.

Screen

 
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The resolution tops out at 1280×800, which isn’t exactly terrible, but it’s not great either. Do you sense a pattern here in this review? 1280 x 800 works just fine unless you’re working with high resolution photos, Photoshop files, or things of that sort. The real question is, who is doing high resolution graphics work on a 1.4 ghz Celeron? Not you I hope.

The Brightview screen has always been a subject of controversy in enthusiast circles. The glossy coating does make it more difficult to see the screen clearly in direct sunlight or any direct light for that matter. It also makes photos and videos look much more rich and filled with color. Text pops off the screen compared to the matte coating on some notebooks. There are extensive pros and cons to the screen, and really it’s going to come down to preference. Personally, in those times where I can control my lighting environment (which is 75% of the time), I find the screen to be wonderful. The picture is bright and even, without being overpowering on the highest brightness setting. I found no dead pixels on my unit, and very little in the way of light leakage. There have been occasions in the last few days where I had to sit with my back to a window, and it made me really irritated to deal with the sunny glare on the screen. This is the price you pay for those deeper, richer colors.

Overall I would give the screen a review leaning towards the positive although with any glossy screen, its going to depend on what environment its used in. In the right room or office, the screen is nothing short of brilliant and sharp.

Connectivity


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One of my main problems with this, and other machines in this price range are the lack of connectivity options, mainly the lack of USB ports. Although this is also a problem even on the $1,000+ MacBook. In this day and age, there is a USB connection for everything from phones, to MP3 and video players, to recording devices. Having only 2 USB ports on ANY machine is almost criminal, and though it may seem like something very small, to me it is almost a deal breaker. Unfortunately manufacturers continue to roll out computers with this configuration. Get used to unplugging and re-plugging devices, or purchase a portable USB hub.

The computer lacks Bluetooth but comes standard with a Broadcom 802.11g wireless card, which worked without issue for the duration of my time with the notebook. I never lost signal, nor did I see the connection drop in strength anywhere in my apartment. I was actually rather impressed with the stability of the card, compared to my old Dell Inspiron which would drop out every once in a while.

Multimedia


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Notebooks are used for entertainment purposes as much as work purposes in todays market. Typically they double as secondary DVD players, and traveling media stations. Unfortunately, a big part of that package is sound, a place where notebooks in this price range typically lack. The V5000 pleasantly surprised me however. The Altec Lansing speakers aren’t exactly booming, but they are much louder, and have a much greater dynamic range than the average portable speaker. HP/Compaq made a smart move in placing the speakers in the front of the unit as opposed to on the top or sides. A sure thumbs up in this department.

Overall Performance and Impressions

Honestly I was not expecting peak performance from this unit. It would be used mainly for unloading photos from shoots on location, and occasional accounting work with Excel. I was not foolish enough to expect to game, or do heavy graphics work on this machine. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by how responsive the stock configuration actually was. The Celeron M 410 benefits from the beefy 1MB L2 Cache, and actually performs up to par with my 2.8ghz Celeron D desktop machine (which might not be saying much, considering the paltry 256MB L2 cache found on that chip). I found the operating system started quickly, and applications responded with snap. The decent performance can also be attributed to the usage of 5400 RPM SATA drives, which are now standard on most notebooks.

The Compaq comes stock with 512MB of RAM, which can be upgraded to 2GB. This is pretty standard for most notebooks. Even with the 512MB in, for my usage, the computer remained responsive and problem free.

Heat is always a concern in regards to notebooks. This unit ran quiet and cool even under extended periods of full load. A true test is simply how warm does it feel on your lap? Even at its warmest, I can barely notice any heat coming from the unit. The Celeron M processor lacks some of the power management tools of its big brother the Pentium M, but still runs cool to the touch. Under load, temperatures got as high as 60c but typically ranged in the 50-55c range. In comparison my old Inspiron 6000 (1.6ghz Sonoma) ran in the 40-45c range. Every once in a while you can hear the fan spinning up, but otherwise the unit remains quiet.

Battery life was what I expected from this unit — average. The notebook comes with a 6-cell battery, which will net you about 2 to 3 hours of average use. I was able to get up to 3:30 with the Wi-Fi card disabled. There is an optional 12 cell battery available from HP which should double your battery life. It also runs $179.99, so unless it can be had more cheaply, it diminishes the value of the unit a bit. If you were going to spend around $600, you could likely get a machine with much beefier specs.

Therein lies the problem with buying a machine at such a bargain basement price. If the stock configuration fits your needs, then it’s obviously a great deal. When you get into upgrades and add-ons however, one can easily end up spending as much as you would on a much more expensive machine, thus defeating the purpose of buying a value priced machine in the first place. In my case, the stock config does everything I need it to do. I’m never far from an outlet, and on the off chance I am, it’s typically not for more than a few hours.

A Small Note

The one area I haven’t covered is the software. Typically users simply install their own software onto these computers anyway, so it’s not really an area that requires much in the way of exposition. So why am I talking about it? The sheer amount of bloatware included on this unit is staggering. It took better than an hour to remove all the wonderful software included by Compaq. Savvy users will simply attempt to reformat the computer with a clean install. Before you do this, a word of warning — SATA drivers are not included in Windows XP installations by default. What this means is, your attempts to reformat the drive will be met with blue screens, and restarts, unless you disable SATA support in the BIOS, and then install XP. After you have installed Windows, and reinstalled HP’s drivers, you may then re-enable SATA support. Refer to the forums on this site for detailed guides.

Conclusion

Overall, I find this notebook to be exactly what I expected. Middle of the road. There are some questionable design choices, and performance isn’t amazing, but I didn’t need it to be. There are some strong pluses, which make this absolutely worth the $400 I paid for it. Had this unit been priced at the original $599, I would definitely not have such a glowing opinion of its value. Don’t be fooled by the low clock speed of the Celeron M 410. It blazes through most every day applications, and as long as you have no inclination to do video editing or graphics work, you should be fine. I’d give it a solid thumbs up as a bargain basement notebook.

Pros

  • Brightview Screen
  • Improved Keyboard
  • Stable Wi-Fi Card
  • Great speakers for a notebook computer
  • Runs cool and quiet

Cons

  • Brightview Screen
  • Questionable design choices
  • A tad heavy
  • Bloatware

 

Additional Photos

 
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