by Steve Jordi
The HP Compaq 6730b is the “business” edition of the 6730 laptop line recently released by HP. Business means balanced mobility and power. There is a 6730w for “workstation replacement” and 6730s as an entry product.
It’s priced in the $1,000-$1,690 range, depending on the configuration. My model was bought in Switzerland and came only in two flavors: with a 15.4″ WSXGA+ screen (1680×1050) or WXGA (1280×800). I picked the WSXGA+ since I have been working with this resolution for about six years now.
HP Compaq 6730b review unit specifications:
Build and Design
This is a “business” machine. The HP Business line, in my opinion, never really offered attractive models, and
this one is no real surprise. It seems to have the same case as the nc8430 but they added that nice DuraFinish
coat on the palm rest area. This adds up to the sexy look.
The machine seems very solid, the finish is professional. The screen also seems solid even though I always open it carefully, as I would do on any laptop anyway. The deception comes from the CD/DVD tray which definitely feels like a cheap plastic toy. Don’t know how long this will last before breaking.
I also had difficulties to actually feel where the open button is located without really actually looking at it. Once I found it, I still have sometimes a hard time pressing it until the unit opens. Closing it also causes problems as I quite often had to try this four or five times before it locked into the unit. This may be related to that specific unit I have and not to a line-wide problem though. I found a way to close it immediately by just putting pressure with my fingers at the side near the back of the laptop.
It came with no dead pixels at all. This is good especially when you think about the 1680×1050 resolution. The screen is mate, and very clear. It’s a real pleasure to work on it (I sometimes spend 14 hours in front of it without eye strain). Watching DVDs on-screen is also a pleasant experience. Probably not as much as the HP DV line dedicated to multimedia experiences in the family, but still, it’s good.
As always on a LCD screen I tweak it using Microsoft ClearType. As far as I know, it doesn’t leak. I didn’t notice any light smearing on the sides of the screen as you may have on other models. Of course, an LCD screen means that the brightness and quality of image varies a lot depending on the viewing angle. But once you adjust it to the picture quality you like, it’s very nice.
Testing the flexibility of the screen frame came as no surprise. You can see distortions in the lightness of the image but the global feeling is that it feels resistant. I tried to apply finger pressures on the back of the screen and I saw minimal artifacts on the LCD.
There are two rubber pressure points on the keyboard that tend to actually touch the screen’s surface when you close the laptop, so you sometimes see some marks left on the screen, but nothing bothering.
Speakers and Multimedia
This is the BIG surprise of the laptop. I never actually had such great speakers. These ones offer a wide range of frequency and the bass are excellent and deep. This is the first time I’m actually impressed by built-in speakers … especially when you think the laptop is dedicated to business more than home entertainment.
The speakers are located at the front of the case and close to the center of it. I always hook my laptop to external speakers since I dock it to the station, but I travel a lot too and the speaker quality is a plus when spending nights in hotels, watching movies on my laptop.
If you’re into video conferencing or blogging, you will enjoy having a built-in webcam at the top of the screen. From my experience, it’s sufficient for video conferencing using Skype, but don’t expect it to be of much help if you want something more solid. The resolution is VGA (640×480), period. Nothing more. And the quality is not tremendous. I managed to configure it for backlight compensation to improve the quality of the image while in a conference. But hey, you still can hook a better device. At least now, while traveling I don’t need an extra toy in my laptop bag, no more cables running around and no need to sacrifice a USB port. It’s very convenient to have it built in even though it comes as a standard in most today’s laptops (and at better resolutions).
One nice thing though are the microphones. Yes, with an “s”. You have two microphones for stereo recording. They’re located across the top of the screen on the left and right of the integrated webcam.
As said, the tray really looks cheap and it’s doubtful that it will last on the long term. But at least the DVD/CD drive is handling most of today’s formats and is dual layer (DVD+/–RW SuperMulti DL). Also, it embeds HP’s LightScribe technology to burn grayscale images labels directly on the DVD (on LightScribe ready media of course). The provided LightScribe labeler software is a bit light, included with the Roxio suite and I would recommend you to upgrade it to the full version (it’s only about $12.95 for the downloadable version). This way you will be able to write nearly anything, in any way that suits you instead of being stuck with some imposed non editable templates (circular titles only for example).
On the user side, one might regret that the notebook doesn’t come with at least one empty LightScribe CD/DVD as a demo. It’s usually provided with DVD drives. So you will have to go to the local retail store to buy a media box. You won’t be able to play with it and impress the friends and family right out of the box. Also if you want a Blue-Ray DVD, you’ll have to get it as an option.
The laptop came with Microsoft Vista Business 32bit and immediately shows the Windows Experience Index score. The WEI reflects the poorest score of the various tests and the 6730b is at a low 3.4 mainly due to the video chip, but I wouldn’t expect higher scores without a dedicated video chip anyway.
Here are some video benchmarks with Aero enabled and with Aero disabled. Also each benchmark has been done under the “max power” profile (doesn’t spare battery and doesn’t reduce power consumption).
Booting the unit “naked” is relatively fast, but as you stuff it with applications and services, it slows down. I’m new to Vista but even though I didn’t install all of my compiler elements and tools yet, I have the feeling that it crawls more than my old nc8430 under XP Pro SP3. Mine boots in about 6 minutes and 50 seconds (with most of the useless services turned off). And clearly, 2GB of RAM is not enough. Opening just two applications, Outlook and Total Commander, already leads to ugly “Running low on memory. Close applications”. So go ahead and buy an extra 1GB or 2GB, even if Vista 32bit can’t deal with 4GB. It can use 3GB to 3.5GB. It looks like on mine, it uses 3GB for Windows and 700+MB for the video card.
I’m not a game player so I can’t help on this. Still I don’t know about what you think regarding 16:10 screens for gaming either.
As a test I tried editing the same movie on the nc8430 (dedicated video chip) and the 6730b with Cyberlink Power Director 7. I took a 39 minutes movie giving a 2.4GB VOB file:
- the nc8430 took 29 minutes and 32 seconds
- the 6730b took 15 minutes and 57 seconds
Keep in mind that the video chips are different and that, processor-wise, the 6730b is more powerful. So it really was a surprise to see that this 6730b with such a poor video card was twice as fast! Probably thanks to the processor itself.
Vista Windows Experience Index:
|Graphics||3.2 (with Aero ON)|
Now if you set the Intel video chip to best performance, you get:
|Graphics||3.4 (with Aero ON)|
+ 000h 00m 01s [ 16K]
+ 000h 00m 01s [ 32K]
+ 000h 00m 01s [ 64K]
+ 000h 00m 01s [ 128K]
+ 000h 00m 04s [ 256K]
+ 000h 00m 09s [ 512K]
+ 000h 00m 22s [ 1M]
+ 000h 00m 52s [ 2M]
+ 000h 01m 58s [ 4M]
+ 000h 04m 23s [ 8M]
+ 000h 09m 44s [ 16M]
+ 000h 22m 04s [ 32M]
Heat and Noise
As I said, the nc8430 upsets me especially because of the fan noise. What a relief with the 6730b. You barely hear the fan (when it actually goes off) and even at full throttle (while editing a movie or compiling a large C++ project), it’s still more silent than the nc8430 when idle! This says it all.
Again the nc8430 also had a Graphical Processor Unit (GPU) fan, an additional source for heat, but overall, the 6730b is a blessing. I was fearing that laptops would become more and more noisy with more and more powerful chips, but this looks to be wrong. Silent laptops still exist today. I’m very picky on noise problems, so I’m a happy user now.
Heat doesn’t seem to be a problem either, but it doesn’t come as a surprise since the fan doesn’t work most of the time (meaning it doesn’t need to cool down the machine). And the Centrino 2 serie is known to consume even less power than any other chip designed for portable machines. The Hard Disk is very silent too. Which is good news. I first feared it was noisy during the Vista install, as it clicked sometimes, but once Vista was installed, no more worries. I defragmented it using Norton Defrag and I could barely tell whether it was running or not. The heat is dissipated through the exhaust grid on the left side of the case.
The keyboard is a bit massive and hard, and I have to say I definitely preferred the previous generation on the nx7000 and Omnibook line. This is kind of the same as the nc8430 and to me, it’s not soft enough. It’s a bit noisy, clinky if you work at night. But at least it’s spill resistant. Overall it’s still pleasant to type in long text documents. But at home, hooked to the docking station, I use a cordless Logitech keyboard/mouse for my everyday work.
Now the cool part are the LED indicators and touch-sensitive buttons above the keyboard. They glow in different colors depending on their status. You don’t have buttons anymore, you just touch the surface with the tip of your fingers to switch them on and off. Touch the WiFi sign, slide your finger on the volume scale to increase or decrease it. This is geeky but pretty cool.
What is very disarming though is the location of the usual navigation keys. I like them at the top right of the keyboard, on a two line position, Insert/Del, Home/End and PgUp/PdDn. Here is how these keys look on many notebook keyboards:
On the 6730b they are partly on the top and most of them on the right side of the keyboard.
After using it for three weeks I’m still not used to this. Navigating in Windows Explorer or in a utility like Total Commander, I’m used to press Home/Enter to move up one level in the directory hierarchy. This way I end up most of the time pressing DELETE/Enter. Not what I expected! Same when replying to emails. I often want to rearrange the lines where they were cut and use the END/DEL keys sequence to do this on each line. Here it’s a nightmare. I end up using PageDown and END instead of what I want to achieve Also the buttons on the right side are HOME on top, then PageUp, PageDown and finally END at the bottom. Not feeling natural when you’re used to a full keyboard.
I don’t know about you, but to me, the right most keys on a keyboard are the Enter and Backspace keys, so I expect them to intuitively be located there. So when I hit “enter”, I end up on PageUp or PageDown. You can get used to this, but it’s not natural. I know it’s the trend today to rearrange keyboard navigation keys, including on desktop ones where the DEL key is now long (without reason), and PgUp and PgDn ones break any common sense. Also, a minor detail, but the “-” (dash) has a very small “-” sign. Localization problem: this won’t matter on a US keyboard, but on others, when you look at your keyboard you may end up mixing it with the period “.” next to it, typing something like “www-hp-com” instead of the usual “.” separator. Note that the traditional PrtScr, ScrollLock and Pause buttons are no longer accessible with the alt key combination but with the FN function key instead. One last regret is the size of the function keys (F1 to F12). They’re a bit on the small size compared to normal keyboards.
As mentioned the 6730b comes only with a touchpad. It is offering two bulk rubber buttons on the front. The buttons might have been a little bit less bulky but they feel ok. Note that the fingerprint reader is located between those two buttons. I’m not a touchpad fan to say the truth, but I always enjoyed the scrolling area to easily navigate into PDF documents by just sliding down my finger on that touchpad. My regret is that the 6730b doesn’t come with a pointstick (that small rubber joystick between the FGV keys). I love this and feel ways more accurate with this.
Input and Output Ports
If docked, the 6730b offers an HDMI output port. You get four USB 2.0 ports, which is nice (the nc8430 had only three), a FireWire port, a serial port, microphone and speaker jacks (on the front), SVideo out, VGA out. The usual phone and Ethernet RJ11 and RJ45 jacks are available. No video input though. On the bottom, you have the connectors for the docking station as well as the one to clip the external 8-cell or 12-cell batteries. The laptop comes with an ExpressCard/54 and a welcome 6-in-1 media reader. The good surprise is that the SD card reader is compatible with SDHC standards (that was not the case of the nc8430) that is pretty common on today digital cameras and video cameras.
The onboard WiFi is an Intel 802.11a/b/g draft-n card and performs very well. Compared to the IntelPro/Set from my nc8430 I just miss the nice configuration utility that is not really present on this laptop. You have to go through Vista or HP WiFi Assistant to configure your networks. Maybe it also offers this feature, but I miss the IntelPro/Set ability to backup profiles and save them on disk in case you had to reformat and reinstall your laptop or just wanted to get rid off one-time hotel connections. I still have to investigate this.
My battery first test surprised me. It lasted 5h40 with default settings. Add to it my 8-cell additional one and you get a solid 12 to 14 hours of operation. I spend a lot of time in international flights, so flying Europe to the US West coast will be a pleasure now. No need for extra cables (when on-seat plugs are offered).
Operating System and Software
The 6730b came with built-in Vista Business 32-bit installed. You have to run through the configuration the first time you turn it on. There is no OS activation since the built-in one seems to be preregistered. For those of you who hate Vista (like me now), you also get a full Windows XP Pro SP2 CD in the package. But that means also starting from ground and getting the required drivers from the Internet since there is no official “downgrade” process to follow.
HP offers most of its useful software to manage the WiFi connection, the 3D DriveGuard accelerometer (to park the Hard Disk in case of a shock) and the entire Security Suite to manage the disk encryption, the fingerprint registration, etc. With that suite, you also can entirely configure the BIOS from within Windows without needing to reboot … a nice feature.
As for third party software, you get some bloatware but since it’s a business laptop, you get less of them than in home entertainment units. It comes with a 60-day trial Microsoft Office 2007 installed that insists about activating it. Also at first boot, you have to accept or refuse to install McAfee virus suite. If you refuse, it will fully uninstall and you won’t be allowed to setup it later.
My problem with this is that the software should be there if you need it, but should be up to you to decided whether you want to install it or not. Having it pre-installed means that, should you be unhappy with it, you have to uninstall them. And as you know, uninstall is never clean. Applications leave crumbs everywhere, mix up some important DLLs (version problems), and doesn’t really clean the registry.
Especially incredibly invasive products like McAfee. Also, removing McAfee, Office 2007, PDFComplete and AOL Toolbar needed several reboots. Something you might not enjoy. Removing Office 2007 crashed the Windows Explorer twice too. That says a lot about how “clean” the system will be once the software is gone.
Finally, to my disappointment, there is no rescue disc. You have two additional partitions on the hard disk: one used for emergency boot and another one with drivers and software/bloatware. In case your system fully fails on you, you still can reboot and press F11 to start the factory reset process. But if you hoped to reclaim that data you won’t find any utility to create emergency DVDs or to release those two partitions (which add two more drive letters to your explorer, D and E). On the nc8430, you had a utility to burn three DVDs with all the emergency system files and drivers required in case you needed to reinstall everything, freeing up then the partitions. It would have been nice to have such a tool. Even as a download from HP’s web site.
As a volcanologist, I have my laptop on my backpack all the time. I also work in a lot of different countries … developing countries where power lines are a joke, surge protection in nonexistent, dust is everywhere, and extreme humidity is not controlled. For more than 15 years I have been loyal to HP because it’s the only brand that never failed on any occasion. It is reliable, professional, resistant. That said, let’s come back to this 6730b unit.
I would definitely recommend this laptop for any business user or developer. What counts is the “humpf” in the guts and the 6730b delivers. It’s sturdy and if you’re off to business trips, it won’t fail on you, being carried around. Watching movies is a pleasure and the technology is definitely falling in the HP “balanced mobility” tag. The battery lasts almost 6 hours and that makes it a good reason to buy this machine if you’re hitting the road. Especially if you add the external 8-cell battery (to buy as an option).
Also for business professionals, it’s nice to rely on the built in security options in case your machine gets stolen or if you forget it behind you at an airport. It’s more likely to happen than a home multimedia HP DV line laptop which doesn’t require to encrypt sensitive data.
For gamers, I would suggest a workstation replacement or a multimedia notebook with a dedicated video chip (at least 256MB or 512MB if possible) rather than a business notebook with integrated graphics. For video editing addicts I’ve mixed feelings. Here too a dedicated chip should make a difference, but as stated, my experience has shown that the 6730b is twice as fast as the nc8430 in rendering a 2.8GB movie.
What I would change to this machine to make it the perfect one?
- Add a dedicated video chip for gamers (but this would increase heat and lower the battery life). And is this the purpose on a business machine?
- Add a pointstick to the keyboard
- And most important, position those navigation keys somehwere else, at the top, just like on a desktop keyboard.
- Sturdy Finish
- Touch-sensitive control buttons
- Built-in webcam
- SDHC compatible reader
- Security suite and hardware
- Excellent speakers
- Good connectivity and port selection
- Stereo microphones
- Very silent
- Keyboard navigation keys
- Some bloatware
- VGA webcam
- No recovery DVD
- Cheap feeling DVD drive
- No pointstick