HP Compaq 8710p User Review — Page 2

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Gaming

The 8710p features one of nVidia’s latest GPUs.  The Quadro NVS 320M comes equipped with 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory on a 128bit dual-rank bus, with another 256MB of shared memory available from system RAM.  The GPU runs on a 575MHz Core clock, with a 700MHz Memory clock as measured via the nVidia Control Panel.  It is very clear that this card is a copy-cat of the 8700GT, and our benchmarks prove it!

3dMark05 and 3dMark06 are the latest in graphics benchmarking programs that stress the GPU to the max.  This card basically laughs at both programs, and benches some very nice performance numbers.  3dMark05 was running at 1024×768, and 3dMark06 at 1280×1024.  For all gaming tests, the laptop was set to the ‘Always ON’ power profile with no overclocking and it was also plugged into the AC adapter.

Additionally, the graphics drivers installed were the nVidia 162.50 drivers from LaptopVideo2Go.  The modified INF file was further modified to make the GPU appear not as an NVS 320M, but rather an 8700GT in order to install the ‘normal’ drivers that provide maximum compatibility for content rendering (games, 3dMark benches, etc).  Workstation drivers provide the best compatibility for content creation programs (CAD, Maya, 3DS-Max, etc).  In all likelihood, either driver suite should prove suitable so use whichever performs best for your individual needs.


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Wow!

Under Windows Vista with the Quadro drivers, my 3dMark05 score was about 8600.  After installing the GeForce drivers in Vista, my score increased to about 8900.  After taking it a step further and installing XP over Vista, my score jumped to 9334 3dMark05 points regardless of if I was using GeForce or Quadro drivers!

Oblivion

Resolution: 1680×1050

Settings: 0xAA, 8xAF, Large Texture Size, Tree & Action & Item & Object Fade at 100%, Grass Distance 100%, View Distance 100%, Distant Land & Trees ON, Interior and Exterior Shadows at 50%, Self Shadows and Shadows on Grass OFF, Tree Canopy Shadows ON, High Shadow Filtering, 50% Specular Distance, HDR ON, High Water Detail with Reflections and Ripples ON, Window Reflections ON, High Blood Detail.

One important note:

Grass really kills performance in this game.  Each blade has about 20 polygons, which is ridiculous and it slows the system down to the point you cannot play at more than 15-18FPS outdoors in heavy grass areas on this card.  Thus, before running these benchmarks I installed a LowPolyGrass modification that reduces the number of polygons from 20 to about 8 per blade of grass.  The performance difference was astounding from such a small mod.

Average Indoor FPS: 48

Average Outdoor (City) FPS: 45

Average Outdoor FPS: 31

Need For Speed: Most Wanted

Resolution: 1280×1024

Settings: AA at 50%, Texture Filtering & World Detail & Road Reflection & Shadow Detail: 100%, Car Geometry & Reflections: High, Car Reflection Update Rate: 100%, Rain Effects and HDR: ON, Visual Treatment: High

Average FPS: 24

This might seem a little low, but almost all the settings for NFS were completely max’ed out.  Shadow detail really steals a lot of FPS, as does AA and the reflection update rate.  Basically this card can handle anything this game asks for, and 24 FPS averages are definitely playable!  If you want higher FPS, turn down the AA and Shadow Detail.

Lost Planet DX9 Demo

Resolution: 1280×800

Settings: No AA, Medium HDR, 4xAF Texture Filter, Medium Texture Resolution, High Model Quality, Medium Shadow Quality, Medium Shadow Resolution, Medium Motion Blur Quality, High Effect Resolution, High Effect Volume, Medium Lighting Quality.

Average (Snow) FPS: 21

Average (Cave) FPS: 31

Most of the time, Lost Planet was definitely playable but not at the highest resolutions I would have preferred.  But, Lost Planet is a poorly coded console port so any PC is going to have problems at this point.

 

Star Wars: Battlefield II

Resolution: 1680×1050

Settings: All settings max, including 8xAA.

Extra Info: Maximum (64) number of units were on the battlefield to stress the CPU during gaming.

Level: Death Star (Indoors) – Average FPS: 29

Level: Yavin (Space Outdoors) – Average FPS: 38

This game was always smooth playing at even the most demanding of graphics settings.  Yes, the game is a little older but it gives users a good idea of what to expect from anything that isn’t exactly brand new.

 

F.E.A.R. Combat Multiplayer

Resolution: 1400×1050

Settings: All CPU and GPU Settings to Maximum

Average FPS: 46

I do believe it goes without saying…this graphics card is going to be able to handle anything F.E.A.R. asks of it.  No exceptions.

 

What is the deal with these Quadro/GeForce cards?

Many of you are probably crying foul right now, because I used GeForce drivers and made the GPU look like a 8700GT before running these tests.  Guess what: the NVS 320M is the 8700GT!  Those cards just use different drivers, and ONE hardware ID (aka two bytes in the GPU BIOS) is different.  That is just about it as far as consumers are concerned.

While the gaming benchmarks were performed with GeForce drivers, as evidenced by the nearly identical Quadro and GeForce 3dMark05 scores under XP the laptop will perform almost equally in all gaming scenarios.

For the complete reference guide on the differences between Quadro and GeForce cards, please visit this thread.

Heat and Noise

Despite the fact that this laptop has only a single fan to cool the entire computer, the laptop stays incredibly cool during regular operation.  During gaming, one does feel the somewhat-warm exhaust, but it is by no means unbearable!

HP really stepped up to correct the design flaws of the previous generation of HP Compaq business notebooks here.  The two hottest components of the laptop, the GPU and CPU, are completely separated, and each has its own dedicated heat-sink.  Each heat-sink leads to its own exhaust vent, and only the fan is shared.  The fan is certainly capable of pushing a lot of air, but most of the time it does not need to push out much.  Only when gaming!  Even then, there are two exhaust vents at the side and back of the notebook, as well as an additional vent on the bottom of the notebook.


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Additionally, it is very clear that the GPU is of the modular breed.  I do not know if this is MXM technology in the notebook, but the potential possibilities for upgrading the GPU are definitely interesting.

Overall, these design changes definitely help the thermals of the notebook as you can see in the chart below.  CPU, HDD, and GPU temperatures were obtained via Everest.  Unless gaming, the GPU was always at minimum clocks.


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The palm rests and keyboard only get somewhat hot when playing games, and during normal usage the temperatures are relatively cool.  However, when using the laptop on a lap it does get a little warm even in the most power conservative settings after twenty or thirty minutes.  If the notebook is resting directly on the skin of your legs, you will feel the heat.  If the notebook has some fabric (like a pair of pants or longer shorts) between in and you, the laptop-on-the-lap experience will be fine.

On a final note, I will say that I have seen cooler hard drives in the past.  This specific drive ran several degrees cooler in my nc8430.  However, these temperatures are safe for a hard drive…they are just a little higher than I am used to.

Input and Output Ports, Wireless, and Battery

The 8710p features a decent battery of ports available, so here’s the tour…

 
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On the left we see the AC adapter port (strange place to put it too) next to the side cooling vent, the HDMI port, VGA out, 2x USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394a (Firewire), PCMCIA Slot, and SmartCard slots.  A major disappointment is the lack of a ExpressCard slot.  A few 15.4” machines have both an EC and PCMCIA slot, so why can a 17” not have both?  One EC slot is available via the HP Advanced Docking Station (not reviewed) which costs an additional $229 USD, but this slot should really be included with the notebook and not require a separate purchase.  Seriously, get with the times HP!


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The front of the notebook features only the 5-in-1 media card reader that is capable of reading the SD, MS, MS-Pro, MMC, and XD card formats.  Also, to each side you can see the notebook’s speakers.


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Here, we see the audio-in jack, headphone jack, 4x USB 2.0 ports (!), DVD+/-RW drive, Modem phone port, and 10/100/1000 (GigE) network Ethernet port.


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The back features only the lonely rear cooling vent and battery.


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On the bottom are mostly access panels to the HDD, BT Card, and one RAM slot (the other being accessible by removing the keyboard).  But here are also the docking connector and secondary battery bay port.


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Additionally, the 8710p also features an integrated microphone that is held within the LCD bezel.  It is in a very good location, and the microphone has ‘holes’ on BOTH sides of the bezel to maximize the recording ability.  Testing indicated that this microphone would be useful for recording small business meetings and as a microphone for IP communications, but probably isn’t very effective for larger meeting rooms (20-30 people) nor for lecture halls.

The 8710p features the Intel 4965 WiFi card that supports a/b/g networks; it does not support draft-n networking, but upgrade options should be available.  I recommend waiting until the final 802.11n spec is ratified.  During my usage of several WiFi networks, there were no issues with the WiFi card and it worked as expected.  The notebook is also equipped with Bluetooth, but I have no devices to test it with so I’ll have to assume it is working fine.

The battery life on the 8710p was definitely surprising.  During my stress test of the battery life the notebook was set to the ‘Always ON’ power profile (with maximum CPU clock) and the LCD brightness at maximum.  While running my battery test the notebook was constantly playing music, ripping an ISO of my Oblivion game CD (just to keep the drive active mind you), and downloading the F.E.A.R. Combat installer (1.77GB!).  What is more is that once the battery life reached 40% remaining, I turned off PowerMizer so that the GPU was running at maximum Core and Memory clocks.

The notebook lasted a total time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, with all this going on.  All-in-all, after testing the battery several times under a few scenarios one should expect the roughly the following battery lives under an average workload:

  • Always ON, WiFi/BT ON, Max Brightness, Lowest GPU Clocks: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Always ON, WiFi/BT ON, Max Brightness, Highest GPU Clocks: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Maximum Battery, WiFi/BT Mostly OFF, Min Brightness, Lowest GPU Clocks: 4 hours 15 minutes

Options for secondary batteries are available as well at HP.com, so in theory the battery life could be doubled or more with the right batteries!  My initial testing with the secondary 8-cell travel battery indicated the laptop should easily be able to attain about 6 hours and 30 minutes when using the standard and travel batteries at the same time.

Operating System and Software

The 8710p comes equipped with Vista Business as the OS of choice, but there are options for XP Pro on various models of the laptop.

There was little to no bloatware, but the system does come with a few preinstalled applications.  As far as junkware goes the notebook had Norton 2007, the HP ProtectTools Suite, and a few Google applications preinstalled on the system.  Some useful applications included were PDFComplete, WinDVD, and the basic Sonic MyDVD v9.0 program.  Some of these applications are installed by default, while others can be installed by finding the executable from within the C:/SwSetup directory.  HP used to ship their computers with the full version Sonic MyDVD program, so shame on them.


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When a new 8710p boots up for the first time, the HP software setup utility asks you if you want to install either the 32bit or 64bit version of Vista Business.  Choices are very good, and having the option to choose your bit-ness without having to pay for another Vista license is definitely appreciated.  For the record, I choose Vista Business x64…but I will not be using Vista until it is a stable OS with little to no problems (read below).

Personally, I do not like Vista.  I am one of the users that encountered so many problems with the OS that I avoid it no matter what for the time being.  So I installed a fresh copy of XP Pro on the system and installed Norton 2008 (much better than 2007), Foxit Reader Pro, WinDVD, and the full version of MyDVD v7.0 on the system.

The notebook also comes equipped with an HP Backup and Recovery Utility that allows you to create your own backup discs and do regular backups of the OS and data.  Personally, I prefer Acronis but it is nice that something came shipped with the system.

Customer Support

During my time with my previous notebook, HP Customer Service and Technical Support were almost always professional and pleasant to deal with.  Parts were always sent out quickly to fix my ailing nc8430, but in my experience the technicians HP send are of mixed quality.  Many technicians are great, but others actually make the problem worse.  I’m not kidding: the 2nd to last technician was only instructed to replace my LCD but somehow managed to break the motherboard of my nc8430 and leave several screws lying out on the table after the notebook was assembled.

Lesson learned: if you are not comfortable with a particular technician, tell that person (politely) that you do not want them working on your laptop and that you will contact HP to reschedule.  It may sound rude, but it is your laptop and not theirs.  I also encourage users to purchase a warranty that has ‘at-home’ or ‘on-site’ support so that you can personally supervise any repairs to ensure your satisfaction.

The refurbished replacement motherboard that was sent out for the nc8430 did not have functional Bluetooth and the keyboard/touchstick did not work properly either.  Several USB ports did not work either.  Given that the motherboard also had old thermal paste still on it and it was not cleaned at all, I was not happy.  However, all but one of my replacement screens and all but two of my replacement optical drives were of excellent quality.  Refurb replacement parts are hit-and-miss with HP, so do not be afraid to ask for another replacement part if you are unhappy with what you received.

Anyway, I will have to say that at least HP backs their lemon policy in their warranty.  After so many repairs on the nc8430, they were very willing to just replace the laptop.  It only took about 14 days to have a replacement in my hands after my replacement request was made.  So even if you get a bad technician, or a bad replacement part, you can count on HP’s replacement policy if they really screw up.  Overall, I think I just had bad luck with my old unit.

I must stress however that dealing with HP employees on the phone and chat lines have almost ALWAYS been a pleasurable experience.  Regardless of if it is a question or a problem, they always seem to be able to help me solve the issue.  They were quick to respond, parts shipped out quickly, and they were always willing to listen to any complaints or suggestions that I had regarding the care of my notebooks.

Conclusion

At 7.7lbs the 8710p is amongst the lightest of all 17” machines.  It is portable, it is powerful, and it is built to impress.  There is a huge amount of power in this case, yet most of the time the laptop keeps itself fairly cool and quiet.  Given that only SLI DX10 notebooks will be more powerful than the NVS 320M/8700GT, the notebook packs quite a gaming punch as well.  Definitely a nice notebook and I would say it is a steal at the price point this is listed for.

Despite the problems with my old notebook, I still stick by HP and their ability to deliver some excellent products and to stand behind their products if severe problems crop up.  This notebook is no exception.

Pros

  • Strong, business class frame.
  • Latest CPUs available, strongest DX10 card currently available.  Overall great gaming performance.
  • LCD frame stronger than previous generation.
  • Hard drive shock protection.
  • Incredible screen, way above average horizontal and vertical viewing angles, excellent brightness and control.
  • Above average speakers, better keyboard that I thought it would have been.
  • Improved cooling design.
  • Large array of ports available, including 6 USB ports!
  • Surprisingly long battery life.

Cons

  • LCD screen was slightly mis-aligned, easily fixed though.
  • Hard drive sometimes runs just a little warm.
  • Fan is occasionally loud, only during intensive applications.
  • 4 USB ports are bunched together right in front of the DVD drive.


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