HP Compaq 8710w User Review

by chrixx Reads (75,900)

by Christopher Chua

The HP Compaq 8710w is HP’s top of the line premium mobile workstation featuring some of the highest specifications currently available in the market, including options for a full-HD screen, Penryn processors and the most powerful professional graphics card solution for notebooks.

Reasons for Buying

After owning an 8510w, I realized that a 15.4" notebook, while striking a good balance, isn’t exactly a true desktop replacement. I wanted a true desktop replacement machine that has excellent graphics capability, a large and beautiful screen, fast processor and comfortable keyboard.


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I seriously considered Dell’s XPS M1730, which is a popular option, but I decided that I value an understated, professional look as well as docking station support more than the SLI graphics capabilities and dual drive configuration that the XPS offers. It is also a much lighter and portable notebook than the XPS and I like being able to take the notebook with me on the occasional trip. The Precision M6300 was not an option for me as for approximately the same price, it offered less features and has an arguably less desirable design carried over from the previous generation Inspiron notebooks.


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Specifications

The 8710w is configurable with a host of processors, hard disk, RAM, optical drives (DVD/BluRay) and graphics card (Quadro FX 1600M/3600M). A BluRay drive is an additional $500 option and the Quadro FX 3600M graphics card adds approximately $600 to the configuration depending on the region. In Asia-Pacific markets, the T9500 option costs an additional $400.

I try to strike a balance by selecting a configuration that best optimizes the price-performance ratio, resulting in the following specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 Processor (Penryn)
  • Genuine Microsoft Windows Vista Business (Office 07 Ready)
  • 17" WUXGA Wide-Viewing Angle Display (1920×1200)
  • 512MB Dedicated Nvidia Quadro FX 3600M GPU
  • 2GB DDR2 667MHz RAM (+2GB self upgrade)
  • 200GB Hitachi 7K200 Hard Disk
  • DVD+/-RW LightScribe Optical Drive
  • Intel 802.11a/b/g/n Wifi Module
  • Intel Gigabit PRO 1000 NIC
  • Bluetooth 2.0+ Module
  • Dual pointing Devices Keyboard
  • Fingerprint Reader Module
  • 8-cell Battery
  • 135W Hardware Kit
  • 3-Year Global Next Business Day Parts and Labor OnSite Warranty (3/3/3)

The exact model number for a configurable 8710w is KM173PA (HP IDS PEN 8710w).

A configuration with the 3600M graphics card requires the 135W power adapter. Due to the higher power requirements, HP also includes a 180W docking station power supply with the notebook as standard. This is very thoughtful of HP (otherwise customers will have the nasty surprise of realizing the laptop won’t have sufficient power from the standard 120W adapter used to power the docking station).


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The 180W power supply for the docking station. The 135W power supply included is the same size as the 120W power supply provided with non-3600M 8710w’s.


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If an inadequate power supply is used, you will get this warning upon powering up the notebook.

Build and Design

As a business class notebook and commanding a hefty premium for it, the 8710w should meet buyers’ expectations for perfect build quality and construction. In this regard, it certainly has not failed to disappoint. The laptop has a magnesium alloy internal chassis encased in durable hard plastic. HP uses a special form of finishing dubbed "DuraFinish" that is similar to its Imprint technology, albeit without the gloss. This ensures that the finishing is durable to minor scratches and scuff marks. I can attest to this durability in my older nc6400 notebook which has maintained its new look after more than a year of regular use and abuse. As a result, the finishing on this laptop is certainly one of the best in the industry. No more peeling paint!


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The 8710w has the typical understated and professional look for a business laptop and this is one of the reasons I chose this over other competing consumer desktop replacement notebooks. However, in Australia, this notebook is virtually unknown, as HP is not a popular brand among enthusiasts who cannot comprehend paying a premium for HP’s business notebooks over a Dell or Asus equivalent.


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The notebook’s assembly is also really good, with no flex exhibited in any part of the chassis. The unit I received actually has such excellent build precision that every part of the notebook, including the stickers on the bottom, are aligned properly.

There is no distortion to the screen when pressure is applied to the back of the LCD panel, no less due to the thick screen housing. The hinge is also very strong and sturdy, but from my experience with the nc6400, this may loosen after some time, but can be tightened easily.

This notebook features HP’s 3D DriveGuard hard disk protection system, which is common to all HP’s business notebooks and upcoming consumer models. This is essentially an accelerometer that detects when the laptop is falling so it can stop hard disk activity to prevent data loss or corruption. However, HP still does not include any useful utility to tune the settings of the accelerometer unlike Lenovo and Toshiba. The feature is also unsupported in Linux, which is another disappointment.


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With a dimension of 27x53x20cm, the 8710w is one of the smaller and slimmer 17" notebook in the market. However, the 3.5kg weight is still a little prohibitive if you intend to carry this on long journeys. The weight difference between this and a regular 14"/15" notebook is definitely noticeable, but I do not intend to use it on the plane or on anemic lecture foldaway desks, hence I find the dimensions to be fine for a notebook of this size.

Screen and Speakers

My 8710w has a WUXGA display that is manufactured by AU Optronics. HP sources WUXGA displays from a variety of manufacturers, including LG Philips and Samsung.


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The display is absolutely stunning, with almost no backlight bleeding or dead pixels. While being much brighter than the previous generation’s screens, HP could still improve on the brightness by increasing it a notch or two. Having said that, the display is very clear and crisp and at full brightness, is very usable for graphics work. The matte coating is very even and it does not exhibit any graininess. The color reproduction is excellent for a notebook, but nowhere near that of a high quality external LCD.

The screen backlight is very uniform for a CCFL display. The horizontal and vertical viewing angles are very good too.

HP’s ambient light sensor technology is virtually useless as it is too sensitive to shadows and causes constant flicker when your hands are close to the top of the keyboard.

Another annoyance is that the HP software does not save your brightness settings nor change the corresponding brightness option under Vista’s power profile settings when you adjust your brightness, so it always takes on the value in Vista’s power profile upon a reboot.

The speakers are very good for a non-multimedia oriented notebook. It does not sound tinny like many conventional notebooks and while still lacking good bass, it is loud enough for general usage.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the 8710w follows the design and finishing of HP’s business notebooks. It now has a DuraKeys finishing which is a coating applied to the keys to make them more durable to wear. I cannot ascertain at this point if the keys will be susceptible to the "glossy" problem after extended use. The number pad is a very nice addition, especially for working on spreadsheets.


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The keyboard feels really solid, with no flex when normal pressure is applied. There is a little flex when pressure is applied at the number pad portion as it sits directly above the optical drive.

I personally like HP’s business notebook keyboards. They are very quiet to type on and have good travel. HP has made the keys flatter than before but it doesn’t feel much different from the older keyboards (pre-2007 models).

The pointstick is very well executed. The rubber tips are now softer and more flexible than previous incarnations and actually works pretty well, although it still does not match those found on the Thinkpads.

HP maintains the excellent 3-button touchpad from the previous generation. It is still as smooth and responsive as ever, with quiet and comfortable rubber buttons.

HP now implements touch-sensitive buttons on its switch cover for volume, info, presentation, calculator and wireless keys. HP claims they are less susceptible to wear than physical buttons, but I don’t buy that argument at all. If anything, I’ve seen a couple of the newer notebooks with broken touch-sensitive controls but have yet to see any of the older ones breaking down, but that is only from my personal experience. I find usability to be poor as a slight brush would activate the controls, especially the volume slider. Fortunately, the power button remains a physical button!

Ports, Wireless and Battery

The 8710w has 6 USB ports, an HDMI port, a VGA port, 1 Firewire port, single audio and microphone jack, a SmartCard reader, a PC Card slot and a microphone on the top of the LCD bezel.


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Left:

  • Power jack
  • HDMI Port
  • VGA
  • 2 USB ports
  • Firewire
  • SmartCard reader
  • PC Card Slot


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Right:

  • 4 USB ports
  • Audio and microphone jack
  • Optical drive
  • Ethernet and 56K Modem


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Front:

  • Speakers
  • 5-in-1 Card Reader (SD/MMC/Memory Stick (Pro)/xD)


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Rear:

  • Battery and Vent


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Bottom:

  • Hard Disk
  • Docking station connector
  • Travel battery connector
  • RAM slot (1 accessible from bottom, another under the keyboard)
  • Fan

The Bluetooth module syncs very well with my mobile phone. I was able to transfer files and use Nokia’s PC Suite and Windows Mobile Device Center for synchronization with Windows Mobile devices.


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The integrated microphone is well-placed and do not suffer from hard disk noise as it is located on the LCD bezel.

The Intel wireless card works as expected, without any connection issues. I do not have a draft-n router to test, so it was only tested on a 802.11g WPA2-secured network.

Battery life is above average for a mobile workstation notebook. On Balanced profile, the notebook lasts up to 2 hours 30 minutes performing light to moderate tasks running Office, Eclipse, Photoshop and Internet Explorer. It lasts 3 hours on the Power Saving profile doing similar tasks. The notebook comes with a standard 8-cell battery. An additional travel battery may be attached to the bottom of the notebook to provide additional battery runtime without having to turn off the device to swap out batteries.

Performance and Bechmarks

The benchmarks were performed on a fresh install of Vista Business x64 SP1 with Nvidia 175.12 video drivers.

The 8710w tested has the latest Intel Penryn T9300 2.5GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and at the time of writing, one of the fastest 7200rpm hard disk available.

wPrime v1.62 32M

31.995 seconds

PCMark05


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HDTune

The Hitachi 7K200 drive shipped with this computer has performance that is on par with other 7K200 benchmarks. It is also very quiet and stays relatively cool.


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Windows Vista Experience Index


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Gaming Performance

3Dmark06

The Quadro FX 3600M is equivalent to a Geforce 8800 GTS graphics card. The 3DMark06 scores at standard clock rates are consistent with that of a regular 8800GTS card.

The graphics performance is truly impressive, only lacking SLI capabilities.


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GPU-Z confirms that the card specifications are close to that of the 8800M GTS.


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Bioshock

Bioshock is rendered beautifully and remains very playable on the 3600M card at 1680×1050 resolution with full details.


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  • Min FPS: 26
  • Max FPS: 40
  • Average FPS: 30

Unreal Tournament 3

The laptop is more than capable of handling UT3, one of the newer games that could benefit from a powerful multi-core processor and graphics card. At a resolution of 1680×1050 and all details maxed out, the game is rendered beautifully and is very playable.


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Team Deathmatch (Shangri-La)

  • Min FPS: 41
  • Average FPS: 60
  • Max FPS: 65

Team Deathmatch (Sentinel)

  • Min FPS: 41
  • Average FPS: 55
  • Max FPS: 60

Performance in various settings, from gaming to heavy multitasking and running multiple VMs, prove to be above average and clearly this laptop performs at a level comparable to that of a desktop workstation.

Operating System and Software

The 8710w, like all HP’s business notebooks, offer 3 operating system options, i.e. Windows Vista Business, Windows XP Professional and FreeDOS (no operating system option). The system is certified for Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, so the major components are expected to be supported under Linux. The following devices either lack support under Linux or are in development:

  • Hard Drive accelerometer
  • Authentec Fingerprint reader
  • Brightness keys not working in desktop environment (Nvidia driver bug)

My system went into production on the 20th of April, but I’m surprised that SP1 was not preloaded! Nevertheless, upon boot-up, you get to select to go either 32-bit or 64-bit with Vista. The initial boot up takes more than an hour, with all the horrible HP recovery partitioning and software installation taking place.

Once booted, the system has minimal bloatware. The only software pre-installed is meant to allow the computer to be ready-to-use upon first boot for time-critical business users (I suspect most corporate deployments would end up using their own images rather than HP’s build anyway). Among the included software suite are:

  • Norton Internet Security 2008
  • HP ProtectTools Suite (BIOS Configuration and Embedded Security/Encryption tools)
  • PDFComplete
  • WinDVD
  • Sonic MyDVD
  • HP Backup and Recovery Manager
  • Microsoft Office 2007 Small Business Trial

The system either comes with a set of recovery DVDs to perform a clean install of Windows Vista/XP or the option to create a recovery DVD using the HP utility. The HP utility allows the creation of either a DVD image or direct burning to media. It also allows you to choose between a Dual Layer DVD, Single Layer DVD or set of CD-Rs. The difference between the recovery DVDs created with the utility and those provided by HP are that the HP discs are actually plain Vista/XP downgrade discs with no bloatware (but OEM pre-activated) while the ones you create are a direct factory image of your hard disk upon first boot, which means recovery from these set of DVDs will result in restoring your laptop to the state when it was first booted up, including your user account and regional settings, with all bloatware intact.

Heat and Noise

The laptop stays cool throughout normal use, with temperatures going up only during heavy usage, but the cooling system is very effective in bringing down the temperatures immediately.

It is very quiet, with almost no noticeable fan noise during light to moderate use and this is an improvement over the loud fan noise problems encountered in the nc8430/nx8420 models.

The fans do ramp up to a noticeable level when I’m working on virtual machines as it increases the CPU load significantly.

Usage

GPU (°C)

CPU (°C)

HDD (°C)

Normal – Idle/Light

45-48

35-40

32

Moderate

55-61

40-42

40

Heavy Use / Benchmarking

73-78

70-75

42

Customer Support

HP offers a standard 3 year Global Next Business Day Onsite warranty with this notebook, with dedicated HP Business Support facilities, including an industry-leading 24/7 online resource tool to lodge and manage warranty claims. From my experience, HP Business support has been very professional in their conduct and does not waste my time by going through scripts during a support call.

Conclusion

The 8710w has all the qualities that make it one of the best desktop replacement workstation notebooks in the market. It is the perfect professional mobile workstation for those who demand top performance and reliability, coupled with business class support.

Pros:

  • Excellent overall performance
  • Excellent HD display
  • Excellent build quality and build precision
  • Wide array of I/O ports
  • Very powerful workstation graphics card

Cons:

  • Expensive at RRP
  • Annoying touch-sensitive controls




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