HP Compaq nc2400 Review

by VynZ Reads (153,562)

by Kelvin Vine, Trinidad and Tobago

Overview and Introduction


HP nc2400 (view large image)

The HP NC-2400 is an ultraportable from HP that stands out from most notebooks of this size by including an integrated optical drive. Despite the inclusion on an optical drive, HP has managed to keep the weight at 2.8 pounds or roughly 3 pounds with the 6 cell battery which gives a very handy battery life (4 to 6 hours). However when notebooks come at this size and weight there must be a trade off somewhere. Lenovo in its X60 abandons the optical drive in favor of performance, packing a Core 2 Duo CPU. For those of us who need an optical drive built in, Sony and HP have saved space by including only a Core Solo CPU. (At the time of writing the nc-2400 has just become available with a Core Duo).

Contents

Below is a table of contents, click the links to jump to a section you are interested in:

Exact specs of this nc2400 review machine are:

  • Core Solo CPU U1400 @ 1.2 GHz
  • 512 MB DDR2 533 MHz RAM (immediately upgraded to 1 GB)
  • 40 GB 4200 RPM Hard Drive (smaller than the standard 2.5”. Standard Hard drives will not fit)
  • 12 inch WXGA monitor non-glossy/non-brightview
  • Intel 945GM Express Chipset Family graphics processing unit (67MB shared memory)
  • 6 cell battery (also available with 3 cell or 9 cell)
  • DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive
  • Windows XP professional (immediately upgraded to Vista Ultimate)

Ports:

  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x PCMCIA type 2 slot
  • 1 x IEEE 1394  mini port
  • 1xHeadphone and 1 x Microphone
  • 1 x VGA out
  • 1 x Docking Station Connector
  • 1 x RJ11 modem port
  • 1x RJ45 Network

My requirements

Since my job takes me on the road every single day, I needed a machine that was small and light. My company provided me with a Lenovo ThinkPad T60, which while being an excellent performer, was just too big and heavy with its 15 inch screen. It was by using the T60 that I decided that my first priority would be size and weight and I decided to look for notebooks with a 14 inch screen and under. It was essential to buy a widescreen model due to my likeness of having my taskbar on the left side and all my windows open full screen. I usually need 10 to 15 windows open simultaneously and it is much easier to pick windows off a vertical list that a horizontal one. I also needed a built in optical drive as I am frequently given data on DVD when I go out in the field.

I was willing to sacrifice a bit of performance to achieve a small weight since all I need for work is MS Office and internet access. Presence of a Track Point was preferable to atouchpad but not essential. A black case was highly preferred because silver cases tend to be loud and distracting in a boardroom setting and give unfavorable impressions of the owner to potential clients. Since I would be doing a lot of typing, a solid well laid out keyboard was essential. Long battery life was also preferred as power outlets are often hard to find in boardrooms.

Other machines looked at:

ThinkPad Z61t: Offered excellent build quality, best notebook keyboard available, high resolution widescreen display, Core Duo processors, built in webcam, 802.11b/g and Bluetooth, lightweight chassis. Ruled out because of exorbitant price quoted by dealer and 8 week delivery time.

DELL B130: Offered light weight, low price. Ruled out because of bad experience with DELL build quality and product reliability and inferior keyboard layout.

Toshiba M7 tablet: Offered nice specs for a reasonable price. Ruled out because of weight and bad experience with Toshiba product reliability.

Sony SZ: Offered very good performance in a light package, solid brand reputation. Ruled out because of bright silver color, very poor keyboard layout and quality, (very) high price.

DESIGN AND BUILD


(view large image)

The nc-2400 is literally built like a tank. The cover, lower case and I suspect even the keys are made of Magnesium Alloy which results in a very light rigid machine. Build quality is comparable to the legendary IBM ThinkPad, if not actually better than, as unbelievable as that sounds.


(view large image)

Case


(view large image)

The case is very rigid. It is made from Magnesium Alloy which is black with a roughened finish and is very pleasant to touch and affords good grip while carrying. All joints on the case meet flush with no gaps and joints do not have relative movement at all no matter how the notebook is lifted. Every door and compartment, even the optical drive sits securely in its location and with no play whatsoever. There are no creaks or flex when lifted by the corners with the screen open. It is impossible to twist the machine using reasonable force. No part of the machine could be made to flex when pressed, not even very thin sections of the case such as the base of the battery compartment with battery removed or the frame of the keyboard.

Display


(view large image)

Pressing on the back of the display did not produce any rippling at all although it did sink a few millimeters. The screen however does twist if one corner is pushed and the other pulled moderately although this also did not produce rippling on the display. However, the display does appear to be the part most vulnerable to physical damage when open. When closed the display is secured by two plastic clips opened with a single central release. When closed the display is well secured and well protected against twisting to which is vulnerable when open. There is no hinge wobble and the resistance to opening and closing is light although sufficient to keep the display from moving on its own.


(view large image)

Location of controls, lights and ports.

Front:


(view large image)

The front of the machine has 4 LED lights which display (from left to right) Wireless status (blue), power light (green), charging light (orange) and hard drive activity (green). The LEDs are labeled on the palm rest and the front of the display cover enabling status to be established with the display opened and closed. There are 4 rubber rectangles at the front which most likely cover case screws although this was not confirmed.

Left:


(view large image)

The left side houses the optical drive, one USB port RJ11 modem port and the power port. It is very handy to have the drive located to the front of the machine rather than the back as it is less likely to be obstructed here. Also the eject button is right to the front of the left side in easy reach of the middle finger. It is in such easy reach that the drive occasionally ejected accidentally. The USB port is located very close to the drive and large USB devices such as the EV-DO modem pictured will obstruct the ejection. A USB extender may have to be used in these cases. The power port is located in an excellent position which allows easy plugging/unplugging while allowing the cable to run to the back of the desk out of the way. However HP could have done better and provided a right angled power jack to save space and protect against breakage. It is time that laptops do away with the RJ11 modem port as was done with serial and parallel years ago.

Right:


(view large image)

On the right side are numerous ports (from front to back) IEEE 1394 mini port, headphone port, microphone port, USB port, VGA out and finally at the back the docking station port. These ports are well laid out and are very convenient for right hander’s to insert/remove devices and cables from this side. On this side however large USB devices may foul the microphone port and VGA out because of the proximity. Below the docking station connector is a heat vent which blows hot air onto the mouse hand. The air is not very hot and actually helps keep the fingers warm in an air-conditioned office. Persons that use a mouse most of the time thinking about buying this laptop should test their tolerance of warm air blowing on their hands before buying. It did actually become a problem after hours of typing outdoors and was quite distracting. I am going to have to make something to deflect the air up when used in non-air-conditioned areas.

Back:


(view large image)

The back of the machine is dominated by the battery, with only a RJ45 network port at the right side. This is the most convenient spot for the LAN port.

Bottom:


(view large image)

Access to all the laptop components is through the bottom of the case. There are covers for the Mini PCI slot, occupied by the Intel pro wireless card, single memory slot, Bluetooth module and hard drive. Located to the front of the bottom is the single speaker. The functioning of the speaker in this seemingly weird location is described later. The offending air exit vent is seen on the upper left side of this picture.

Keyboard:


(view large image)

This keyboard is very well laid out and well constructed. There is no flex in the keyboard no matter how hard it is pressed. Keys are rough and black just like the case and have the same pleasant feel on the fingertips. Each key press is confident and secure allowing for speedy touch typing. Although not quite up to the LAYOUT of the ThinkPad keyboard, it is identical in quality and ease of use. Lightness of the keys determined by tapping them with a nail, the finish and cool metallic touch gives the impression that even the keys are Magnesium Alloy. If this is true this would be very impressive indeed as even the legendary IBM keys are plastic. Whether deliberately designed or not, both the white lettering and the blue function/numeric keypad lettering stand out, but amazingly never at the same time. It seems that HP has made good use of psychology in choosing the colors for the keyboard lettering.


(view large image)

Also on the keyboard deck is a line of shiny black plastic just above the keyboard. This is in fact a touch sensitive strip on which are located the switch for wireless on/off, system volume and 2 hotkeys which can be programmed by the user. The inclusion of this touch-strip adds a level on uniqueness to this machine as well as offering a good point to brag to owners of lesser notebooks. It is very sensitive and is very easy to use while the backlights on the “buttons” provide feedback when pressed and look very high tech . Unfortunately the material used for this strip is not very hard and the volume control picks up hairline scratches from fingertips very easily which are visible at an angle with reflected light.


(view large image)

Battery

Battery life on this machine is indeed as fantastic as the manufactures claim. It is always good to run down the battery completely before giving it its first charge as this extends the useful life of the battery. It took 3 hours to run down the charge that the laptop came with. Quite frustrating. The second charge took 4 hours 40 min to run down! This is amazing considering battery life peaks only after several cycles.

Comparison with ThinkPad R31


(view large image)

For those who don’t know, the ThinkPad R31 is a very small  machine with a 13 inch XGA display yet the nc-2400 makes it look like a giant.

LOOK AND FEEL

The entire lower case of the nc-2400 as well as the keyboard is black with a roughened surface. This results in muted styling of non reflective flat black ideal for professional environments. In addition, the rough texture provides grip for carrying so that this light machine can be securely held without applying too much grip pressure.

The display however is what I can only describe as dark charcoal with a hint of blue. It passes as black on casual observation indoors but really gives the laptop an elegant look when studied closely. The HP logos while being chrome do not stand out but instead adds a touch of class to the machine.

The design of the nc-2400 was obviously well thought out in terms of appearance, durability and functionality. This machine’s construction is in line with ThinkPad or even better. I am confident that this notebook will be able to withstand a lot of abuse. The laptop is much lighter that it looks, and it looks really small! I was quite comfortable holding it with my left hand while walking around and typing with my right.

When people purchase notebooks, not many people realize that the ergonomics of the machine is vital to productivity. Logical key placement on the keyboard and port location on the outside of the laptop goes a long way to increasing efficiency. Barring a patent issue, I do not see why everybody does not emulate the ThinkPad keyboard layout as it is without doubt the best keyboard layout in the business. While not quite perfect the keyboard of the nc-2400 is as close as it gets, the thick keys and travel giving confidence to strokes. The keyboard is simply a joy to use, and while people fall in love with ThinkPad keyboard instantly, it takes only an hour or 2 to get the same feeling out of the HP.

Display

If there was a downside to the nc-2400 that could have been easily corrected would have to be the screen. While being a very good screen, much better than most, one of the new high-contrast screens with the glossy coatings was expected on such a machine. As it turns out, the screen is pretty much run of the mill with very wide horizontal view ability (seemed like 180 degrees) but worse vertical with a change of 10 degrees causing appreciable color change.

The screen is very bright, whites look very white but blacks could have been a bit blacker. On the plus side the WXGA resolution is perfect for a screen of this size, any higher and text would become quite tiny indeed. It is worthwhile to note that the thinness of the screen and the black metal surround makes it quite pleasurable to stare at for long periods typing essays or surfing the net.

No dead pixels were observed. Light leakage and backlighting unevenness was minimal and because of the poor vertical viewing angles was of no consequence.

Speakers

On paper the sound system of this laptop seems terrible consisting of a single speaker on the BOTTOM of the laptop. However in practice, I was blown away by what I heard! The volume is adequate once the notebook is on a hard surface and the fact that there is only one speaker makes not one bit of difference to the dual speakers on other notebooks. On reading up about why this is so I discovered that stereo only works if the listener is closer to the speaker than the distance between the speakers. Further than this the sound from both speakers mix and you end up with mono anyway! Watching a movie in a quiet room or listening to MP3s while working works welll, but as with most notebooks, anything more than that requires you to get powered external speakers. The quality of the audio output was tested with a 1000W Logitech Z-5500 surround system and the result was very crisp and balanced with no distortion even at high volumes.

Heat and noise

Because of the low power consumption of this laptop, heat and noise are kept to a minimum. As mentioned before hot air occasionally pumps out of the right hand side air vent although I have NEVER actually heard the fan. I tend to use the nc-2400 outdoors a lot in 32 degree Celsius air temperatures and have not had a overheating problem. Only two places that gets warm on this machine are the base of the monitor where the inverters for the backlight are located and the bottom right hand corner around the cooling fan.

The optical drive is dead quiet most of the time but does give out the occasional “whir” from time to time for example if the machine is booted with a disk inserted. It is by far the quietest drive I have ever used though. There is no other source of noise on this machine.

Wireless

The nc-2400 comes with an Intel pro wireless b/g card. This is one of the better cards around and indeed it showed as I was able to pick up signal in places which are considered dead spots to most laptops. This model did not come with the Bluetooth module installed nor was the option available to me. However the wire harness and the antenna are both present leaving it up to the user to source the module and install it which doesn’t seem hard to do. There is no infrared port on this machine, which is a bit unfortunate but I suppose Bluetooth should suffice for most purposes where infrared would have been used.

SUPPORT

Customer service from the individual I purchased from was excellent. He gave me a 1 year return to base warranty and offers replacement machines while repairs are being done.

PROCESSOR AND PERFORMANCE

My nc-2400 was upgraded immediately on arrival with 1GB of ram and Microsoft Vista Ultimate. Windows XP seemed to run fine for the 2 or 3 minutes it was on before doing my upgrade. Thankfully, it came with absolutely NO bloat ware except for Norton antivirus which some consider bloat ware. However it came with no CDs either which is unfortunate. I don’t understand the trend where manufactures save about 50c by not giving you system CDs and chewing up 5 or so GB of hard drive space.

Upgrading to Vista produced a few issues with hardware compatibility most of which was resolved by downloading updated drivers from HP’s website. One issue, that on closing the lid the computer would blank out and never come back on had to be resolved by changing the lid close action in power settings from “do nothing” to “sleep”. The only device that still does not work is the fingerprint reader, but the machine still hangs a few times every now and then.

Generally speaking performance is slow but not noticeably a hell of a lot slower than my 1.7 GHz Core Duo ThinkPad T61.  I have not installed any games on this laptop and don’t intend to. Games will be played on the company T601. With an Intel graphics card and a Core Solo CPU, gamers should definitely look elsewhere. The fact that the nc-2400 comes with a Core Solo is not much of a drawback unless you want to run processor intensive tasks simultaneously. It does not affect the opening of multiple windows. For example performance will drop if you try to surf the net while ripping DVDs…. oops I mean “compressing video” at the same time. If you know that you will need to do this on a regular basis, then this laptop is not recommended. However it is easy to get around this by scheduling such “compressions” for night time when the owner is asleep.

The market of this laptop, as an ultraportable, is clearly not performance junkies but people who need portability and long battery life. I do find on too may occasions the CPU meter staying at 100% for extended periods of time and just idling seems to consume a constant 24%. One other advantage of a low power system is that you can use it on your dorm room bed, a popular location in collage, without danger of it overheating and hanging like Dells do.

Calculating SuperPi to 2 million places took 3 min 20 seconds. Very poor.

SuperPi:

Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
HP Compaq nc2400 (Core Solo CPU U1400 1.2 GHz) 3m 20s
Dell Latitude D420 (Core Solo ULV 1.06GHz) 2m 11s
Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M) 2m 40s
Dell Latitude D410 (2.00 GHz Pentium M) 1m 36s
Fujitsu LifeBook P7120 (1.2 GHz ULV Pentium M) 2m 32s
Lenovo ThinkPad X60s (1.66 GHz LV Core Duo) 1m 23s
IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 2m 02s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s

 

PCMark 05 benchmark gave a very bad score of 811.

PCMark05

  Notebook PCMark05 Score
HP Compaq nc2400 (Core Solo CPU U1400 1.2 GHz) 811 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite U200 (1.73GHz Core Duo, Intel Integrated graphics) 3,113 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600) 4,621 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus Z84Jp (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600) 4,739 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks

 

HDTune results, a benchmark that tests hard drive performance, are as follows:


(view large image)

So it’s a very bad score again, but doesn’t the window look pretty in Vista? :- )

CONCLUSION

The NC-2400 is a lightweight small machine made with stunning workmanship and precision. It offers excellent portability and unparalled physical durability, even stacked against the legendary ThinkPads of which I own 2. System performance was abysmal. Raw power, while (just) sufficient for business applications and home entertainment, gamers and other heavy users should consider a slightly larger laptop with a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo processor. If you travel every day and need a small durable laptop, then this is a machine to be considered. I hesitate to call the machine ideal however because it performs very badly in every respect. Because of this If you really don’t need the small size and weight, this laptop is not recommended.


LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.