HP Compaq NC6000 Notebook Review (pics, specs)

by tmcnellie Reads (350,983)

HP NC6000 Front-view (view larger image)

The Hewlett-Packard-Compaq NC6000 has a lot going for it. Exceptional speed, ruggedness, battery life and a magnesium-composite housing that is sturdy enough to double as a blunt weapon. The keyboard is as good as any out there, and the wireless setup found connections I didn’t know existed.

Unfortunately, the NC6000 I received also had a few things going wrong for it. Out of the box, the keyboard was only half-attached. The point stick seemed possessed, and the screen hinges were noticeably loose. Then after two weeks, it took multiple starts to get Windows running.

That bad experience was leavened somewhat by HP’s business division, which has the best customer service I’ve dealt with anywhere in a long time.

Buying an HP NC6000

This review is based on a custom-configured HP NC6000 with the following specifications:

  • Pentium M 735 – 1.7 GHz, 2MB L2 cache
  • 14-inch XGA (1024×768) TFT Display
  • 64 MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9600
  • 512×1 MB RAM
  • 80 GB, 5400 RPM hard drive
  • CD-RW/DVD-ROM
  • Intel PRO Wireless 2200BG
  • Bluetooth
  • 8-cell lithium-ion battery
  • Windows XP
  • 5.75 pounds
  • Three-year-accidental damage warranty

This setup costs $2,281 before tax and shipping through HP’s business division.
The buying process is relatively straightforward. HP offers a few pre-configured models between $1,499 and $2,000, along with the option to configure your own. There are usually sales on some models, and HP offers discounts to a variety of professional fields. Particularly notable is that employees of schools and colleges are eligible for a discount. As I understand it, this extends to all staff, not just teachers.

It’s less-expensive to buy a pre-configured system than the same machine customized, but users looking for a bigger battery or better video card might save by customizing. (It’s $19 to upgrade to an 8-cell battery now, versus $129 for a new battery later).

It took three weeks for HP to deliver the machine, one week longer than anticipated, but they did send an e-mail announcing the delay.

The Exterior

People often describe laptops as being built like a tank, rock or brick. The hyperbole is implicit — most people wouldn’t seriously expect to defend themselves with a Powerbook G4. In the case of the NC6000, however, there’s no exaggeration. The machine is heavy and brutish. If a pack of zombies barged in my office right now, a closed NC6000 would make a handy bludgeon.

HP NC6000 Closed (view larger image)

The lid is some sort of magnesium composite that’s as sturdy an IBM’s, but not as prone to scuffs. The rest of the machine is a solid plastic that provides good support in the handrests.

Closed, the NC6000 is about 12.5 inches wide by 10.25 inches deep by 1.5 inches high.

HP NC6000 left-side (view larger image)

HP NC6000 right-side (view larger image)

HP NC6000 back-side (view larger image)

HP claims the machine weighs less than six pounds, but with the lid closed it feels a lot heavier, so much so that I had my local postmaster put it on the scale. To the surprise of both of us, it registered at around 5.8 pounds.

It does feel heavy though. HP considers the NC6000 a thin-and-light notebook suitable for travel. Whether you agree may depend on your fitness level.

Opened Up

HP NC6000 Oblique view (view larger image)
 
The good news is that the weight disperses nicely with the lid open, and the NC6000 actually starts to live up to its classification of being a thin-and-light.

IBM is noted for having the best laptop keyboards around, but I found the NC6000′s to be every bit as good, and maybe a little better…once I finished the install job that HP left half-done.

When I first opened the lid, the left side of the keyboard was just flopping around, half-attached. Securing it was only a quick matter of slipping two plastic pegs under their respective latches, but it was the first time I had to physically assist in the computer manufacturing process.

HP NC6000 above view of the keyboard (view larger image)

Properly installed, the NC6000′s keys are just as fast, firm and flex-free as IBM’s. They’re responsive, with just the right amount of “click” when a key is pressed. The surface of the NC6000 keys have a slightly grainy texture, which helps improve accuracy by preventing slips and missed keys, particularly when the handrest heats up and things get slippery. It’s a minor detail, but one that people doing lots of word processing will appreciate.

As with most notebooks, the touchpad was run-of-the-mill.

The NC6000 comes with a point stick, which is nice to have, even if HP’s wasn’t nearly as precise as IBM’s. The two mouse buttons below were easy to click without shifting hand position from the keys.

The real problem with the point stick was that maybe once every 10 restarts, it would pull the cursor hard toward the upper-right corner of the screen. It was essentially unusable and required another re-start to get it working again. Tech support had me install new drivers, but that didn’t help.

Out of the box, the lid hinges were a little loose. Setting the laptop down with anything but the gentlest touch sent the screen creeping backwards to a 180-degree angle. Tightening the hinge screws didn’t help.  The problem didn’t render the computer unusable, but makes me wonder what the hinges will be like after a year of use.

Display

The NC6000′s display was very bright, with decent viewing angles for a non-enhanced screen. There was no noticeable ghosting or trailing.

HP NC6000 Screen (view larger image)

Spreadsheets, web pages and graphics looked good, particularly spreadsheets and Word documents, which were almost a pleasure to read on the HP’s screen. With some large, high-resolution photos from a digital camera, however, there was a “screen door effect” in which the empty spaces between the LCD’s pixels become noticeable. This wasn’t the case with all the raw photos, but was an issue with some.

This would likely be less of an issue with the SXGA+ resolution also available with the NC6000.

Performance

The NC6000′s speed was surprising. With a 1.7GHz Pentium-M and a 512MB RAM module, it outperformed both my homemade AMD desktop and a 1.8GHZ, 512MBx2 ThinkPad T-42 when it came to startup times, opening Photoshop, assembling par files and other tasks. The ThinkPad had the edge when it came to a calculating pi to 2 million places using a program called “Super Pi”. Plugged in, the ThinkPad managed the task in 1 minute 58 seconds. The NC6000 was slightly over 2 minutes.

As mentioned, the HP’s start times were impressive until the machine stopped starting up. After about a week and a half, and with the hard drive 80 percent full, the HP would begin starting, and then freeze on a black screen. It took a second restart to get the computer running.

I didn’t worry about it much, because by this point I was already planning on returning the computer (the XGA display wasn’t suitable for photo editing at my job).

Speakers

The speakers, located in the front of the computer aren’t bad for a business notebook. There’s no bottom, but at least they don’t make everything sound like a transmission from Radio Free Europe.

Battery Life

While web surfing and word processing and with the wireless on, the battery lasted between four and four-and-a-half hours. That’s with the screen set to one unit below full brightness (I found the brightest setting a bit too much in most indoor settings).

There’s also a multi-bay battery available to further extend on-the-road up time.

Wireless

I never realized my town had so many wireless routers. Previous laptops were lucky to connect to my own Linksys 10 feet away much less anything else. At my office, I found two connections I never knew existed. In the car, it picked up signals from businesses that weren’t even in sight.

Customer Service

Just about every other American corporation could take a note from HP’s when it comes to treating the customer well. From purchasing the computer to calling tech support to eventually returning it, HP’s service was the best I’ve had from any company anywhere lately.

Initially I ordered an NX5000, but cancelled the order within 48 hours. A few days later I got a voice mail from HP’s regional sales rep offering to let me know what machines were in stock in case I wanted to reconsider an HP business notebook.

When I called tech support about the point stick and a few other things, the man who answered was amazingly patient. He sounded knowledgeable (and went to get the same machine so we could be sure we were talking about the same thing) and insisted that he wouldn’t let me off the phone until I’d finished installing a new driver.  And he was very polite about the whole thing — almost as bad as the tech who doesn’t know what he’s doing is one who treats you like an idiot for not instinctively knowing how to get into your Bios and start modifying things.

The best part of my HP experience was when I learned that they pay for the shipping on a return, whether or not there’s anything wrong with the computer. I called to get an RMA and they e-mailed me a label so I could drop off the notebook to a UPS location at my convenience. Two weeks later I had a complete refund.
 
Bottom Line

The NC600 had some problems that seemed to come from the assembly line. Assuming the faulty machine I got was the exception rather than the rule, it’s easy to recommend the NC6000 with XGA screen to people looking for a solid computer for general use. Students, writers and others who do a lot of word processing will find the NC6000 a pleasure to use, with its bright screen and responsive keyboard. Frequent travelers will appreciate the long battery life and durability. Those who rely on their notebook to edit and present photographs should consider the SXGA+, though.

Pricing and Availability

The NC6000 is available from various web retailers or is available and can be configured at HP.com.

 

 




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