- Top Notch CPU
- Runs warm
HP nc8430 with Core 2 Duo and X1600 Review
by Greg Ross
The nc8430 is HP’s business class high-powered 15.4″ notebook, often popular for its solid build, gaming capability, and business class support through HP. It starts at a base price of $1,449 with a three year standard warranty, but you can purchase the notebook as one of several pre-configured models or make a custom-to-order. Today I will be reviewing a pre-configured nc8430 after installing the appropriate extra RAM chip (see sections below for details).
Reasons for Buying
I purchased my (somewhat underpowered) Dell XPS M140 notebook last winter to replace my dead zx5000 notebook. While the M140 was perfectly fine for engineering related work, the computer was useless as a gaming device…and I cannot deny that I do enjoy playing the occasional game.
Since I am now working as an intern with a technology/multimedia company, had to return my XBOX 360 which died a week after I bought it, and was almost out of warranty on my M140, I figured that I could buy a new notebook that could handle my gaming. I originally considered the following notebooks (Merom equivalent that is):
- Dell XPS M1210
- Dell Latitude D820
- HP nc8430
- HP dv8000t/dv9000t
- XPS M1710/E1705
I briefly had an order for a M1210, but about a week after I ordered that machine the nc8430 was upgraded to the Merom processor. It had far more superior graphics capabilities, business class quality construction and support, was a more comfortable 15.4″ widescreen, and was still relatively light weight while keeping a respectable battery life. It took me about a day to decide that I wanted the nc8430 instead of the M1210.
Where and How Purchased
Not really willing to deal with a third party reseller (bad experiences with eBay and CDW), I decided to purchase the notebook directly through the HP Small Business website. Their staff was friendly and more than willing to answer my questions about the machine, and suggested that I talk with EPP. When that didn’t pan out, I again contacted HP Small Business about an order…and asked them if they could do anything for me. In the end, the sales rep was able to configure it to $170 less than my original order and bump up the processor speed and shipping. I believe the discount the rep applied was roughly 12.5% off of the notebook itself, and not the RAM or Docking Station.
I ordered my laptop with the following specifications for $2410 as configured:
- Intel Core 2 Duo T7400 (2.16 GHz, 667 MHz FSB, 4 MB L2 Cache)
- Windows XP Pro
- 2048MB (2GB) 667MHz DDR2 (1GB factory installed, 1GB customer installed)
- 100GB Hard Drive @ 7200 RPM
- 15.4″ WSXGA+ (1680 x 1050)
- 56Kbps Modem & 10/100/1000 NIC
- 8 Cell Primary Battery
- Dual Pointer Devices
- Intel 802.11a/b/g & Bluetooth
- Embedded TPM 1.2 & Fingerprint Reader
- 3/3/0 Year Onsite Warranty in US
- HP Advanced Docking Station
Initial Impressions and Build & Design
The nc8430 has a very sturdy and very professional appearance, as it should! However, I really do like the appearance of the notebook and it’s black on black design. While the interior structure of the notebook is made of metal, I believe that the exterior is made of a stiff plastic of sorts if it isn’t made of metal as well. Ultimately, the design of the notebook itself is very firm throughout.
The HP nc8430 (view large image)
The notebook itself is about 6 lbs, which is fairly light given the power and sturdy build of this notebook. While it is heavier than my M140, is it such a small weight difference that I really don’t notice it at all. The notebook itself is also very thin, coming down to just over an inch thick in the front of the notebook. Since it is slightly thicker in the back, the keyboard deck is actually at an angle. This makes typing on the notebook much more comfortable than my M140. As far as width and length go, the notebook’s dimensions are just about right for a 15.4″ chassis at 14.1″ wide and 10.2″ deep. As a side note, my boss thinks that this computer is lighter than his Dell D600 14.1″ notebook!
Notebook compared to an AA Battery (view large image)
Speaking of the chassis, the notebook itself feels very solid. I can easily pick up the notebook from one corner without any creaking or obvious signs of stress that the laptop doesn’t like. This is clearly a benefit of the magnesium alloy construction. Pressing it on any of the components of the notebook casing (other than the LCD) produces absolutely NO flex, regardless of how much force I put into it. None of the buttons or devices sticks out annoyingly, so there is pretty much no way of accidentally hitting something you didn’t want to. Nothing about the laptop hints of any serious potential structural trouble.
With regards to the LCD lid, it is the only physical aspect of the notebook that isn’t excellent. On a positive note, it takes a very hard press with two hands on the LCD back produces a very small amount of ripples…which means this notebook could withstand a lot of pressure from the top. But I can twist the notebook LCD if I try…which is something I could not do on my thicker M140. Also, the two sides of the plastic front bezel can also be pushed in toward the LCD or pulled out toward me, but just barely. I would not have ever noticed this without looking. However, I feel that these are NOT major problems as long as you don’t abuse your notebook. I should also note that the internal magnesium alloy structure does exist in the LCD screen casing, so your LCD screen is still protected even if the plastics are slightly movable.
The bending is not bad, but worth mentioning… (view large image)
…and this is also worth mentioning. (view large image)
I have also noticed that the hinge wobbles just a little if and only if I shake the lid a bit or bump the laptop. During normal use, the hinge does it job and keeps the screen in its rightful position. If my laptop ever has to get serviced, I will ask the technicians to tighten the hinges to reduce the wobble. Over all, the build of the LCD and hinge is fairly good (7.5 out of 10) but I feel it could be a little firmer. The remainder of the notebook chassis gets 10 out of 10 from me.
Upgrading the RAM
Since the notebook configuration that I purchased only came with 1GB of DDR2-5300 (1 DIMM), I decided to upgrade to 2GB immediately. To that end, I also ordered through HP a second stick of RAM, which arrived two days after I received the notebook. Installing the second chip was a simple as popping a cover off the bottom of the notebook, sticking the chip in, and putting the cover back on. If you do this yourself, please make sure the laptop is OFF, unplugged, and the battery removed. Also, press the power button down for about 30 seconds in order to drain any excess power stored in the capacitors. Additionally, I also stood on a tile floor (NOT CARPET) while performing this operation. Upon boot-up after the installation, the nc8430 recognized the RAM without difficultly.
Upgrading the RAM was very easy (view large image)
The nc8430 can be ordered with either the WXGA or WSXGA+ screens. This unit was ordered with the WSXGA+ screen with a resolution of 1680 x 1050. The screen itself is very crisp and clear, and reproduces color very well. The brightness of the screen also has a nice range from dark to bright. The screen is sufficiently bright for every day use when it is a few notches below the brightest setting. However, I prefer the brightest setting. I am also happy to report that the screen has NO dead pixels, as evidenced by the Dead Pixel Buddy program.
Notice the small ambient light sensor on the bottom of the screen (view large image)
The screen also comes with a built in Ambient Light Sensor that will adjust the screen brightness to match the lighting environment. While it is a nice feature to have, I find that the screen often will become maybe a little too dim when the sensor is enabled. Pressing FN+F10 will disable it, and you can also disable it in BIOS.
The monitor itself has a very even backlight when I’m working, and nothing seems to be brighter or darker than the rest of the screen. The backlighting is also fairly even, and when an all black screen saver is on I can only see a small amount of light leakage at the bottom of the screen. This light leakage extends only a few millimeters, which is quite good as it is barely noticeable. If the picture makes it look worse, I apologize for my digital camera; it is built to capture better photos in low light situations by keeping the shutter open for a longer period of time. This behavior cannot be altered to my knowledge.
There is only a little bit of leakage at the bottom, but is only really seen for a few millimeters (view large image)
When working, the screen itself provides ample landscape to have multiple windows open and I can multitask well with it. Text does not seem too small, and I’m not straining my eyes to see details on the screen. As a matter of fact, between the high res screen and the dual core CPU, this machine is perfect for multitasking!
Also, as you can see below the viewing angle on the notebook is quite good. As the pictures show, the horizontal viewing angle is incredibly large; even sitting to the far side and watching the movie doesn’t severely distort the color or movie. It is good enough so that multiple people could surround the notebook to view the same presentation or movie without trouble.
Head on view (view large image)
angled left view (view large image)
angled right view (view large image)
vertical and horizontal angle view (view large image)
However, the vertical viewing angle is merely average. Given the quality of the horizontal viewing range, I would have expected more from the vertical range.
Processor & Performance
Having the T7400 Intel Core 2 Duo processor definitely put a kick in this notebook. Delivering up to 2.16 GHz of power, this CPU didn’t flinch at anything that I threw at it. All tests and benchmarks were done with the normal startup routine (including Norton Anti-Virus & Protection Center & Ghost), and with no optimizations present such as disabling unused Window’s services. Even though this processor is the second most powerful mobile CPU out there, it would give any user a feeling of satisfaction knowing that you don’t need more power. Both of my stress tests on the processor resulted in EXCELLENT performance marks: PCMark05 scored 4652 points, while Super PI checked in at 58 seconds.
CPU-Z Information (view large image)
The T7400 takes only 58 seconds to calculate PI to 2M digits!
Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
HP nc8430 (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo)
HP dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion64 X2 TL-56)
Compaq V3000T(1.6GHz Core Duo)
Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.00 GHz Core 2 Duo)
Toshiba A100(2.0GHz Core Duo)
Acer Aspire 5102WLMi(1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-50
Gateway E-100M(1.2GHz Core Solo ULV)
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)
HP dv5000z(2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)
PCMark05 reports 4652 PCMarks.
HP nc8430 (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo)
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60)
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)
Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV)
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)
Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo)
HP nc8430 (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)
As a personal note of pride:
I also have an ATI TV Tuner USB 2.0 that just happened to be sitting around. The one thing that REALLY hinders the performance of the TV Tuner card is that the device is basically a Cable Coax to USB Bridge. All the decoding, filtering, and video processing is done through a software ONLY solution. This meant that in order to watch (let alone record) TV, the computer has to have enormous processing power.
On my old Pentium M notebook, the Dell M140, I was able to watch TV and record TV at the lowest settings with only a little bit of trouble. Watching TV would use about 80% of the processor, while watching and recording used about 95%! However, the Core 2 Duo laughed at this annoying TV Tuner software. I’m able to watch and record at one of the highest settings (MPEG4 with regular and high filtering) the software allows. MPEG4 decoding/encoding is an extremely processor hungry software application, which used up about 60% of the processor in both cores. Attempting these high of settings on the Pentium M would lead to A LOT of dropped video frames. However, there are zero problems using the TV Tuner now!
Windows started up extremely fast on the nc8430, which is a tribute to both the processor and the 100GB 7200RPM Seagate Hard Drive (Model #: ST910021AS). As you can see, the HD Tune benchmark shows that this hard drive is top notch. Also, even during heavy use, I cannot hear the hard drive spinning or accessing any data. However, the drive does get slightly warm when the Disk Defragmenter or another hard drive heavy application is running.
The 7200RPM hard drive performs very well (view large image)
With 2GB of RAM, the computer rarely (if ever) has to use the HDDs virtual RAM. As I’m typing this review up, with only a few small applications running and a LOT of background applications silently working, I still have about 1400MB of unused RAM.