by Miikka Raninen, Finland
HP’s NX6125 is the midliner in HP’s Business Essential series of notebooks designed for serious mobile work. It is aimed at price conscious business people requiring a fully featured mobile office. The NX6125 has security features not found in other notebooks, including a fingerprint scanner, and it differs from the other NX-models by utilizing AMD’s CPU with its PowerNow! dynamic processor loading and variable speed fan. It runs quiet and cool when you’re just doing wordprocessing but comes alive with full force when you need the power.
The ‘submodel’ reviewed here is the European EK156ET. The U.S. models differ slighly in configuration but likewise with them nearly all the specs have configuration options to choose from – it is impossible to review or even list them here – for more details see www.hp.com.
HP NX6125 specs as reviewed:
- AMD Turion 64 ML-32 (1.8GHz, 512kB L2)
- 512MB (256MBx2) DDR 333MHz
- 60GB 4200rpm HD
- 15″ XGA (1024×768) TFT LCD
- ATI Mobility RADEON EXPRESS 200M
- Panasonic DVD+/-RW DL
- Windows HP Home
- 6-cell 54 Wh lithium battery
- 1x ExpressCard/54 slot
- 1x Type I/II PC card (32b/16b CardBus) or optional Secure Smart Card reader
- 6-way memorycard reader: SD,MS/Pro,MMC,SM,XD
- USB 2.0 x 3 (2 x side, 1 x back)
- Firewire 400 (4-pin mini, NOT powered!)
- Gigabit Ethernet (Broadcom Netlink)
- Wireless 802.11g/b (Broadcom, Mini-PCI)
- S-video Out
- Modem with line guard (RJ-11)
- Analog audio-out and mic-in.
- HP Docking station port
- Kensington standard lock slot
Reasons for Buying
My life has always consisted of working, studying and travelling with a notebook but now my old trustworthy Powerbook 1400cs dating back to the stoneage was beginning to get me weird looks from people I was dealing with. Obviously I had long since started doing any serious work on my desktop P4 and the dream was that one day I would walk into the store and buy myself a notebook that would replace it.
As my motto is “those who cannot afford to spend money should buy the best” I was first looking at buying a Thinkpad. However the models in my price range did not contain all the features I was looking for. There was always something at fault: non-writing DVD or no wireless etc. Models that contained all the ‘essentials’ features I wanted were invariably at the highend of the price range. Then somebody here at the forums reassured me that perhaps HP’s Business notebook would suffice for my quality/price needs and I was happy to find the NX6125 line containing everything I was looking for with a reasonable price tag.
I bought the notebook from a local HP certified retailer who had to order the model I wanted from HP’s stock. This took only a few days and I was able to part with my money as well as purchase HP’s 3 year pickup and return warranty for it. As I know what kind of use my notebook will face I anticipate to get my money back from the warranty within that time.
How much did I pay for it then? At the time of purchase (the end of January 2006) the notebook was priced at 1020 euros (1220 USD), this includes the Finnish 22% VAT. (exc. VAT price: 836 e / ~ $1000 USD). Looking at the current U.S. models there is not much difference.
Design & Build Quality
With a traditional 4:3 ratio large 15″ LCD this looks like a Real notebook – a Man’s notebook. Dark-grey sheen hard coating with a tasteful simplicity and squareness give the impression of a serious working man’s notebook. And the minimalistic HP logo styled in lowercase italics with a the tiny model name text in the corner of the screen are a statement that this is no fashionable toy.
The build quality far exceeds that of any consumer notebook in the same price range. Even as the thing weights as much as 6 lbs (2,7kg) you can pick it up from the extreme lower corner and turn it around without significant flexing – a feat you dare not repeat with many consumer notebooks which crackle and squeek as they twist under their own weight.
When closed the notebook becomes a monolith from the Space Odyssey; there are no connectors, hatches or latches that jut out, like in so many other notebooks that are just asking to be broken by catching them in something.
However there are a few fundamental design flaws. On the bottom, which BTW is as messy and ugly as Titanic’s boiler room, they have left the docking connector with no cover of any kind. Not only does this expose the sensitive contacts to grime and dirt but you can actually see the insides of the machine through the gap.
( Click the images for larger view)
The good news is that there ARE other submodels of NX6125 with other displays like SXGA+WVA available for those wanting something better. The basic 15″ 4:3 XGA TFT LCD on my model is just that, very basic. Poor viewing angles and contrast ratios are plain to see. If you are a gaming person who has seen the latest UltraBright LCD’s your friend’s consumer notebooks have, you will be sorely dissapointed with this one. However if you are a working person like me who just occasionally watched a movie or edits a photo, you won’t mind the slight variations in absolute white and dark when viewed off center. This is a display you can stare at for a long time without getting tired – unlike those over-bright over-saturated consumer LCD’s that look sexy until they’ve burned holes to your retina. And having a less bright screen does give you more battery life.
Technically the LCD looks very sharp with no distortions or backlight leakage from the corners. The scratch-proof anti-glare coating works well for every condition expect for direct sun light. The hinges for the display are sturdiest I’ve seen on a notebook and there is no visible display cable between – all wiring is integrated within the hinges. But lighness and thinness have their price; the display flexes quite a bit. I can see now the purpose of those metal covers on many notebook displays.
There are two large speakers on the front egde of the notebook which sound suprisingly good and give a nice tingle and beat on your wrist while you’re typing. Playing Frank Sinatra with full volume (which you have to) rivals any cheap external computer speakers and gives you as much low frequencies as you’d expect to get from a couple of square inches of speaker cone but without any noticable distortion. Needless to say immersing yourself into a game or a movie still requires headphones but atleast these speakers won’t shame you if you have to use them in public.
First of all we’re talking a high-mobility power-saving office notebook here, so what you get is actually pretty good. The Turion 64 ML-32 has a nominal power rating of 35W but AMD’s PowerNow! technology adjusts the clock rate of the CPU dynamically as you need it. This saves your batteries and keeps everything cool but allows for immediate throttle up when your application requires it. This also keeps the notebook nice and quite since the fan only comes on when needed. Doing a re-calculate in Excel that launches a cascade of a few thousend iterations accross multiple worksheets bring the main fan to full speed for a couple of seconds after which it goes quiet again. I’ve been running Photoshop and Illustrator, DVD decryption (which is legal here for backing up purposes!) and old games like QuakeII and Halo and my subjective impression finds no difference in performance with my old P4 2.4Ghz desktop.
Results for calculating Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy using the program Super Pi.
|HP Compaq nx6125 (AMD Turion 64 ML-32, 1.8GHz)||2m 00s|
|Panasonic ToughBook W2 (Pentium M 713 ULV 1.1 GHz)||2m 54s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)||1m 53s|
|Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
PCMark04 Revision 3 Build 0
|File Compression||2.63 MB/s|
|File Encryption||27.54 MB/s|
|File Decompression||22.18 MB/s|
|Image Processing||11.03 MPixels/s|
|Virus Scanning||1330.88 MB/s|
|Grammar Check||1.78 KB/s|
|File Decryption||55.23 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2345.98 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||4.31 Pages/s|
|WMV Video Compression||N/A|
|DivX Video Compression||49.01 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||78.37 FPS|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||537.06 FPS|
|GT1 – Return to Proxycon||2.4 fps|
|GT2 – Firefly Forest||1.9 fps|
|GT3 – Canyon Flight||2.4 fps|
|CPU Test 1||1.6 fps|
|CPU Test 2||2.6 fps|
- Seagate Momentus 4200.2
- 60BG, 4200rpm, 12.5ms
- UltraATA100, 8MB cache
Keyboard and Touchpad
( Click the images for larger view )
The keyboard is both scratch and spill proof. The keys on the keyboard are actually larger than on my desktop keyboard and their action rivals that of the recent Powerbooks. HP designers have used the full physical width of the notebook to give you a natural size keyboard – unlike many silly notebooks out there. There are a number of multi-function keys for adjusting screen brightness and turning on the external VGA output etc. There are also special buttons, for example to turn off the wireless and mute the volume, which also contain discreet indicator lights on them.
The touchpad is as good as I’ve used and also contains a scroll-bar area. The buttons however make a very loud clicking noise. There is also a fundamental design flaw with it. By placing the touchpad off-center it inevitable brings it slightly under ones left hand and one cannot avoid touching it while typing fast. This results in the mouse cursor jumping a couple miles and at worst case replacing some text somewhere. I have found that I need to turn it off and instead use an external mouse.
Input and Output Ports
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The two USB ports on the side are, as usual, placed too close to each other to accomodate anything but the slimmest connectors. Forget about pluging an external HD and a USB-dongle on it simultaniously. There is also one USB at the back but that’s already been used by my external mouse. The external VGA port has also been crammed very tightly inside the notebook and I have already had to disassemble one projector connector with my Leatherman in order to give a presentation. The miniature 4-pin firewire 400 connector is also flimsy and you can forget about powering your external HD with it. At the back you have S-video out, USB, RJ-45 and power connector and on the other side just on the edge of the DVD-carrier a old fashioned RJ-11 56k modem port.
( Click on the image for larger view )
The wireless is a standard Broadcom BCM4318 b/g mini-PCI card with two integrated antennas inside the display for optimal reception. It’s hard to find a benchmark to set it against but I haven’t found a problem yet getting full speed 54Mb/s Wi-Fi access from the places I’ve been to. It supports all the latest encryption algorisms inc. WPA/PSK etc. Although the card is accessible it is doubtful one can go and change it to a different model without the BIOS disagreeing with the new card. One very nice feature is the blue indicator light on the quick-launch button and on the edge of the notebook that tells you if you’ve left the wireless on.
A couple of words of advice to beginners: turn off wireless when you don’t need it (with NX6125 it’s quick and easy) – it also saves your batteries. Use encyption and authentication. Get a software firewall (such as free version of Agnitum’s Outpost).
Battery and Mains adaptor
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It’s a standard 6-cell Lithium battery with a nominal capacity of 54Wh. With this notebook and these features I’ve been running the battery down consistently between 3-4 hours. I guess you could extend this if you dimmed the screen and turned off wireless etc. but that’s silly. However if you put it to sleep the power consumption goes to almost nothing. The battery is extremely easy and fast to replace so getting a spare normal battery might be a better option than getting the heavy and bulky travel battery.
The mains adaptor and it’s leads are of expectional quality. Most notebook leads seem to be engineered to sell spare parts. Their insulation is thin and flexible and the copper leads inside are designed to wear off after a few folds. The HP leads on the other hand are almost as thick and firm as the mains lead and the power-brick is small, light and runs at slightly above hand temperature – indeed expectional since usually you can fry eggs on these things.
( Click on the image for larger view )
The NX6125 is sold as a ‘secure notebook’. It comes with HP’s ProtectTools that give you BIOS level admin and user security features which can be tied with different access level passwords and authentication done with biometric fingerprint scanner. An optional Secure Smart Card reader is available in place of the PC-card slot. Other security feature include HD Drive Lock, Power-on security, Kensington notebook lock slot and Altiris HP Local Recovery.
OS and Software
Again it is my cheap submodel which comes with the XP Home edition. The others have the Pro edition. As usual the DVD is a HP customized ‘recovery disk’ ie. you don’t get a retail version of XP disk but a disk where you can only install the OS and drivers to your NX6125. Apart from the Symantec anti-virus stuff and an odd WinDVD Creator there’s not much notable bundled software.
I’ve installed a dual boot system on mine consisting of Windows 2000 and SUSE Linux. HP’s support for OSs other than XP is little more than lipservice. There exists a drivers site and a White Paper on how to install Windows 2000 but some of the drivers are older than the XP ones or lack some functionality. Also you have to fight with the hardware resources and IRQ’s to get everything working. The Open SUSE 10.0 install however does recognise most hardware apart from the Broadcom wireless and the fingerprint reader. As of now I’m still fighting with it to figure out why KDE is messing up the screen when I exit it. For some reason it wants to jump into a completely incompatible resolution or frequency to the LCD it claims to detect and support.
In hindsight I wish I would have had more money or sense to save up for the NX8220 or even a proper ThinkPad. But there’s really no excuse for HP putting such a slow graphics card and a poor screen on a 1000USD notebook. Also in hindsight I should have bought a model which is known to be supported fully hardwarewise by some Linux distro. Now I have to wait and pray there are people out there in the developer community who take on producing the drivers for this thing. And yes, there are people out here who still have valid Windows 2000 licenses and reasons for using them so HP should do their W2K drivers properly and even include them on the installation DVD.
I do get looks and comments from people saying the notebook looks serious and business like and most are suprised to find it was so cheap. I’m happy I didn’t buy one of those awful looking consumer notebooks (Acer, Fujitsu, Sony etc.). Even the HP Pavilion range looks like toys compared to this. The keyboard was a suprise – I was expecting I’d still have to write my ‘novels’ on a proper external keyboard but typing away on this is like flying. And as I said, for games the screen is mediocre at most but for wordprocessing and reading it is excellent.
If you want to do serious work, either in studying or business, this notebook is everything you need with a confortable price tag. The build quality and the extension card slots will ensure you will get many long years of useful work out of it. You can run the occational game on it but not the latest ones.
As a portable office it has it all. Comfortable keyboard and display, reasonable battery life and easy-to-change battery and travel battery options, an optional docking station for home use and a sturdy portable form and weight that won’t stop you from taking it with you. After all, what is the use of a notebook if you can’t be bothered or you’re afraid of taking it with you everywhere you go.
- + Price / build quality
+ Price / has everything essential for a mobile office
+ Form and weight
+ Automatic powersaving features
+ Keyboard is excellent
+ Serious business-like look
- - Poor display (on this submodel)
- Poor graphics card
- The graphics card eats into your main RAM
- Slow DVD writer
- Not as many ports as you see on other notebooks
- If you want to run W2K or Linux there are better ones out there…