HP Compaq nc6400 (RM100ET) review
A great business laptop, with superb design touches and performance to match
It's rare to find a business-focused laptop that elicits much actual excitement: cutting-edge technology and luxury extras aren't generally at the top of the list when considering a suitable work machine. But the HP Compaq nc6400 still manages to cause a frisson of excitement when you realise exactly how good it is.
There's a feeling of quality that pervades the entire system. The keyboard is an unqualified success - a totally solid base makes typing quiet, ergonomic and stress-free, and the trackpad is equally tactile, with a stripe on the right-hand side to make scrolling through web pages and text documents easier. There's also a trackpoint embedded in the keyboard - useful for trains and planes when there's less space available.
We love the screen as well. There's no distracting gloss finish, and the resulting image is bright and clear. Our technical tests produced a near-flawless set of results. The panel itself is a 14.1in widescreen with a resolution of 1,280 x 800 - just a little low for our liking, but still sufficient for most jobs, including photo editing, which benefits from the good colour handling and even backlighting.
Everything is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 CPU, paired with 1GB of RAM. Each processor core runs at 1.83GHz, while the RAM is clocked at a healthy 667MHz. This robust specification powered the system to an overall benchmarks score of 1.09, which is excellent for a notebook and more than enough for word processing, email and virtually anything else you turn your hand to.
HP has also gifted the nc6400 with a superb security system. The fingerprint reader, combined with HP's ProtectTools Security Manager, makes it exceptionally easy to keep out prying eyes. We had a fingerprint-protected Windows system in less than five minutes, and each time you encounter a web page with a username and password box you'll be prompted to save the details you enter. Next time, simply swipe your finger and the details are entered for you. There's also a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip installed, as well as a smart card reader on the right-hand side of the chassis - use a password, fingerprint reader and smart card to authenticate the user and you'll have a system that's about as locked down as you can get.
The chassis is well put together. It doesn't feel quite as robust as the Dell Latitude D620, but we'd be perfectly happy rushing from a hotel to an airport with the system in a bag. The screen in particular feels well made and protected, and the lid will clearly withstand some pressure while on the go.
Battery life is also outstanding: 5hrs 42mins under light use, and 4hrs 8mins under intense use. While this isn't a record, it's still almost enough to go a full day without a charge, presuming you make occasional and savvy use of the suspend and hibernate modes.
Storage is sufficient. An 80GB hard disk is plenty for a Windows install and a comprehensive set of applications and documents, while the SD/MMC slot at the very front of the chassis will be useful for those with digital cameras. We've only two slight quibbles: a DVD writer would make a useful upgrade, and with just three USB ports included, you might also find yourself considering HP's 3-in-1 NAS Docking Station (part number EM537ET) sooner rather than later. This offers six extra USB 2 ports, as well as a host of legacy ports not supplied by the nc6400: parallel, serial, video-out ports as well as PS/2. There are also two networked USB 2 ports for attaching a printer or an extra hard disk to the NAS. There's already a 160GB hard disk built in - so long as the docking station and nc6400 are connected to the same network, you can make backups to the unit. It isn't cheap at £255, but is a great addition - a full complement of extra ports and network-based backup are features that practically any owner will benefit from.