HP Compaq nc6220 review

Price when reviewed

Not content with slotting Sonoma into an existing chassis, HP has come up with a completely new design. The nc6220 is arguably the most important model of the new line-up, since it has the classic business mobile formula: the 14in 1,024 x 768-pixel screen, integrated graphics, a CD burner and 2.4kg weight are bang on the money. We got our hands on the only one in the UK, and the subdued finish and inclusion of both a pointing stick and touchpad make its intentions loud and clear: the nc6220 wants to take on IBM’s ThinkPads (see opposite).

HP Compaq nc6220 review

The all-important keyboard has a different feel and sound to the ThinkPad – harder and a little bit noisier – but it’s also extremely comfortable to type on. The Control key is where it should be – on the far left – and we appreciated the BIOS option to switch it with the Function key according to personal preference. We’re not so keen on the mouse buttons with their L-shaped profile, but you can tap the pointing stick for a left-click instead. Shortcut buttons below the screen control volume and the 802.11b/g wireless LAN.

As befits any modern layout, the three USB ports are on the sides of the case, but it’s strange to see a serial port there when the more useful D-SUB VGA output is relegated to the back. If you want to change the optical drive (ours had a CD burner), it’s a simple matter. Firmly press the door in and the whole assembly will pop out, ready to be swapped with a different drive. There’s also a Type II PC Card slot, a smart card slot, an SD card reader, gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth. Apart from the Control/Function key swap, it’s also nice to see that the BIOS has plenty of password options, with settings for Administrator, Power-On and DriveLock, which disables the hard disk even if it’s transferred to another machine.

The TFT panel of our pre-production unit had room for improvement. Backlighting wasn’t particularly even, there was a narrow brightness range and it looked dull overall. The thin lid meant it was vulnerable to twisting, but HP’s floating attachment system means there are no contact points if the lid is pressed from behind. We’re keen to see how this plays out with retail samples (they’ll ship in April), and we’ll bring you an update as soon as one comes our way.

Our nc6220 sample came fitted with Intel’s 1.73GHz Pentium M 740, a 40GB 5,400rpm hard disk and 512MB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM. The latter dynamically gives up a portion to Sonoma’s integrated graphics option, the Graphics Media Accelerator 900.

Although ours was a working unit, not all of the final drivers were in place so we held off on full benchmarking. The specifications suggest it will rip through office productivity tasks with ease, but although the battery lasted one hour, 43 minutes under intensive use, light use time was a paltry two hours, 53 minutes. We’d expect that to improve seriously in production models.

HP has some accessories to go with the nc6220 chassis, including a horse-shoe shaped external booster battery that clips on underneath. The notebook also fits onto a docking module that adds a ream of extra features, such as DVI, another optical drive, an Express Card slot, six USB ports and more. Strangely, though, given its absence on the laptop, there’s no FireWire. The dock can clip onto a desk stand, and the laptop then holds its screen up like a desktop monitor (you’ll need an external keyboard and mouse for this). However, the desk stand is awkward to use, and it’s difficult to get the laptop fitted securely.

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