HP Compaq nw8240 review
While the perception of many when you mention HP is consumer-friendly printers and budget laptops, the company’s Compaq-branded branch certainly knows how to put a high-end notebook together. With its low-profile chassis and solid build quality allied to the charcoal-grey finish, there’s no doubting the nw8240’s gravitas, even before you start looking at the specifications.
It isn’t fair to simply describe this machine as a laptop though: it’s truly a mobile workstation, replete with the fastest Pentium M processor, running at 2.13GHz, allied to ATi’s Mobility FireGL workstation-level graphics adaptor with 128MB of dedicated frame-buffer memory.
We used 3ds Max 7 in render preview mode to test the grunt of the FireGL chipset, and saw the unit complete the 100 frames of our complex 200,000-polygon test animation in just 27 seconds. It’s a fine result, and just one second slower than Fujitsu Siemens’ Celsius H230. In the real world, both machines will easily meet the basic requirement for any OpenGL and DirectX design applications, and will cope with up to medium-level complexity before you need to start resorting to adaptive degradation.
But the nw8240 adds some hard-hitting advantages over the Fujitsu too. The H230’s screen was good; the nw8240’s is better, being a lovely 15.4in widescreen, with its native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 exceeding the majority of desktop monitors. As always with very high-resolution notebook TFTs, this can be a double-edged sword; at native resolution, the Start button is just 9mm wide and other Desktop furniture and text equally tiny.
However, so long as your eyesight’s up to it, the screen is a huge boon for any kind of design or graphics work. HP has resisted any temptation to put a glossy X-black style finish on the screen too, with the very effective anti-reflective coating leading to a relaxed experience free of distracting reflections from windows or lights.
HP hasn’t spoiled the work put into the screen by skimping on the rest of the human-computer interfaces. The nw8240’s keyboard is one of the best we’ve tried for a long time: solid but not lifeless; plenty of travel but still crisp. Typing is bliss and there’s practically no rattle. You get both a touchpad and trackpoint for mouse-cursor control, both of which are great examples of their type. The touchpad’s buttons are rubberised, but it’s a taste easily acquired.
Above the keyboard lie six shortcut keys, providing the key functions for a business tool used on the road: mute and volume up/down; a Presentation key, allowing you to start up PowerPoint, put the machine into an appropriate power scheme so the screen won’t blank out, and switch to an external display if necessary; and a wireless power key that simultaneously enables or disables both the Bluetooth and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adaptors.
There’s also an innocuous-looking Info key, which loads the customised HP Info Center app. This includes HP ProtectTools Security Manager, allowing comprehensive control of all system passwords including BIOS and Windows logon, plus the ability to register hardware smartcards – a smartcard reader sits between the SD card and PC Card slots on the left of the machine – or USB-based hardware logon keys. In addition, you can disable any or all of the external interfaces such as the serial port, floppy drive and SD card slot. It’s a neat one-stop application and completely integrated into the hardware, eliminating any digging around in the BIOS or disparate Windows tools.