Entry-level notebooks are usually remarkable in a design sense only in that they're usually as bland as the manufacturer figures they can get away with. We'll probably never know the exact costing at a manufacturer level for putting wonky grey stripes across the back of a notebook case, but as long as customers will pay extra for it, vendors will keep charging more for prettier notebook cases. HP's Compaq Presario CQ42-136TU doesn't even have a pretty name, and the triangular inlaid pattern on the notebook case is pretty unremarkable. Then again, at an AU$699 price point, you're not likely to get inlaid diamonds.
While the visuals lack any particular level of shiny appeal, the design is otherwise quite sensible, with a comfortable keyboard that's well spaced below the 14-inch, 1366x768-pixel screen. The trackpad sits flush with the wrist rest. It's one of those features you'll either like or hate. We found in extended testing that we'd nudge it a little more than we'd like.
A moderate price point equates to moderate-level components, and underneath the keyboard you'll find lurking a 1.9GHz Intel Celeron T3100 processor, 2GB RAM, a 250GB 7200rpm hard drive and Intel's 4500M Graphics Media Accelerator. Optical duties are covered by a LightScribe SuperMulti DVD±RW with Double Layer Support, and connectivity includes three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, 100Mb Ethernet, modem, five-in-one card reader and headphones. This is a base-line system through and through, and as long as you keep that in mind you're unlikely to be disappointed with it.
Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit is pre-installed, as is the usual small raft of companion software. In the CQ42's case, that's HP Support Assistance, HP Advisor, HP Wireless Assistant, HP Software Update, Adobe Reader, HP Recovery Manager, Norton Online Backup, PowerDVD, Cyberlink YouCam, Cyberlink DVD Suite Premium, Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Shockwave Player. You also get trial versions of Muvee Reveal (20 days), Norton Internet Security (60 days) and Microsoft Office 2007 Pro (60 days).
The moderate memory and processor underneath the hood of the CQ42 limits the performance of the system, so it wasn't surprising to see benchmark scores in the average range. The CQ42 managed a PCMark05 score of 3904 and a weak 3DMark06 score of only 728. Don't buy this for the kids as a games machine — at least for any moderately recent games — and it'll perform adequately but not in an exciting fashion.
What was rather notable about the CQ42 was the battery performance. Cheaper notebooks traditionally ship with weaker batteries to shave even more cost off the bottom line, but the CQ42's six-cell Lithium-ion battery managed a perfectly respectable two hours and 22 minutes in our punishing full-screen, full-brightness video test with all battery-saving measures disabled. For everyday use, you could expect even more, and for a system at this price and with this size screen, that's a nice achievement.
The competition for entry-level computing dollars has never been more fierce. At this price point, you could equally and just as justifiably purchase any number of netbooks, an entry-level Apple iPad or several competing bargain basement notebook options. It's a matter of matching your requirements to your budget, and if the larger screen and more comfortable keyboard of the CQ42 are more important than portability or particular performance grunt, it's a good option to consider.