For business travelers seeking a powerful ultraportable laptop, the $1,788 HP Compaq nc4200 is a contender with class. Its staid black case accommodates a decent-size screen and a comfortable keyboard, and it delivers enough battery life to get work done on the road. Still, it lacks a built-in DVD drive and business-friendly security features such as a fingerprint scanner or a Trusted Platform Module. For a more fully outfitted ultraportable, we recommend the more expensive ThinkPad X41. If an optical drive and security extras aren't critically important, the HP Compaq nc4200 provides a good balance of portability and power at a reasonable price.
Measuring 11.2 inches wide, 9.3 inches deep, and 1.2 inches thick, the HP nc4200 is similar in size to other ultraportables, such as the Acer TravelMate 3002 and the ThinkPad X41. At 3.9 pounds, however, the nc4200 is heavier than the 3.6-pound TravelMate 3002 and the 3.2-pound ThinkPad X41. With its three-prong AC adapter, the nc4200 hits the road at 4.7 pounds.
The HP nc4200's 12.1-inch standard-aspect display has a native resolution of 1,024x768 and is large enough that you can view spreadsheets without squinting. It includes a sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness based on the ambient light. Despite the laptop's compact size, its responsive keyboard doesn't feel cramped, although the much smaller function keys are sometimes a little hard to hit. Above the keyboard lie volume and mute buttons and a presentation button that adjusts video settings for output to a projector. We like the nc4200's two pointing devices, which are similar to those on many Lenovo ThinkPads. One is a pointing stick with two small mouse buttons that sit beneath the spacebar; the other is a touch pad with a dedicated scroll zone and its own mouse buttons.
Business travelers will find almost every connector they'll need on the HP nc4200. In addition to headphone and microphone jacks, the system features VGA, S-Video out, and three USB 2.0 ports (one of which is powered so that you can run the included external DVD+RW drive without plugging it in). Modem, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g, and Bluetooth connections come standard, and the laptop also has a Type I/II PC card slot and an SD card slot. The system lacks a FireWire connector as well as a fingerprint reader or a Trusted Platform Module--surprising for a business-focused ultraportable in this price range. Competitive systems, such as the ThinkPad X41 and the Dell Latitude D410, include such features. The nc4200 runs Windows XP Professional. HP skips the office productivity suite but does include InterVideo WinDVD and Sonic RecordNow 7, which lets you play a DVD off your hard drive instead of lugging the external drive around.
The moderately equipped $1,788 HP nc4200 we tested ran on a 2GHz Pentium M processor with 1GB of middling 400MHz RAM; integrated Intel graphics; and a 60GB, 5,400rpm drive. On our performance tests, the nc4200 ran 20 percent ahead of a ThinkPad X41 equipped with a 1.5GHz processor; it scored 8 percent behind the Acer TravelMate 3002, which has a slower processor and hard drive and costs nearly $500 less. We found the nc4200 powerful enough for most business tasks and never ran into any performance-related issues.