The HP Compaq nc8230 is a subdued system that's worth getting excited about. As slim and as lightweight as it is sturdy and powerful, the nc8230 is a portable midsize laptop that can run for four hours between charges. And it comes with a three-year warranty, which is becoming increasingly rare even on corporate systems. While the nc8230 doesn't offer the fastest performance in its class, it offers a big screen and plenty of business-friendly features in a portable, reasonably priced package. If you're looking to squeeze every last drop of performance out of your notebook, we recommend the less-expensive Acer TravelMate 4650, which performs better than the nc8230 but lacks hardware security features and has limited support options.
Measuring 14 inches wide and 10.4 inches deep, the HP Compaq nc8230 is a little bigger than a legal pad. While competitive systems such as the Acer TravelMate 4650 and the Lenovo ThinkPad Z60m measure 1.4 inches thick, the nc8230 tapers from 1.4 inches in the back to a slender 1.2 inches thick at the front. Weighing in at 6.4 pounds, the nc8230 is about a pound lighter than the ThinkPad Z60m (configured with a titanium lid and extended battery) and on a par with the TravelMate 4650. With its three-prong AC adapter, the nc8230 weighs 7.4 pounds.
The HP Compaq nc8230 will fit right in at the office with its somber gray and black case. The laptop's magnesium frame will protect it from bumps and bruises, but clumsy coffee drinkers beware: the nc8230 lacks the ThinkPad's spill-resistant keyboard. Speaking of the keyboard, the HP Compaq nc8230 has wide, textured keys with generous depth for comfortable typing. There's a pointing stick and a touch pad that has a convenient scroll zone, as well as a dedicated scroll button that sits between the left and right mouse buttons. Also onboard are handy, external volume controls for the nc8230's speakers.
While it's not designed as an entertainment system, the nc8230 provides decent, if hollow, audio pumped through a strip of speakers placed on each side of the keyboard. We like the HP Compaq nc8230's broad, 15.4-inch display, which has a crisp 1,680x1,050 native resolution. An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the display's brightness. Unfortunately, even at its brightest, the screen seems a bit dim.
For a midsize laptop, the HP Compaq nc8230 offers an average selection of ports and connections. Around its case, you'll find S-Video, VGA, four-pin FireWire, and three USB 2.0 ports, as well as headphone and microphone jacks and an antiquated serial port. While the nc8230 lacks the ThinkPad Z60m's optional built-in cellular radio for instant online connections, it does have Bluetooth and 802.11 a/b/g data radios, plus jacks for modem and Gigabit Ethernet connections. HP's $179 docking station offers Ethernet, modem, PS/2, serial, parallel, S-Video, VGA, DVI, and audio plugs for quick hookups. When it comes to cards, the nc8230 includes a flash card reader that's limited to Secure Digital modules (not the multiformat reader we've seen on other HP laptops) and a PC Card slot that doesn't support the new ExpressCard format. Our test system included a basic CD-RW/DVD drive.
Like many corporate laptops these days, the HP Compaq nc8230 has an array of security features included in the worthwhile $25 ProtectTools security package. (This type of security hardware comes standard on competitors' business machines, such as the Dell Latitude D510 and the ThinkPad Z60m.) The package includes a Trusted Platform Module and Security Manager software that puts boot options, authentication, and identity details in one place. If that's not enough, the hard drive can be encrypted so that a lost or stolen notebook won't compromise corporate security. The nc8230 lacks a fingerprint scanner (found on other business laptops from HP, such as the nx6125), but the built-in smart card reader provides a good dose of security.