At first glimpse of the HP Compaq nc8430, you're likely to think it subdued. Like other HP business laptops, its black-and-gray case won't attract any envious stares at the airport, and its performance likewise doesn't necessarily stand out among the crowd of midsize business laptops. But look more closely, and you'll see the kind of features that matter for real productivity on the road: a sizeable display, a comfy keyboard, plenty of ports, and corporate-level security features. Price-wise, the nc8430 is competitive with similar systems, such as the ThinkPad Z61m, without undercutting them. It's neither the flashiest nor the fastest computer around, but if you're looking for a reasonably portable system for business, the HP Compaq nc8430 will help you get the job done.
Measuring just 1.1 inches at the front and 1.4 inches at the back, the HP Compaq nc8430 will leave room in your briefcase for notepads and file folders, and its 6.2-pound weight (7.2 pounds with the AC adapter) is manageable for semifrequent travel. The nc8430's 14x10-inch footprint will take up a large chunk of desk space but is about average for a 15.4-inch wide-screen machine; for instance, it's nearly identical in size to the Lenovo 3000 N100.
Like other HP business laptops, the nc8430's well-thought-out design makes it relatively easy to stay productive when on the road. The full-size keyboard lets you pound out lengthy memos without cramping your fingers. We like that HP gives you both a ThinkPad-like pointing stick and a track pad for navigation; each device has dedicated mouse buttons and a center scroll button. Users who prefer the pointing stick will have to disable the touch pad--easily done through software controls--to keep their hand from accidentally grazing the pad and misplacing the cursor. To the lower right of the keyboard, there's a fingerprint reader, while above the keyboard are volume controls and a few handy shortcut buttons: a quick-launch key for the HP info center, a Wi-Fi on/off button, and quick-launch presentation button. Framing the keyboard are two speakers that emit garbled sound--not surprising, given the laptop's business focus. The nc8430's 15.4-inch wide-screen display, with a native resolution of 1,680x1,050, looked very crisp and clear and offered more screen real estate than the average 15.4-inch display, though it wasn't as bright as we'd have liked.
Around its case the HP Compaq nc8430 has almost every port and connection a mobile worker will need, starting with four-pin FireWire, S-Video, VGA, and three USB 2.0 ports, plus headphone and microphone jacks. HP also throws in a serial port for businesses with older accessories and a connector for the company's laptop dock. Networking connections include Gigabit Ethernet, modem, built-in 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. In a cluster on the left side of the machine, there are slots for PC Cards (but not the latest ExpressCards), SD cards, and smart cards. A built-in optical drive burns both CDs and DVDs.
Priced at $1,799, our HP Compaq nc8430 test unit included a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of midrange 533MHz RAM, a sizeable 100GB hard drive spinning at a quick 7,200rpm, and an ATI X1600 GPU with 256MB dedicated memory. On CNET Labs' benchmarks the nc8430 performed right in line with similarly configured systems from Gateway and Velocity Micro. The HP also bested the consumer-oriented Dell Inspiron E1505, which included a previous-generation Core Duo processor, on our CPU-intensive multitasking and iTunes tests. On our battery drain tests, the HP Compaq nc8430 held out for 3 hours, 50 minutes--above average for a laptop of its size but not quite as long as the Inspiron E1505.