Historically, HP's business notebooks haven't sparked a lot of excitement. Their button-down cases were always stocked with a decent mix of components for a reasonable price, but there didn't seem to be anything to set the systems apart from the rest of the field. The HP Compaq 6515b, however, has a number of features that, frankly, we're excited about. First, HP has brought its color scheme up to date; though the boxy case is still rather subdued, it looks much more stylish than past models. More importantly, the 6515b packs in pretty much every feature a business user will need, including options for 802.11 draft-n wireless and either EV-DO or HSDPA WWAN. Our review unit also incorporates a top-of-the-line AMD Turion 64 X2 processor and runs on Windows Vista Business, all for $1,599 (the base configuration, with lesser components and no WWAN, costs $649). The 6515b mostly kept up with Intel-based competitors in our performance benchmarks, though its Office productivity results suggested that it wouldn't be the best choice for heavy-duty office multitaskers. We thought it powerful enough for typical office work, however, and its thorough feature set and affordable price makes the HP Compaq 6515b a solid choice for small businesses that want to outfit their workers like the big guys.
We're pleased that HP has updated its business line to a medium-gray-and-black color scheme that looks a bit more sophisticated than its previous hues. The fundamental design hasn't changed much, though; the boxy HP Compaq 6515b measures 13 inches wide, 9.4 inches deep, and 1.5 inches thick. That's about average for a laptop with a 14.1-inch wide-screen display, nearly identical to the dimensions of the Gateway NX270S, and a tad smaller than the Lenovo 3000 N100. Curiously, the HP Compaq 6515b's 5.5-pound weight matches that of the Lenovo and is a bit heavier than the Gateway. With its chalkboard-eraser-size AC adapter, the HP hits the road at 6.6 pounds--a bit heavy for frequent travel, but still reasonably portable.
HP clearly believes that it's not necessary to fix something that isn't broken. The HP Compaq 6515b keeps the well-thought-out design found on previous generations of HP business laptops, borrowing touches from its consumer line where appropriate. The roomy keyboard, though not full-size, lets you pound out lengthy documents without cramping your fingers. While previous HP biz laptops incorporated both a pointing stick and a touch pad for navigation, the HP Compaq 6515b keeps things simple with just a touch pad. The pad is a bit short for our tastes (just under 1.5 inches tall) but its ample width includes a vertical scroll zone on the right side. The two rubberized mouse activation buttons are comfortable and responsive. To the lower right of the keyboard, there's a tiny fingerprint reader, which frees you from having to remember your Windows and Web passwords. Above the keyboard sits a row of light-touch buttons that should look familiar to anyone acquainted with HP's Pavilion laptops. In addition to a mute button and volume controls, there are buttons to launch HP's configuration tools, turn the wireless radios on and off, and adjust display settings for presentations. While the similar light-touch controls on Pavilion models make an annoying beeping noise that has to be manually shut off, the buttons on the HP Compaq 6515b are blissfully silent.
The well-thought-out design extends to the laptop's 14.1-inch wide-screen display, which you can customize with either HP's BrightView glossy finish or an antiglare finish. While the BrightView promises to make colors pop, it's also prone to distracting reflections; the antiglare finish (which our review unit had) makes it easier to work on spreadsheets and documents for long periods of time without straining your eyes. With a native resolution of 1,280x800, text and icons looked crisp without being too small, while movies looked sharp, though the color was somewhat washed out on our display. Our biggest surprise came from the speakers located along the HP Compaq 6515b's front edge, which were rich and clear, even at the highest volume.
When it comes to ports and connections, the HP Compaq 6515b has everything a mobile worker will need, starting with four-pin FireWire, S-Video, VGA, and four USB 2.0 ports (two on each side of the laptop to prevent cord crowding), plus headphone and microphone jacks. There's also a connector for the company's docking stations, which range in price from $189 to $399. Expansion options include a Type I/II PC Card slot and a media card reader that recognizes Secure Digital, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MultiMedia Card, and xD formats; a built-in DVD burner lets you create disc backups of all your data. About the only thing lacking is a slot for the latest ExpressCards.We love that the 6515b provides every possible networking connection: Gigabit Ethernet, 56K modem, Bluetooth 2.0, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi (draft-n wireless is available as an option), and your choice of EV-DO or HSDPA WWAN radios. Our review unit's price includes the EV-DO option.
Our HP Compaq 6515b review unit was pretty well-loaded for its $1,599 price tag. The configuration includes a top-of-the-line 2.2GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-64 processor, 2GB of fast 667MHz RAM, an ATI Radon Xpress 1270 graphics with 128MB of VRAM, and a huge 120GB hard drive spinning at a middling 5,400rpm. A similarly configured Toshiba Tecra M5, by comparison, costs $1,899--though it includes a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and features a standard-aspect display. The closest configuration of a Lenovo 3000 N100 costs $1,455 for a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 100GB hard drive.
The HP Compaq 6515b's performance on CNET Labs' benchmarks was competitive with systems based on Intel processors. On the CPU-intensive iTunes test, the 6515b fell behind only the $2,250 Lenovo ThinkPad T60P whose Intel Core 2 Duo processor had a faster clock speed. On the Multitasking test, the 6515b scored within the margin of error compared to the Toshiba Tecra M5 and Tecra A6, trailing only the ThinkPad T60P by more than 5 percent. In fact, the sole test on which the AMD-based 6515b couldn't keep up with the competition was our Office productivity module, which tests every major subsystem, including the CPU, the memory, and the hard drive. This result is confounding, given the HP's performance on our other tests; one possible explanation could be that the Office productivity test was the only one to exploit the processor's L2 cache (the Turion 64 X2 has one-half to one-fourth the L2 cache of its Intel counterparts). Though we didn't notice any drag during our anecdotal use, the test results suggest that heavy-duty office multitaskers might be better served by a laptop built around an Intel Core 2 Duo processor.
On our resource-intensive DVD battery drain tests, the HP Compaq 6515b lasted an impressive 2 hours, 31 minutes; you can expect longer life during typical Windows use. As with most of the performance tests, the HP came in second to the Lenovo ThinkPad T60P, which lasted 3 hours, 19 minutes.
Though manufacturers used to back business systems with three-year warranties, HP has followed the trend of offering an economical one-year warranty that includes toll-free, 24-7 phone support and return-to-depot service. Fortunately, the company keeps warranty costs low; adding on-site coverage is just $59, while adding on-site coverage and extending the warranty to three years costs $169. The company rounds out its service and support with a solid online help site that integrates a user forum and real-time chat with a tech support rep.