HP Compaq nc6230 series
With the debut of the HP Compaq nc6230, HP has made a slight modification to its corporate laptop names, calling each line a "Notebook PC series" instead of a "Business Notebook." The shift hints at HP's recent attempt to welcome smaller businesses (and even consumers) into the fold. You can order any of HP's corporate laptops, including the nc6230 Notebook PC series and its lower-end counterpart, the nc6220 Notebook PC series, through a variety of online resellers, HP's toll-free phone number, or the HP Web site, where you can choose from among a long list of components to customize the laptop.
The nc6220 and nc6230 share the same case design but feature different internal components, such as chipsets and graphics subsystems. The nc6220 ships with Intel's next-generation Centrino platform (code-named Sonoma); specifically, the 915GM chipset with an integrated graphics engine (the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900) that borrows up to 128MB of RAM from the main memory. The nc6230, on the other hand, carries the amped-up Sonoma 915PM chipset, which supports a separate graphics chip (the ATI Mobility Radeon X300) with either 32MB or 64MB of its own video RAM. Translation: the nc6230 will give you faster graphics performance, though we must note that CNET Labs' tests have shown the 915GM and the GMA 900 to deliver a better performance than the 915PM and the ATI X300 for typical office tasks.
Aside from their chipsets and graphics subsystems, the nc6220 and the nc6230 come with the same set of options: Processors include the Pentium M Sonoma at speeds ranging from 1.6GHz to 2.13GHz, as well as the cheaper 1.5GHz Celeron M, which has a slower 400MHz frontside bus (FSB) and smaller 1MB of L2 cache. Both models offer DDR2 memory at 400MHz or 533MHz and in amounts ranging from 256MB to 2GB (512MB is enough for most business tasks). The 14.1-inch display is available in two native resolutions: the standard 1,024x768 or the finer, more graphics-friendly 1,400x1,050. Wireless choices consist of both Intel- and Broadcom-branded 802.11b/g and 802.11a/b/g cards, as well as a Broadcom Bluetooth card.
HP waves good-bye to antiquated storage in the nc6220 and nc6230 series, nixing a CD-ROM option. You can choose from DVD, DVD/CD-RW, and DVD+/-RW drives for the system's swappable internal bay; we wish HP had added a sweet double-layer DVD burner option to the mix. Slow 4,200rpm hard drives also take a hike, with the 40GB, 60GB, and 80GB options all spinning at 5,400rpm; you can also get an extrafast 7,200rpm, 60GB version.
Priced at $2,108 (as of March 2005), our nc6230 test unit featured a nice array of components: a 2GHz Pentium M 760 Sonoma processor, 512MHz of average-speed 400MHz memory, an ATI Mobility Radeon X300 graphics chip with a standard 64MB of VRAM, and an 80GB hard drive spinning at a brisk 5,400rpm. Our model also included a 14.1-inch display with a high, 1,400x1,050 native resolution; a Broadcom 802.11a/b/g mini-PCI Wi-Fi card (which does not support Intel's Sonoma technology, by the way); and a useful CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive in a hot-swappable bay. Another corporate thin-and-light with nearly identical components, the Dell Latitude D610, is slightly more expensive.
HP includes a Trusted Platform Module that's soldered on the laptop's motherboard; this encrypts and stores secret information that can be accessed only with a key code that you establish. The company's ProtectTools software also comes standard on every system, helping to protect the laptop against network and data hacks. As with most corporate notebooks, the nc6230 does not ship with a productivity suite. DVD-viewing and disc-burning tasks are handled by InterVideo WinDVD 5.0 and Sonic RecordNow 7.0, respectively, though you can upgrade to Sonic DLA 4.0 or InterVideo WinDVD Creator 2.0. The standard operating system is--surprise--Microsoft Windows XP Professional, but HP will also ship your system with Windows XP Home.
It's important to put the HP nc6230's long three-year warranty into perspective; while it's better than the typical one-year warranty, it's not exactly standard: you can always opt for a one-year warranty and drop the price. Either way, it doesn't live up to Dell's warranty on the competing Latitude D610, which includes onsite service and unlimited tech support. HP does include three years of toll-free, 24/7 telephone support, though, and access to the best features on HP's support Web site--the customer forums and real-time chat with a tech-support rep--are free.