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HP's Compaq 6720s is definitely at the 'budget' end of the laptop market. Part of the company's Balanced Mobility range, the 6720s comes in three versions: we looked at the least expensive £379 model, while the other two cost £435 and £489 respectively. The most obvious questions to ask about the 6720s is: what has been omitted to meet the price point, and how usable is it as a portable business workhorse?
This is a mid-sized laptop with a footprint 358 by 32 by 267mm. It weighs a not insubstantial 2.5kg.
The slate-grey lid section and the black base are not held together with a secure clasp. If you intend to carry this laptop, you'll need to ensure that it's stowed separately from pens and other items that could work their way between the two sections and damage the screen. Elsewhere, HP has managed to put a little effort into the design, despite the system's entry-level status.
The hinges for the lid are recessed within the back of the chassis so that the base of the lid swivels down towards the desk when you open the laptop. Although this has no practical benefit that we can discern, it's distinctive.
Above the keyboard, embedded in an area that also contains the speakers, is the on/off switch, which has a pale blue backlight when the laptop is on. To its left is a wireless on/off button that glows deep blue when Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are active.
The power connector is on the left edge of the system. This has a light that glows orange for most of the battery charge cycle, changing to blue for the final 10 per cent or so and switching off when full capacity is reached. A pale blue light by the Caps Lock key glows when its function is activated.
The screen measures 15.4 inches across the diagonal, and has a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. The screen is sharp and clear, and has a matte finish rather than a reflective coating. This means that you should be able to work in reasonable comfort with a light source behind you -- near an office window, for example.
The keyboard does not quite stretch the full width of the available area, but the keys themselves are large and we had no problem touch-typing. The number row is topped by a row of two-thirds-height function keys.
The touchpad is positioned centrally on the wrist-rest area, which means it's slightly offset to the right in relation to the spacebar and Qwerty keys. If your typing style means that your hands brush the wrist-rest area when you're working, you may find that the touchpad falls under your right hand, causing unintented cursor movement.
The touchpad incorporates a scroll zone on its right vertical side. To use it, you simply run a finger along it to scroll through documents, Web pages and so on.
Our review model of the HP Compaq 6720s has an appropriately entry-level Intel Celeron M 530 processor running at 1.73GHz. During testing we did find this laptop to be a little sluggish at times. If you're likely to want to run a lot of applications at once or have processor-intensive work in mind, then you may need to consider one of the higher-specified models in the 6720s range, both of which use Core 2 Duo CPUs.
The laptop comes with Windows Vista Business installed, and its 1GB of RAM is a minimum specification for this operating system. Graphics are handled by the X3100 module integrated in the Intel GL960 Express chipset, which can dynamically access up to 384MB of shared system memory.
Both Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g) and Bluetooth 2.0 are built in, courtesy of a Broadcom mini-PCI card. Ethernet is also present, along with a 56Kbps modem for those who may need to resort to dial-up connectivity.
Our review model had an 80GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm. The other two models in the range sport 120GB and 160GB hard drives. The optical drive, which lives on the right-hand side, is a DVD+/- RW SuperMulti drive and is consistent across all three models.
There's a fairly limited selection of connectors and slots. The front edge houses microphone and headset jacks plus an SD/MMC card slot. The front of the casing slopes away from you, which creates a neatly stylised look but means you may have to fiddle around to locate the flash card slot.
The optical drive is the only occupant of the right side, while the back edge houses the removable Li-ion battery -- which is entirely obscured when the laptop is opened, thanks to the unusual lid-opening system noted earlier.
The left edge carries the Ethernet and modem ports, along with a VGA connector, an ExpressCard slot and three USB ports. The latter are ranged side-by-side towards the front, and if your peripherals are in any way bulky you may struggle to use all three at once.
The HP Compaq 6720s delivered a Windows Experience Index (WEI) rating of 2.0 out of 5.9. The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was from the graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) subsystem.
The highest component score, 4.9, came from the primary hard disk (disk data transfer rate). The remaining scores were 2.8 for gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance), 3.9 for processor (calculations per second) and 4.5 for RAM (memory operations per second).
This is a budget laptop, so a moderate specification is only to be expected. The range of connectors is not huge, there's no fingerprint recognition, no webcam and no wide-area wireless networking like 3G, HSDPA.
However, what this laptop does have works well enough. Apart from the Aero graphics, the WEI scores suggest that the 6720s is a competent performer and it could fit the bill if you don't need serious CPU or graphics power, and are likely to spend most of your time in the office rather than on the road.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday