HP Compaq CQ50-115NR review: HP Compaq CQ50-115NR

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The Good Attractive design; slimmer and lighter than competing systems.

The Bad Poor performance; lousy battery life; no media control keys; lacks an expansion card slot.

The Bottom Line The entry-level Compaq Presario CQ50-115NR looks great, but you can get better performance and battery life for your money.

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5.2 Overall

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Note: This review is part of our Back-to-School 2008 roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.

We were excited when HP announced the revival of the Compaq Presario brand earlier this year. Here was the promise of a family of basic, entertainment-oriented laptops at extremely low prices (starting at $499). Once we got our hands on the $649 Compaq Presario CQ50-115NR, we were impressed with its high-end look and feel. But looks aren't everything, and the Presario CQ50-115NR couldn't fulfill its upscale promise on our performance and battery benchmarks. We could forgive pokey performance if its price undercut the competition, but we tested a $649 Dell Inspiron 1525 that outperformed the Presario CQ50-115NR. And for just $30 more, you can buy our entry-level pick for this back-to-school season, the Sony VAIO NR430. We'd recommend either system over the Compaq Presario CQ50-115NR.

Price $649
Processor 2.0GHz AMD Turion X2 RM-70
Memory 3GB at 800MHz
Hard drive 200GB, 5,400rpm
Graphics Nvidia GeForce 8200M G
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium
Dimensions (WDH) 14.2 x 10.1 x 1.2 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.4 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.8 / 6.6 pounds
Category Mainstream

The Compaq Presario CQ50 looks more expensive than its $649 price tag. In fact, it looks remarkably similar to its corporate sibling, the HP Pavilion dv6915nr. The key differences: the Compaq Presario lacks the HP's Imprint finish, opting instead for a monochrome black lid, and it replaces the HP logo with a large silver Q in the center of the lid. Another key difference between the two models is size; the Compaq Presario CQ50 is both slimmer and lighter than the Pavilion dv6915nr. The Presario CQ50 is also slimmer and lighter than the other budget systems in our back-to-school roundup, which only adds to its upscale look and feel.

The full-size keyboard on the Presario CQ50 feels solid and responsive. The touch pad is made of the same glossy material as the wrist rest, which, while aesthetically pleasing, doesn't allow your finger to easily glide. Aside from the power button, you'll find only one button on the Presario CQ50's keyboard deck: an LED-lit on/off button for the laptop's wireless radio. All other controls--play/pause, track forward, and volume controls, for example--are Function keys on the keyboard. We'd have appreciated independent volume controls, at least; even the entry-level Dell Inspiron 1525 includes touch-sensitive media controls.

The Presario CQ50 features a 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display with a 1,280x800 native resolution. That resolution is typical for this size, though some vendors, including Dell, offer a finer 1,440x900 resolution option on configurable models. Brightness and color saturation were great for both productivity work and watching movies, though blacks tended to look a little washed out. The display features a glossy screen coating but wasn't as prone to glare and reflections as other glossy screens we've seen.

  Compaq Presario CQ50 Average for mainstream category
Video VGA-out VGA-out, S-Video
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, multiformat memory card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The Compaq Presario CQ50 provides a minimal allotment of connections, even for a budget laptop. The laptop lacks an expansion port of any kind, so you're barred from adding functionality like a TV tuner. The built-in Altec Lansing stereo speakers are adequate for music and movies, but not amazing.

We tested the $649 Compaq Presario CQ50-115NR, a retail-only fixed configuration that incorporates a generous 3GB of RAM and a low-cost 2.0GHz AMD Turion X2 RM-70 dual-core processor. Though that's one of AMD's latest processor models, it didn't have enough oomph to compete with laptops based on Intel's Core 2 Duo processor on CNET Labs' benchmarks. We could forgive the lag if the Presario CQ50 were less expensive than the competition, but you'll pay less for Dell's entry-level Inspiron 1525-121B; our favorite in this budget category, the Sony VAIO NR430, provides significantly better performance and battery life, plus a few more features, for just $30 more than the Presario.

The story doesn't get any better when it comes to battery life. On our drain test, the Compaq Presario CQ50-115NR fell just 9 minutes shy of the 2-hour mark, which is below average for a mainstream system. Worse, four of our 15.4-inch entry-level back-to-school laptops outlasted the CQ50 by 37 minutes or more.

Though purchased at retail, HP's basic one-year parts-and-labor warranty applies to the Presario CQ50. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, and an online knowledge base and driver downloads for this specific model can be found at HP's support site.

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