The Compaq nc2400, HP's newest corporate ultraportable, is not the lightest laptop on the market, but it strikes an appealing balance between features and portability for a lower price than competitive models. Though it weighs less than 4 pounds, it has a larger display than most other 4-pound models, as well as a comfortable keyboard and an optical drive. Best of all, the nc2400, with a starting price of $1,599, costs less than competitive models, such as the $1,649 Fujitsu LifeBook P7120 and the $1,799 ThinkPad X60s. At such a low price, the system won't give you the latest dual-core processors or a lot of high-end features, but you will get solid mobile performance and enough battery life to keep you productive on the road.
The nc2400's staid black-and-gray case measures 11.1 inches wide, 8.3 inches deep, and an inch thick at the front (1.2 inches thick at the back), making it a bit larger than the ThinkPad X60s and much larger than the Fujitsu LifeBook P7120. Though the nc2400 base configuration weighs 3 pounds, our test unit, configured with a six-cell battery, weighed 3.6 pounds, placing it on the heavier end of the ultraportable spectrum. Still, even with its small, 0.8-pound AC adapter, the nc2400 is light enough for regular travel.
Unlike the ThinkPad X60s, which has a standard-aspect display, the nc2400 features a 12.1-inch wide-screen display with a 1,280x800 native resolution. We prefer the wider screen not only because it fits more comfortably on a tray table, but also because it provides sufficient screen real estate for working with multiple windows open side by side. The LifeBook P7120's wide-aspect screen offers the same resolution but is significantly smaller, measuring 10.6 inches diagonally.
The nc2400 avoids the curse of most ultraportables: its ample keyboard makes for very comfortable typing, and only a few nonessential keys (for example, Esc, F keys, and Page Up/Down keys) are noticeably reduced in size. Notably, the nc2400 lacks a trackpad, but it does include a ThinkPad-like textured pointing stick for navigation and two rubberized mouse buttons; we wish there were also a scroll button to make paging through documents and Web pages easier. To the lower left of the keyboard, there's a fingerprint reader, while above the keyboard are a few shortcut buttons (a quick-launch key for the HP info center, a wireless on/off button, and quick-launch presentation button), as well as volume controls.
The nc2400 provides the bare minimum of ports and connections for the average business user. There are VGA, four-pin FireWire, and two USB 2.0 ports, as well as headphone and microphone jacks. The laptop includes a slot for Type I and II PC Cards, though not the latest ExpressCards. In addition to the fingerprint reader, the nc2400 features a Trusted Platform Module to keep data secure. Connectivity options include modem, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth; unlike the ThinkPad X60s, the nc2400 lacks an option for integrated wireless WAN. Compared to its more expensive competitors, the nc2400 comes up a bit short: the ThinkPad X60s and the LifeBook P7120 each include one more USB port and a media card reader; the LifeBook P7120 also has an S-Video-out port. The nc2400 does have a critical component that the ThinkPad X60s lacks: a built-in optical drive (ours was a CD-RW/DVD-ROM). A $149 docking station adds an S-Video port and four more USB ports to the nc2400.
Priced at $1,599, our HP Compaq nc2400 review unit featured a 1.2GHz ultra-low-voltage Intel Core Solo processor; 512MB of midrange 533MHz RAM; a small 40GB, 4,200rpm hard drive; and integrated Intel graphics. Unsurprisingly, the nc2400 scored right in line with the previous generation of Pentium M-based portables, including the $2,149 LifeBook P7120 and the $2,300 Sony VAIO VGN-TX670P, on CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks. However, the nc2400's performance was nowhere near that of the Core Duo-based ThinkPad X60s. The moral? While the nc2400 will prove adequate for standard business tasks such as e-mail, word processing, and spreadsheet applications, users who need more processing power for number crunching or multitasking should look to the ThinkPad X60s.
Likewise, the nc2400's 6-hour, 6-minute battery life falls between that of the LifeBook P7120 (5 hours, 48 minutes) and the Sony VAIO VGN-TX670P (6 hours, 36 minutes); the ThinkPad X60s's much larger battery outlasted all three laptops, running past the 8-hour mark.
Like most business laptops, the HP Compaq nc2400 comes with a three-year warranty that includes toll-free, 24/7 phone support for the length of the term. We wish HP would follow Dell's lead and include onsite support for the system as well (at this price, the nc2400's policy includes return-to-depot service; an upgrade to onsite service costs $149). 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.
(Longer bars indicate faster performance)