An All-Business Notebook

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted September 21, 2006

Are you a down-to-business person who's ready to get to work and tackle the everyday challenges of running a small business? If so, then HP's got a notebook for you: the HP Compaq nc6400. It's not loaded with fancy multimedia bells and whistles. It's designed specifically for business people who spend a lot of time traveling and who need to get the job done.

Hearty Hardware
The nc6400 is a slim, no-nonsense system, packed with all of the essential technology one would expect to find in a business-class machine. Our test system came pre-loaded with Windows XP Professional, a speedy Intel Core Duo T2500 processor (operating at 2GHz), a 60GB hard drive and 512MB of memory

The system sports a 14.1 widescreen WXGA display, powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 with 256MB of graphics memory. A built-in 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi adapter and gigabit Ethernet adapter handle the networking chores. Our system was also equipped with the optional Verizon EV-DO cellular broadband modem. A 56k modem and integrated Bluetooth adapter are also included.

The notebook's connectivity options are basic, but should please the average businessperson. You'll find three USB 2.0 ports for connecting your peripherals, but regrettably, no FireWire port which, in this day and age, is a disappointment. Our test system was equipped with a combo DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, though you can opt for a duel-layer DVD burner.

Like other HP systems, the nc6400 has an integrated media card reader, but unlike the typical 7-in-1 or 9-in-1 readers found on its desktop systems, this unit can only read two types of memory cards: SD and MMC. HP packs all of these hardware features into a compact 13-by 9.5-by 1.25-inch chassis.

Light But Sturdy
Weighing in at less than five pounds, the nc6400 makes a perfect companion during those long business trips where you're running from meeting to meeting, or walking endlessly through hotels and airports. The system comes standard with a 6-cell battery that, depending on usage, should last about three hours. For the true road warrior though, HP offers optional 8-cell and 12-cell batteries

Sturdy and well designed, the nc6400 benefits from the strength of a strong magnesium alloy casing. This gives the unit the solid feel of a ThinkPad. Another benefit of this casing: strong hinges on the lid that don't flex and always open smoothly.

The 14.1-inch widescreen has a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 800. Characters on screen appear very crisp and sharp, but it could be brighter. No matter how we adjust it, the display just seems a bit too dim. However, it's equipped with a non-reflective, matte screen that should help keep your eyes comfortable all day.

Under its magnesium alloy lid you'll find a full size keyboard. The keyboard is logically laid out and the keys themselves have a solid feel with positive feedback. Like a conventional keyboard, the arrow keys are isolated and grouped together on a slightly lower plane then the rest of the keys, making them easy to locate quickly. We did notice that the edge of the computer pressed slightly into our wrists when typing. It's not a horrible, just a bit annoying.

The system also sports dual pointing devices: a touch pad and a pointing stick. The touchpad is large enough with a nice scrolling bar on the right, but the pointing stick is a bit on the stiff side. Overall though it's not bad and we like having the option to use either method.

Connecting On the Road
Like most notebooks, the nc6400 is more than capable of helping you get your work done on the road thanks in part to its built-in, high-performance wireless LAN adapter. This adapter, an Intel Pro 802.11a/b/g with dual antennas, is not only compatible with the common place "b/g" WLANs, but also with the rarer and higher-performing 802.11a networks. It works very well and we ever experienced a dropped connection.

Our nc6400 also has the added benefit of built-in cellular modem for connecting to Verizon's EV-DO wireless broadband service. So unlike your Wi-Fi-only brethren, you'll have the freedom and mobility to literally work from wherever you want. The service works very well, but performance will vary based on location and time of day. The only downside to this service is that it's optional and needs to be purchased separately at a cost of about $60 to $80 per month. Performance should provide average download speeds between 400-700kbps.

Can I See Your I.D.?
The nc6400 really shines when it comes to security and data protection. It features a built-in fingerprint reader and a smartcard reader for enhanced security. Both devices are tied to a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a hardware chip that lets you store personal keys and passwords without compromising security.

On the software side, HP includes its ProtectTools utility to manage your security settings. An optional, removable privacy filter prevents the person sitting next to you from reading over your shoulder. The privacy filter snaps into four clips built onto the front of the LCD and lays flush against the screen. It's a nice touch.

HP's Mobile Data Protection helps protect your data by monitoring your disk and guards it against sudden shock. HP's own Backup and Recovery software is also preinstalled for creating a recovery disc of the system and its software.

What About Vista? HP claims that the nc6400 will be Windows Vista compatible. If you plan on upgrading to Vista when it becomes available, we suggest that you upgrade the 512MB of RAM that came on our test system to at least 1GB (4GB is the maximum it supports).

Speaking of upgrades, by the time you read this HP should be offering the nc6400 with Intel's new Core 2 Duo processor. The Core 2 Duo processors are the second generation of Intel's successful Core Duo processor. Like the previous generation, these new processors are equipped with two processor cores, but add Intel's Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) and up to 4MB of L2 cache. According to Intel marketing materials, a Core 2 Duo processor outperforms a Core Duo processor by as much as 25 percent.

Bottom Line
Our test system retails for about $1,800. For that price, we wish it had more memory, a larger hard drive and a DVD burner. That said, the nc6400's solid design, security features, Wi-Fi and EV-Do capabilities plus the promise of the Core 2 Duo processor make it a good value. If you're in the market for a new notebook and you spend a lot of time on the road, then you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at the HP Compaq nc6400.

Pros
Strong focus on security and safety
Wi-Fi and optional EV-DO cellular broadband modem
Excellent design quality and materials
Non-reflective display

Cons
Light on memory
Small-ish hard drive
No DVD burner
No Firewire ports

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for both SmallBusinessComputing.com and PracticallyNetworked.com.

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