Compaq NC 8000

Branding is a funny thing in the world of computers. We’ve all heard the old chestnut about how the most expensive, elite-brand soft drinks, washing powder and running shoes are manufactured side by side as the dirt cheap generic products in the same factories using the same processes.

But that’s what branding is; you’re buying an assurance of quality by association where there may be no more of it than in the dodgy brothers brand on the same supermarket shelf.

The cute little Intel Centrino logo has become as widespread as those of Coke, Sony and Microsoft lately and some think it’s becoming the standard bearer for mobile chips in the market.

In reality it’s a set of chips comprising a chip specially designed to extract maximum efficiency for mobile use (rather than just maximum grunt, as is used for desktop models where battery life isn’t a consideration) and one rigged for optimum wireless LAN access.

As such, any wireless chip that isn’t made by Intel means your notebook doesn’t have that cute little and won’t look as high quality.

Don’t be fooled. Over a wireless local network, the Compaq NC 8000 downloaded a web page at breathtaking speed. And while the downside is that wireless hotspots are as thinly spread as pubs in the outback in Australia (with even less coverage in Perth), the technology is already in your notebook to take advantage when the wireless world takes off.

Rather than the whole Centrino chipset, the Compaq NC 8000 has the Pentium M 1700 mobile chip, so while it’s still wired for mobile computing, you can’t help wondering whether the Centrino would make it a longer-lasting model. Under tests that involved playing a music CD, repeated connections and transfers of data over an Ethernet LAN, some heavy graphics work and high end gameplay, the fully charged battery barely clocked up 2.5 hours.

Ordinarily you’d ask yourself why you’d want to manipulate a massive Photoshop file, repeatedly play the demo game software and play music on a corporate-styled machine, but serious media capability puts the NC 8000 head and shoulders above its competition if graphical work is your business (or pleasure).

With a 128 Mb ATI Radeon 9600 graphics accelerator, you can throw the heaviest gaming, video editing and DVD watching at the NC 8000 with barely a hiccup. And the hardware is there to support it. The screen is a huge 15′ 1400×1050 pixel SXGA, and the sound system boasts the best performance we’ve seen in a notebook for a long time. At full volume, there was barely a stitch of distortion from a CD or DVD.

With such heavy requirements, the one disadvantage is the limited battery life, and you’ll find yourself limited to your desk for the heaviest sessions if they last more than a couple of hours.

Hardware like the speakers, screen and graphics card don’t come cheap, and the NC 8000 isn’t by any means a budget model, but you get a host of extras. It’s a fairly large and heavy machine to take the large screen, but it means the keyboard/touchpad area is comfortably large and you won’t feel cramped moving around it.

Particularly since Compaq have been very clever with their real estate to offer you three usability options for your pointing and clicking. Firstly, the touchpad is accompanied by one of those great little pointstick knobbles in the middle of the keys. Also, you get two sets of click buttons — both above and below the touchpad — so if you can’t find a combination that’s comfortable out of all that, you’ll never be at home using a noteboook computer.

The PC world is taking a lot longer to let go of the 1.44Mb floppy disk than the Macintosh world did, and while it’s getting harder to find notebook PCs with built-in floppy drives, the NC 8000 has one for those to whom it’s still a requirement.

DVD/CDRW drive technology has matured as well as in the desktop world. Maybe even a little better, when interoperability between hardware components can be a little more hit and miss (because we routinely replace and swap drives and components in desktop models), and you can expect a good quality drive in a notebook as an absolute minimum these days. It has one niggling quirk, though; the button to open the drawer isn’t very responsive and you have to really jab it with the point of a finger before it responds.

The NC 8000 comes with every possible connectivity bell and whistle, from the 802.11 wireless standard, an infared receiver for cordless mice and keyboards, Bluetooth, USB, serial, Firewire and Ethernet ports.

The 512Mb standard RAM is expandable, and you may well consider it if you want to work it to its full potential. The 60G HD will also support the most demanding needs.

Almost more suited to the creative director on the go than the mobile executive, the HP Compaq 8000 has everything you’ll need for a long time to come, and when battery life technology catches up to the demands you can place on it, it’ll be the perfect business accessory if you’re into graphics or gaming.

Price: $4995

Technical Specifications: 512Mb RAM, 60G HD, Pentium M 1.7 processor, 15: TFT SXGA screen, ATI Radeon 9600 Video Graphics accelerator.

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