HP Compaq nx9420 review

17 Mar 2006

Absolutely packed with features, as well as the fastest Core Duo CPU available, the nx9420 is a great laptop

Price when reviewed 
1,499
5

When you consider how much the HP Compaq nx9420 has crammed into it, its 44mm thickness is remarkable. Indeed, it's hard to find fault with any of the components HP has included in its latest flagship laptop. The TPM module, fingerprint reader, adaptive screen brightness and 1,680 x,1,050 widescreen 17in TFT all make this a machine with an almost endless list of possible applications.

The nx9420 is powered by the 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo T2600, Intel's fastest Core Duo CPU. Combined with 1GB of RAM to run applications smoothly, the system charged through our benchmarks, producing a result of 1.13. The Seagate Momentus hard disk is another top-notch addition. A capacity of 100GB (7GB of which is consumed by HP's recovery data) as well as an 8MB buffer and NCQ (Native Command Queuing) more than compensate for the relatively slow spin speed of 5,400rpm.

There's also a respectable graphics card. ATi's Mobility Radeon X1600 has 256MB of DDR2 RAM onboard, although its performance in our standard benchmarks reveals a reasonable level of gaming performance: 23fps in Far Cry and 20fps in Half-Life 2 at 1,280 x 1,024. Dropping anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering raised frame rates to more playable levels: 41fps and 34fps in Far Cry and Half-Life 2 respectively.

HP's security features make the nx9420 a reassuring choice for anyone concerned about their sensitive data. The embedded TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip adds hardware protection to the normal software-only passwords, while HP's ProtectTools Security Manager wraps it all up in a straightforward interface. There's a swipe-style fingerprint reader between the mouse buttons for easy access.

The 17in widescreen panel isn't particularly bright, and we have reservations about the viewing angles. Brightness starts to decrease almost as soon as you move off-centre, while vertical viewing angles are such that a difference in apparent contrast is noticeable even from directly in front of the panel. The ambient light sensor is a nice touch, although in use we found that the automatic adjustments to screen brightness were made too frequently, with the image often gaining or losing brightness with no apparent change in ambient light. However, at 1,680 pixels wide, it's superb for displaying lots of information at once.

The build quality on the nx9420 is excellent, although at 3.4kg it's a little heavy for regular travel. However, it's clearly built to last, and the lid and screen assembly deserve particular praise for their sturdiness. The full-sized number pad on the right-hand side is a very practical addition if you're looking for a desktop-replacement notebook.

Further proof of the nx9420's merit for everyday use is the number of expansion ports. Four USB ports matches some PCs, while the mini-FireWire and S-Video ports are also welcome additions. At the front of the notebook is a memory card reader, with CompactFlash being the only notable omission in terms of compatibility.

Besides the weight, the nx9420's portability is affected by its sheer size. At 393mm wide, it's nearing the limits of size for use on aircraft seat-back trays, and you'll need a bit more arm room on trains too. Battery life, however, is excellent. Under intensive use (with the ambient light sensor turned off), the nx9420 lasted for one hour, 37 minutes without needing a charge. Under light use, it went for two hours, 48 minutes - if you're doing little more than word processing, expect a time roughly between the two.