HP Compaq nw9440 review

23 Jun 2006

An exceptionally capable professional tool that will be useful as part of a larger-scale deployment

Price when reviewed: 
3,799more
5

Mobile workstations have been growing more capable relative to their desktop counterparts over the past few years. And now they're getting physically bigger too, with HP's latest machine sporting a 17in widescreen display and a native 1,920 x 1,200 resolution. With a footprint of 395 x 275mm, there'll be little room in a briefcase for much else, but it isn't shockingly heavy at 3.4kg.

Open up the lid and you'll get an immediate sense of a well-designed machine right at home in the professional market. The dimensions of the chassis haven't been squandered, and the full-width keyboard is complemented by an uncompromised numeric keypad. The keyboard itself is unusual: light-touch but long-travel keys make typing a positive and almost completely error-free experience. For mouse control, there's both a standard touchpad and trackpoint nestling in the middle of the keyboard. There are no serious omissions in terms of ports and connectors, with four USB 2 ports, mini-FireWire, PC Card and a memory card reader. The only notable omissions are serial or parallel ports.

Corporate security is present and correct courtesy of a fingerprint scanner and TPM hardware, with HP's Credential Manager software accessible directly from the Windows logon screen.

Useful shortcut keys include a button to enable the WLAN and Bluetooth adaptors (with an LED for clear indication), and volume/mute controls. The backbone of the machine is a Core Duo T2600 processor - the fastest current Core at 2.16GHz - plus 2GB of RAM and a 256MB Nvidia Quadro FX 1500M graphics adapter. The latter is in the middle of Nvidia's current line-up, with the 2500M above it and 350M below. Its capabilities are broadly in line with those of its desktop counterpart, the Quadro FX 1500, which is itself based on the same architecture as the current-series of GeForce cards. The FX 1500M brings Shader Model 3 support as well as a 256-bit memory interface with 32Gb/sec bandwidth.

We doubt a 2500M would be feasible in this chassis, since its maximum power consumption is more than double that of the 1500M, at 100W compared to 45W, and the 1500M gave extremely high performance in both OpenGL and Direct3D applications anyway. Working at native resolution with fully shaded previews in 3ds Max never left us wanting more speed. Processor speed is sufficient too, with an application benchmark score of 1.18. Only if your usual desktop workstation setup is a twin dual-core Opteron or similar will you occasionally notice the difference.

The nw9440's screen is fully anti-glare, with no sign of a trendy high-gloss finish to distract you with spurious reflections. Viewing angles are just a touch disappointing, to the extent that there's a slight apparent brightness drop-off at the corners. It's only just noticeable, though, and doesn't become any worse at more extreme angles, making the screen perfectly suitable for presentations to a small group.

Mass storage comes in the form of an 80GB Seagate Momentus 7,200rpm hard disk (100GB is also an option). Around 8GB of this is given over to a system restoration partition. Unusually this isn't hidden, allowing you to browse the files, albeit with a stern warning from a pop-up not to do so. HP now also has Mobile Data Protection, the type of hard disk protection pioneered by IBM. An accelerometer predicts when the unit has been dropped and attempts to park the heads to prevent data loss.

Other neat design touches include a light sensor, allowing the screen to dim automatically in lower light, although you don't get niceties such as the Apple MacBook Pro's illuminating keyboard or the ThinkLight keyboard illumination of Lenovo's ThinkPad machines.