HP is well known for producing classy, yet utilitarian notebooks that offer strong performance and value. Their high-end business model, the Compaq nc8430, lives up to these expectations in all regards, offering great performance both in our desktop and gaming tests and backing it up with a robust set of features.
Running a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400 processor, an 80GB 7200rpm hard drive and an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics card, the nc8430 is a well specified machine. Our only disappointment was with the 512MB of included RAM, which is somewhat of a system bottleneck. Thankfully, this can be upgraded to as high as 4GB and we would recommend increasing it to at least 1GB if you like to multitask or are interested in Windows Vista.
The notebook performed very well in our tests and has more than enough grunt to handle any office or desktop publishing task. Furthermore, the dedicated X1600 graphics card performed well enough to conclude that the nc8430 will be quite suitable as a gaming device. While it won't run more demanding modern titles such as F.E.A.R at a playable level, it will be more than adequate for most games, and will have no trouble with anything more than a year or two old.
All the usual connectivity options are present in full, including Bluetooth 2.0, 802.11 a/b/g wireless and 1000Mbps Ethernet. There are three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA connection for external monitors, as well as headphone and microphone jacks, FireWire and S-Video. An Express Card Type II slot is also present along with a Super Multi Dual-Layer DVD-RW drive and an SD card slot.
The design of the nc8430 follows the traditional Compaq style, with a rather minimalist but quite suave charcoal colour scheme. It opens to reveal a 15.4-inch monitor with media keys strung along underneath and a full-sized keyboard. The keys are slightly rough, but extremely tactile. Measuring 35.8cm x 25.9cm x 2.8cm and weighing 2.7kg, it is a fairly hefty machine, but no bigger than most other 15.4-inch units. It is sturdily constructed, with the screen exhibiting only minor distortion when flexed.
We were a little disappointed with the display's picture quality. While it displayed text reasonably well, with very little aliasing on edges, colours were noticeably washed out and the picture as a whole looked quite dull. While it wasn't a huge problem for basic office tasks, it was more noticeable when watching DVDs or videos, and somewhat detracted from the media capabilities of the device.
That said, the nc8430 has more than enough battery life to watch the odd movie and will last through most feature films, although it can't compete on battery life with the smaller, more portable devices.