Good looks and plenty of functionality are a couple of the traits of HP's Compaq Presario CQ50-114AU, which is a laptop that's been designed primarily with the home user in mind. It's a 15.4in model that weighs 2.8kg without its power supply, and unlike most notebooks we see, this one is based on an AMD CPU.
Specifically, it's based on an AMD Turion X2 QL-60 CPU, which is a dual-core CPU that runs at 1.9GHz and has a small 512KB of cache. It's not very quick in a straight line, but it doesn't need to be. This laptop isn't designed for running complex 3-D rendering jobs, for example, but instead for running everyday office applications, Web browsing, editing photos, watching movies and listening to music. It can also edit and encode videos and music, and it's a great unit for multitasking, too.
In WorldBench 6, it recorded a score of 64, which isn't fast. It was slow in the Adobe Photoshop and WinZip tests, but its media encoding, office application and Web browsing performance was relatively swift. This was backed up in our iTunes test, in which it took 1min 54sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3s. This is about 45sec slower than the fastest laptops available, which is an admirable result. If you have a lot of CDs to turn into MP3s, this laptop won't disappoint. Its graphics performance wasn't as impressive though, as its score of 1055 in 3DMark06 can attest.
The notebook's NVIDIA 8200M G graphics card has its own memory, so none of the system's 2GB of RAM needs to be set aside for it, but it's not a powerful card for gaming. It will only run older games with any success. The best part of the graphics card is its HDMI output, which allows the laptop to be hooked up to a high-definition TV.
Storage space isn't an issue with this laptop as it ships with a 200GB hard drive. There is 176GB of usable space, and HP has created a recovery partition that can be accessed during start up (you need to hit F11) should you ever need to restore the system partition. A DVD burner sits in the right-hand side of the laptop. Meanwhile, the edges of the laptop are also home to three USB 2.0 ports and Gigabit Ethernet, 56Kbps modem, D-Sub and HDMI ports. You also get an SD memory card slot. What the laptop lacks is an ExpressCard expansion slot, which would be useful for adding non-USB-based TV or networking adapters, for example. The lack of an expansion slot is disappointing considering the size of the laptop, especially when you consider that even the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC (FH441PA) has a PC Card slot!
The unit's built-in wireless networking is a bit of a let-down, too, as it only supports speeds up to 54Mbps in 802.11g mode. We would have liked an adapter with 802.11n to be installed, which would come in handy when using a fast ADSL2+ connection wirelessly, for example.
A full-sized keyboard with good key response makes typing on the CQ50 a comfortable experience, but the right side of the keyboard makes a 'hollow' noise when its keys are hit, which can be a little annoying. For navigation, the unit has a very large touchpad. It felt smooth during our tests and it was accurate; it didn't stick at all. Also, despite being so big, it didn't get in the way while typing. However, HP has included a touchpad toggle button just in case it does. After prolonged use, the unit didn't get overly warm, nor did its cooling fan get too loud, but it was noticeable.
The unit's build quality is also relatively solid, although we would prefer the DVD burner to be installed in the end of the base closer to the screen, so that when the laptop is lifted by the forward edges there is more reinforcement on the underside of the laptop. But this is just a minor quibble.
For watching movies, the 15.4 screen is vibrant and bright, but it does have poor vertical viewing angles. You'll have to adjust it if you change viewing positions.
HP supplies some software utilities that can tell you how your system is travelling in terms of its health; it can tell you if the battery is in good shape, if you're connected to the Internet, and if you've recently performed a backup, among other things. You get some trialware, too, which is annoying, but you can easily uninstall it. The bottom line is: this laptop is good value for money and suitable as a second computer for the home, or even as a first computer for the kids.