HP Compaq nc6120

HP Compaq nc6120

Summary: HP's new-look Sonoma-based mainstream business notebook performs well and delivers good battery life, all at a reasonable price.

  • Editors' rating:
  • User rating:
  • RRP:


  • Solid, understated design
  • good performance and battery life
  • plenty of ports and connectors
  • good security features


  • One year warranty as standard

The HP Compaq nc6120 is a 'thin and light' mainstream business notebook with a smart new design, brand-new innards in the shape of Intel's second-generation Centrino platform (codenamed Sonoma) and a price that just squeezes in under the £1,000 (ex. VAT) barrier. It performs well, has a good set of ports and connectors, and manages over 3.5 hours of mains-free operation with a standard battery.

The first thing that strikes you about HP Compaq's new design is its clean, sober slate-grey look. There's no silver edging or other unnecessary trimmings here (as seen in the previous generation), and we prefer it that way. It's neither the thinnest nor the lightest of thin-and-lights, but at 32.9cm wide by 26.7cm deep by 3 - 3.67cm high and 2.7kg, it's not out of line for its class. Like a number of notebook designs, the nc6120 is thicker at the back (3.67cm) than at the front (3cm), giving a slight forward tilt to the keyboard that makes for a reasonably comfortable typing position. However, there are no pull-out feet on the underside should you wish to make further adjustments. The 86-key keyboard has plenty of space, and is sensibly laid out, with a cluster of frequently used keys (Insert, Delete, Home, End, PgUp, PgDn) at the top right and the cursor keys in an inverted-T arrangement at the bottom right. It's not up to the peerless standards of IBM's ThinkPads, but it's not bad at all. Six buttons between screen and keyboard turn the wireless connection on and off, launch applications and control audio volume. Navigation is via a two-button touchpad with an integrated 'scroll zone' on the right for moving through documents and Web pages. Our review model had a 15in. XGA (1,024 by 768) screen, although other models in the range come with 14.1in. XGA or 15in. SXGA+ (1,400 by 1,050) displays. The combination of the bigger screen and lower resolution makes everything very readable, but some may prefer the workspace offered by the higher-resolution display. The screen hinge -- always a potential problem area for notebooks -- felt reassuringly solid on our system. One innovation on HP Compaq's new range is an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the screen brightness (the biggest power drain in a notebook system) in order to conserve battery life.

The nc6120 is built around Intel's Sonoma platform, which comprises, in our review system, the 1.73GHz Pentium M 740 processor with 2MB of Level 2 cache and 533MHz frontside bus (FSB), the 915GM chipset with integrated graphics, and Intel's PRO/Wireless 2200BG Mini-PCI card. At the moment, HP Compaq is using slower 333MHz DDR RAM -- 512MB of it as standard, expandable to 2GB -- rather than faster DDR2 memory at 400MHz or 533MHz. The hard disk is a 60GB Fujitsu unit with a rotational speed of 5,400rpm, which is a cut above the bog-standard 4,200rpm. Other models are available with 40GB and 80GB hard disks. For optical storage, there's a fixed 12.7mm multi-format DVD writer. As befits a business workhorse, the nc6120 doesn't over-egg the pudding by fitting a discrete graphics chip, but instead relies on the improved Graphics Media Accelerator 900 module built into the 915GM chipset. This can dynamically grab up to 128MB of system memory for its purposes and performs more than adequately with mainstream business applications. HP Compaq has equipped the nc6120 with an impressive array of ports and connectors, considering its relatively slim dimensions. There are legacy ports in the shape of serial and parallel (no PS/2 though), plus four USB 2.0, VGA, FireWire (IEEE 1394), Fast infrared, S-Video out, modem (RJ-11) and Ethernet (RJ-45). There's also a pair of Type II PC Card slots and a multi-format flash card reader that accepts SD, MMC, SmartMedia, Memory Stick Pro and xD media. The standard battery is a 4,800mAh Li-ion unit that can be augmented by HP's new £109 (ex. VAT) Travel Battery, which clips onto the bottom of the system. HP claims that the Travel Battery can boost battery life by up to 4.5 hours, although we didn’t test this. Usefully, you can still dock the nc6120 with the travel battery attached: the standard docking station costs £105 (ex. VAT), and there's an Advanced option with a modular drive bay and PCI Express support costing £134 (ex. VAT). Business notebooks need to take security seriously these days, and HP Compaq doesn't disappoint. The motherboard includes a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) that stores encrypted data and allows for pre-boot user authentication, while HP's ProtectTools software gives access to supported security features such as power-on and BIOS administrator passwords. Physical security is catered for by a Kensington lock, while HP's Mobile Data Protection System cushions the hard disk from potentially damaging shocks and vibrations. The system comes with Windows XP Professional (Service Pack 2) preloaded, plus a selection of business-related software including Altiris Local Recovery, Norton AntiVirus 2004 and HP Client Management Software. There's no productivity suite included, as most businesses will want to install their own software for this purpose.

Performance & battery life
The nc6120 performed well in our benchmarks, delivering a score of just under 200 in the application-based MobileMark 2002 test. For comparison, the fastest notebooks we've ever tested scored 216, and they were hefty desktop replacement systems from Dell and Acer. The bottom line is that this notebook will perform pretty much any task a mainstream business user asks of it, with ease. When it comes to battery life, the picture is pretty encouraging too. Even with the CPU set to full throttle under the Home/Office Desk power management scheme, it managed to last for 3 hours and 42 minutes. More conservative settings should boost that to four hours or more, and if you're prepared to shell out another £105 (ex. VAT) for the add-on Travel Battery, you should easily get a full working day's worth away from a source of mains power.

Service & support
Disappointingly for a business notebook, HP only backs the nc6120 with a one-year collect-and-return warranty as standard. There's plenty of support information available online, though, including forums, email support and live chat with a support technician. Telephone support is also available, between 8.30am and 6pm Monday to Friday (10am - 4pm on Saturdays), and is charged at 8p a minute.


Dimensions (W x H x D) 32.9x3x26.7 cm
Weight 2.7 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows XP Professional
Software included HP ProtectTools Security Manager, Altiris Local Recovery, Norton AntiVirus 2004 (60 days), HP Client Management Software, Sonic RecordNow 7, Sonic DLA 4, Intervideo WinDVD Creator 2, HP Mobile Printing Driver for Windows, HP Wireless Assistant, Acrobat Reader
Chipset & memory
Chipset Intel 915GM
RAM installed 512 MB
Number of memory slots 2
RAM capacity 2 GB
Storage controller Ultra-ATA/100
VGA (analogue) 1
Video out S-Video
GPU Intel GMA 900 (integrated)
Graphics RAM 128 MB
GPU type Dynamic Video Memory Technology 3
Display technology colour TFT
Display size 15 in
Native resolution 1024x768 pixels
Serial 1
Parallel 1
FireWire (IEEE 1394) 1
Docking station port yes
PC Card 2 x Type II
Flash card yes
Ethernet Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet
Modem Agere Systems AC'97 Modem
Wi-Fi Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG
Infrared 1
Pointing devices two-button touchpad with scroll zone
Keyboard 86 keys
Audio connectors microphone, headphone
Speakers stereo
Audio processor SoundMax Integrated Digital Audio
Microphone yes
Accessories HP Travel Battery, £109; Docking Station, £105; Advanced Docking Station, £134, Adjustable Notebook Stand, £69, CRT Monitor Stand, £55
Other multiformat flash card reader (SD, MMC, SmartMedia, Memory Stick Pro, xD)
Service & support
Standard warranty 1 year
Battery technology Li-ion
Battery capacity 4800 mAh
Hard drive
Rotation speed 5400 rpm
Hard drive interface Ultra ATA/100
Hard drive capacity 60 GB
Optical storage
CD / DVD type DVD-RW
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.73 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Pentium M 740


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Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Reviews


Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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  • 8.5

    Got this laptop as standard business issue. Better than my last one. Wireless connectivity is a boon, as is Bluetooth. No problems so far!
  • 9.0

    Purchased it a week ago, and it is just perfect for me.

    Good Chassis, good features, superb performance, silence and robustness.

    I've seen better TFT.

    Absolutely a good choice
  • 9.5

  • 9.0

    Quality seems good, and you get all that you paid for.

    New docking station lineup ain't as good as it was with previous generation
  • 8.5

    It has all the features and ports you'll ever need. It's sleek light and comfortable to use. It's fast & quiet.
  • 6.0

    Pentium M is obsolete
  • 9.5

    Thank goodness there is a good looking laptop at last, unlike the behemothicly ugly dell's and Acer's. Performance excellent and made to high standards, no creaks or moving parts etc.
  • 10.0

  • 9.0

  • 6.5

    Good features and easy to set up.
    Well built.
    But XGA LVD option is a weak point. A more affordable SXGA option would make this PC more complete. 1 week after purchase I requested a field upgrade to the SXGA, HP were not interested
  • 8.5

    I'm a little dissapointed that HP didn't include a on-board mic. My NC6000 had one so I thought this one would have one too. The touchpad on the NC6000 had also buttons on top of it so the user can choose if he uses the bottom buttons or the top buttons (which are more ergonomic) The default windows prep install isn't the best. I recommend a re-install with the XP installation disc provided, install the newest drivers fom their site and this machine will blow you away. It works very well. I'd like to work with it. Battery time is also great! Support is a little doubtfull. The warranty is a bit short but the support on their site and the softpaqs are extremely good. I can recommend this machine to anyone.
  • 6.0

    Intially offered a Tosh that I rejected because as an engineer I needed a serial port without a USB interface.

    I paid extra for the added feature which work very well -- ie bluetooth and wireless.

    Quite impressed with the functionality the problem is that it seems flimsy, this machine is going to get thrown around I would have expected it to be more protected.

    For example the fan's airflow underneath the machine can easily be blocked when placed on one's lap -- hardly an option when using a laptop.

    I've had two of these and it seems the input on the fan interferes with the screen almost like switching on a washing machine when plugged into the mains.. This is worrying but Im hoping it will cause no longer term problems.

    As for service well I would tell everyone to avoid PC World at all costs. Based on my experience it took me three weeks to get to a stage where I was eventually happy with the outcome I had a working laptop and my credit account was settled back to where it should have been.

    I will NEVER deal with PC World business again.

    Ive had to have threee days of work waiting in for things that didnt arrive. Its cost me far more than the £900 or so already spent.

    Somewhere in the region of £3,000 for a £675 laptop.

    First it was the wrong laptops then I had a battery failure on first delivery. The third laptop eventually arrived but by this time I had spent a fortune on the 0870 support number and practically had to threaten then with the sale of goods act.

    Even then PC World shirked their responsibilities and tried to claim it didnt apply to them.

    Satisfaction 3/10

    Laptop Quality 7/10

    Functionality 9/10

    OVERALL buying experience 0/10
  • 7.5

    A very good notebook for the business minded with a budget. Is has all the performance, connectivity and good looks that you may expected. However, I am very disappointed with the lame TFT screen version with 1024x768. It is simply to bad. I must say that almost regret having bought this notebook. I was expecting more from HP. Graphical capabilities are null, and above all the screen colours are extremely poor and the visibility further than a limit angle is truly disappoint! I have to keep my head very still to see the same colour and brightness in the screen.

    If you value the screen quality, this notebook is simply not an option.

    If i could go back, I would pay the extra difference and purchase an Apple Powerbook G4.
  • 8.5

  • 8.0

    Laptop supplied by the company so I guess it's good for a freebee. Company uses a VOIP solution therefore I have access to a softphone.....no mic what's up with that. Other features are great bluetooth, wireless, 1Gb ethernet port, DVD. Screen is disappointing overall a good tool.
  • 8.5

  • 9.0