- High-quality 17in. screen
- Nvidia Quadro NVS 320M graphics
- Full-sized keyboard and separate number pad
- Windows Vista or Windows XP available
- Fingerprint sensor and SmartCard reader
- Too large and heavy to be truly portable
- Almost impossible to use all six USB ports at once
Hewlett-Packard divided its business notebooks into three groups earlier this year. We have already examined one system in the Balanced Mobility range, the 6715b. Next up is a notebook from the Performance range, the 8710p. The other range is called Ultra-Light, and we will review one of these systems in due course. Prices for different configurations of the 8710p start at £1,121 rising to £1,219 (ex. VAT).
Our review of the HP Compaq 6715b started with the phrase 'this is a large notebook', but sit it next to the 8710p and it positively fades away. Weighing a hefty 3.4kg, you are unlikely to want to carry the 8710p very far, if at all. If you do, you'll need a capacious bag as this notebook has a footprint 39.3cm wide by 27.5cm deep. The thickness, at just 3.3cm, is the only average dimension on this system.
If it ever does find itself in transit, the 8710p is well protected. Two clasps hold upper and lower sections together, and the lid section feels pretty tough.
The wide-format screen measures a massive 17in. from corner to corner, and our review sample had a native resolution of 1,440 by 900 pixels. You can also get (more expensive) models with a 1,680-by-1,050-pixel display, with or without the high-gloss BrightView technology. The image quality is superb, and our review model's matt finish makes it ideal for viewing indoors. The viewing angle is also extremely wide.
There's room for a full sized keyboard with a separate number pad. In fact, this is one of the very few cases where we've found a notebook keyboard to be a little too large for comfort: if you have small hands, touch-typing may not be all that comfortable.
Above the number row is a row of almost full-sized function keys, while an inverted-T arrangement of cursor keys to the bottom right caters for keyboard-based navigation. The touchpad incorporates what HP calls a ‘scroll zone’, which you tap and hold to scroll vertically through content such as web pages or documents.
There are three buttons beneath the touchpad. Between the standard left and right mouse buttons is one that, when pressed, lets you sweep any part of the touchpad for vertical scrolling. A short sweep will kick off continuous scrolling, and you can also control the scroll speed. We found this system highly effective.
The three buttons are duplicated beneath the space bar, for use with a pointing stick that sits between the G, H and B keys.
HP has implemented a touch-sensitive strip above the keyboard in its latest range of notebooks. This offers a range of functions, including turning the Wi-Fi on and off — there's no separate controller for Bluetooth, which must be activated from the Windows System Tray. Another button on this strip activates the Presentations settings, where you can preconfigure the notebook for making a presentation. A third button opens the Hewlett-Packard Info Centre containing various setup and system information utilities.
On the right of this touchpanel is a mute button and a slider for controlling system volume, as well as a button that calls up the Windows Calculator. Elsewhere, a fingerprint sensor sits on the bottom right-hand corner of the wrist-rest area.
The CPU in our review sample of the 8710p was Intel’s Core 2 Duo T7300 at 2.0GHz. Other models run the 2.2GHz T7500, 2.4GHz T7700 and the 2.6GHz T7800. Our review sample had 1GB of RAM, but can accommodate both 2GB and 4GB.
Our system was supplied with Windows XP Professional, although Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Home Basic are also available.
Wireless connectivity comes via Intel’s WiFi Link 4965AGN module which caters for 802.11a, b, g and Draft-N connectivity. Bluetooth 2.0 is also integrated. Gigabit Ethernet networking is handled by an Intel adapter, and there is a 56Kbps softmodem for making dial-up connections over landline.
Graphics performance is one area where desktop and notebook computers can still be worlds apart. To be a true desktop replacement system, a notebook has to have a credible graphics subsystem. To this end, the 8710p has a powerful discrete graphics module in the shape of Nvidia's Quadro NVS 320M with 256MB of dedicated memory.
Another area where desktop and notebook computers differ significantly is hard disk capacity. The 8710p offers 120GB, 160GB and 250GB Serial ATA hard drives, all spinning at 5,400rpm: our review sample had a mid-range 160GB drive.
The optical drive fits into a multibay slot on the right-hand side. Various options are available, including Blu-ray, which probably has more traction with home users than businesspeople.
Ports and expansion slots are rarely as plentiful on notebooks as they are on desktops. That said, the 8710p has no fewer than six USB 2.0 ports, which is a huge number by notebook standards and another clue that HP is positioning this system as a true desktop replacement.
Unfortunately the USB ports aren’t arranged in the most ergonomic fashion. Two are on the left-hand side, where they are stacked one above the other. The remaining four are on the right side, in two adjacent pairs of stacked ports.
The main problem is using the ports simultaneously. We tried a range of peripherals, including several USB keydrives, and found it difficult to stack two connectors. Using all the ports at once may, therefore, be something of a challenge.
The 8710p has a SmartCard reader and PC Card slot towards the front of the left-hand side. There's also a flash card reader on the front, which can read SD, MMC, Memory Stick and xD media.
The left side also houses an HDMI port and a VGA-out connector, along with a FireWire (IEEE 1394a) port.
On the right side you'll find the modem (RJ-11) and Ethernet (RJ-45) ports, as well as microphone and headphone/line out mini-jacks. The back is entirely occupied by the removable battery, which HP suggests is good for up to four hours of mains-free computing.
As far as ergonomics are concerned, the 8710's screen and keyboard are fine — indeed, the 17in. screen size may be larger than some users currently get from their desktop computer.
Battery life may seem like a secondary consideration with a system that's not intended to travel a great deal. However, even an office-bound notebook may need to spend time away from mains power — when you're giving a presentation or attending a meeting where a power socket isn't readily available, for example.
HP claims battery life of up to four hours from the standard 8-cell Li-ion battery. We tested this with the BatteryEater battery benchmarking software, which asks the notebook to perform tasks continuously until the battery dies. We got 1 hour 52 minutes of life. Even with a more representative workload and conservative power management settings, this suggests that you're unlikely to manage a full working day away from mains power.
The HP Compaq 8710p is clearly not a notebook designed for the mobile professional. Whether a large desktop replacement notebook really works for you will depend on your computing requirements. For many, a cheaper, smaller and more portable notebook with an external monitor and keyboard may prove a more ergonomic and flexible solution.