HP Compaq 6735s: a fine desktop replacement

Technology writers often wax lyrical about the rapid rate at which the cost of hardware nosedives but laptops deserve special mention in their increasing ability to stretch your dollars further. A laptop that set you back $3000 a year ago can now be had for the price of a Big Mac meal. HP’s budget 6735s is a fine example of this – at a grand it packs most of the muscle that companies used to spend several thousands on. It’s got all the big ticket items that a year ago would never have been associated with low-end workplace laptops such as Vista and a large screen. But at the end of the day you’re still only paying a grand so there’s bound to be some issues right?

Looking at the screen maybe not. It’s a beauty with all 15.4 inches evenly lit. This 1280 x 800 screen is nice and bright too great for offices where the building manager seems to be a little too fond of fluorescent tubes. However it is extremely glossy which is a love it or hate it feature. In areas with reasonable artificial lighting reflections aren’t a problem but it doubles as a great make up mirror when used in direct sunlight. Great for your receptionist not so great for weekly WIPs with the head of your department. It’s powered by an ATI Radeon HD 3200 chip which can churn through your DVDs on long flights without issue provided you install a DVD codec (not included at purchase). It’ll even run World of Warcraft without too many complaints but bear in mind that this machine is not designed for gaming.

As far as laptops go the 6735s is a fairly large slab of plastic at 36 x 27cm. As a result there’s plenty of space underneath the keyboard for your wrists to relax on. The key layout is bog standard with no extra goodies such as media player keys or specialised shortcuts. Considering this laptop is meant to be used for Excel Word and other brain-numbingly exciting apps we’ve got no qualms with the lack of specialist keys.

Said keys are also quite comfy to use. Each button is the same size as a standalone QWERTY keyboard and has what we’d say is a moderate amount of travel; not as much as a standalone keyboard and not as little as some of the smaller notepads we’ve used. It’s not the most solid of keyboards though with a slightly loose feel to each key giving us concerns about its longevity. The touchpad is perfectly accurate and responsive but we wish more thought had gone into the $2 touchpad buttons. They don’t have the reassuring mouse-like click that they should and pivot from the top edge. It’s this strange pivot that makes them feel so clunky and makes double clicks a bit of a click and miss affair.

As mentioned earlier the 6735s is a relatively hefty laptop especially compared to some of the nano-books that are now available. You could fit at least seventeen MacBook Airs in the 2.5kg that the 6735s weighs. Ok we might be exaggerating a touch but at twice the weight of the lightest notebooks on the road portability is not this laptop’s forte. The fact that the entire case is built from plastic also leads us to recommend it’s kept indoors away from the bump and grind of an outdoors life. There’s another very good reason why this laptop is better suited to being tethered to your desk – battery life. At only 97 minutes during our DVD test it doesn’t have the battery life to keep you going all day.

Back to the case though – apart from its relative fragility the simple smooth lines give it a minimalist slick look that other budget books should aspire to. It’s got the usual USB ports (four in fact) headphone and mic jack but we were pleasantly surprised to see a webcam – with mic – integrated into the top of the screen. Sure it struggled with such basic concepts as brightness and framerates but it did the job just fine for Skyping. The 10/100 Ethernet connection scrapes by as the bare minimum in this day of Gigabit LANs as does the 802.11b/g wireless connection.

So what lies beneath the hood of this budget beast that can do no wrong? We’ve already mentioned the graphics chip which gives away the AMD CPU behind it. In this case it’s an Athlon X2 DualCore QL-60 ticking over at 1.9GHz theoretically giving you plenty of multitasking oomph. The 160GB hard drive is passable provided you’ve got decent network storage to use when it soon fills up but we can’t say the same of the system memory. At a measly 1GB of RAM running Vista and a handful of applications will soon see this laptop creaking along at the pace of a sleepy senior citizen. We don’t think it’s too harsh to shoot people who build Vista machines with a single gig of memory so HP please don’t ever do it again. Thankfully HP hasn’t bogged down this laptop with a plethora of shovelware with the out of box installation light on applications.

Unfortunately we couldn’t run any of our standard benchmarks due to the choice of Operating System. Vista Basic doesn’t support either 3DMark Vantage or PCMark Vantage but we were able to fire up some Cinebench to see how the Athlon processor performs. As expected the performance isn’t anything to write to Animal Logic about posting a rather woeful single CPU score of 1481. In lieu of benchmarks we can attest to the fact that it’s a zippy machine when running basic productivity applications. But open too many of these up with large files in each and the limited memory brings things shuddering to a halt.

It might not be the cheapest budget laptop on the block but the great screen decent components and comfortable keyboard make it a suitable replacement for your ugly office desktop. Just make sure that you whack another gig of memory inside to ensure your sanity remains intact.