HP Compaq 6830s: light on battery power

According to HP the HP Compaq 6830s notebook is designed for the mobile business professional who wants a large screen notebook. However its bulk weight and poor battery life make us question whether any mobile business professional would actually want one.

The 6830s should ship with 32-bit Vista Business with an optional downgrade to Windows XP however our review unit was only supplied with XP SP2 so we could not fully test all of the Vista functionality and it may explain why we were having problems playing back Blu-ray discs. If you are going to use this notebook with XP ensure you spend some time tinkering with the setup and have access to a high speed internet link as you will need to download a reasonable amount of hotfixes (and SP3) to bring the software bundle up to date.

HP usually has a fairly good out of box experience but this unit was not up to standard. Whilst the software bundle was meant to install upon powering up the unit it did not do so properly and we needed to load the HP drivers and WinDVD software for the unit to recognise Blu-ray discs. Even then Blu-ray playback was problematic with the unit only able to play the title before dissolving into random pixellation (and even a total system lockup) when attempting to play Blu-ray movies. We tried to play with the Hollow Man and a Blu-ray audio test disc (both of which played perfectly in various Blu-ray players) but the software bundle refused to play either disc despite reboots and applying hotfixes. Hopefully the Vista experience is better.

Weighing in at just under 3kg the 6830s is one serious chunk of notebook that you are unlikely to want to cart around with you all day. It is big in order to fit the 17in screen and is probably better suited for a person who wants a (trans)portable desktop replacement rather than a mobile solution.

If you are prepared to carry the unit around you do get a fantastic screen that supports near full HD video (1440 x 900). When plugged into the mains the screen is very bright and enjoyable to look at whilst on battery (default settings) it is only slightly dimmer but still produces a very sharp picture with a wide viewing angle. You would have no problems giving a presentation or watching a movie except that the notebook might just be a little too large to take with you on a plane unless you are flying business class.

The 6830s is supplied with an 8-cell (63WHr) lithium ion battery and it needs it!  No doubt running a screen of that size eats up the power as does the processor which tends to produce quite a bit of heat out through the left hand side vents. Be careful if you are thinking of using the 6830s on your lap as it will warm you up. Despite its large battery we were only able to squeeze 2 hours of watching DivX video before WinDVD shut down. We could squeeze another 15 minutes of YouTube and streaming audio before the power completely ran out. If you are lucky and the unit is completely charged up you might just manage to watch a single Blu-ray movie but make it a short one!

Even normal tasks such as browsing and installing software updates chews up battery power at an incredible rate. Perhaps if you are just doing word processing (with wireless networking turned off) you might be able to stretch the battery life to 3 hours but don’t plan on taking this unit too far from a power point if you are serious about getting a day’s work done.

The larger footprint of this notebook allows for some nice luxuries such as a near full sized keyboard with separate numeric keypad on the right side of the main keyboard. Keyboard layout is a little odd (as is the case with most notebooks) with HP making use of the function key to access PrtSc Scroll Lock and Pause. The function key has also been used in conjunction with theF1 – F12 keys to control screen brightness volume monitor and a “www” key. The keys are comfortable to use and whilst not having as much travel as a full sized keyboard they still have good tactile feedback.

The top of the keyboard houses two relatively large speakers which disappointingly produce very tinny sound. Between the speakers are the power and wireless network switches. There would have been plenty of room here for keys and switches to control notebook functions it is just a pity HP didn’t use it.

The touchpad is located off-centre on the left hand side of the notebook so that it is aligned with the main keyboard. It is fine to use when using the keyboard but awkward when using the numeric keypad especially if you are left handed.

The front of the 6830s has the memory card reader which supports SD-MS Pro MMC and XD cards. There are also sockets for headphones and an external microphone. Above the screen is a VGA (640 x 480) webcam which produces reasonable pictures. The right side of the notebook has two USB sockets and the Blu-ray drive (which also reads and writes DVD and CD media). On the left side of the notebook are the Gigabit Ethernet socket the large (but necessary) air vent an external monitor connector power socket telephone line socket and another two USB sockets with an ExpressCard slot located above them.

What is more important however is what is missing. There is no HDMI connector no video out socket and no firewire input which is strange for a notebook that appears to be multimedia ready or at least designed for presentations. There is also no fingerprint reader which again is surprising given the notebook is aimed at the security conscious business professional.

The supplied software (at least on the XP build) is a strange mix of consumer and business applications which gives the impression that HP doesn’t know exactly where it is positioning this model. HP has included its credential manager which is effectively useless without a biometric authentication device such as fingerprint reader. HP ProtectTools are aimed at the business market with the ability to encrypt the hard drive and completely overwrite (as opposed to merely delete) files. Other business tools are Roxio Creator Business 10 (which looks suspiciously like its consumer equivalent) and PDF complete. On the consumer side is the HP Webcam application which allows you to make movies and WinDVD 8 which allows you to play DVDs and (if it worked) Blu-ray discs. There is also a trial edition of Office 2007 which can be activated or uninstalled as required.

In terms of connectivity the 6830s comes with Marvell 10/100/1000 Ethernet and built in modem. Whilst the modem is probably largely obsolete for internet connectivity it is handy if you need to send or receive a fax whilst on the move. Wireless connectivity is provided through a Broadcom wireless adaptor that supports 802.11a/b/g/n draft 2.0 standard as well as Bluetooth 2.0.

Another nice business feature is HP’s 3D DriveGuard which uses a 3 way accelerometer to detect any sudden movement (such as dropping the notebook) and protect the hard disk. Giving the notebook a sudden jolt did pause data transfer so we assume that this system works!

So would you buy this beast? Its large form factor large screen and poor battery life would not make this notebook attractive for the mobile executive. The limited processing power lack of firewire and HDMI as well as minimal RAM would exclude this notebook from being a mobile multimedia workhorse despite the separate graphics card.

We can only assume that the 6830s is designed for business professionals who want a top of the range notebook with a large screen for a desktop replacement or for executives who really don’t travel much. As a road warrior myself there is no way I would want to lug this thing around with me!