Review: This notebook is all business

The Compaq 6910p sets out to be a reliable business notebook and it does that well, but some bells and whistles would have been nice.

We've been reading (and writing) a lot lately about the consumerization trend in the enterprise, and the convergence of the enterprise and consumer worlds. Judging by HP's latest business notebook though, the Compaq 6910p, that convergence hasn't yet come to the notebook space.

Don't get me wrong. The 6910p is a quality notebook that I enjoyed testing. HP has positioned it as a business notebook, and it fills that role rather well.

A colleague of mine was testing one of HP's lower-priced consumer entertainment notebooks at the same time however, which made me wonder why HP can't bring that attractive new Piano Black finish and the lovely BrightView display finish to its business line? (BrightView is available as a custom option). Business users want a good looking notebook too. With them taking their notebook home and on the road, mixing business and pleasure, the convergence trend is happening at the user base, even if vendors haven't totally caught on.

Getting down to business

That gripe aside, as a business notebook the 6910p fits the bill. It continues the consistent design of HP's business notebook lineup, with a basic gray and black color scheme. Nice, but no piano black. The 14.1" display is an adequate size for the business traveler, big enough to be comfortably readable while still maintaining portability. And speaking of portability, the 6910p weighs-in at 5.1 lbs, with the AC adapter adding another pound. Not exactly ultraportable, but my shoulder didn't complain when both accompanied me on a West Coast swing.

The full querty keyboard offered no problems, and for pointing both a touchpad and trackball are included, as seems to be the industry standard for business notebooks. I'm not a trackball fan, I find them awkward. However, the touchpad was easy to use, and the rubberized mouse keys were a nice touch.

One thing I wasn't a fan of were the nearly invisible touch-sensitive buttons across the keyboard for control of functions like volume, and turning-off the wireless antenna. While surfing the Web at home I accidentally turned the antenna off, not even knowing the button was there. It took be a frustrating hour of hard-wired surfing to learn where the button was, and then find it on the notebook. If there was a software way of doing it, I couldn't find it.

The 6910p boasts ample ports and features, including a built-in mic, biometric fingerprint scanner, SD/MMC port as well as the standard peripheral ports. The headphone jack is well positioned on the left side, as are the three USB ports, one on the right and two stacked horizontally on the left. Sound quality without headphones was pretty good for a business notebook.

Under the hood

Moving to the innards, the 6910p comes with the 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo processor and just over 1GB of RAM, expandable to just over 4GB. Running multiple applications did not impair system performance at all. A 120GB hard drive is standard. I was quite pleased with the wireless, which is Intel-based offering 802.11a/b/g. Other then the above-mentioned antenna-button issue, finding and connecting to hot spots was a breeze. I found the battery performance to be average. You could probably stretch it well past three hours with the brightness turned right down and the WiFi turned off. Turn on the wireless though and that drops. Watching a DVD on the airplane at medium contrast (and the wireless naturally off) I managed about two-hours, enough to watch an average movie.

The only major problem I had with this notebook wasn't even with HP but rather with the OS manufacturer, Microsoft. My demo unit was running Windows Vista Business, which for some reason doesn't ship with the common Codecs needed to play DVDs. Only consumer editions of Vista do; I guess Microsoft figures business people don't need to play DVDs. I didn't discover this until onboard my transcon flight, which meant four hours reading the in-flight magazine instead of enjoying the hilarity that is Superbad. Once on the ground and on the Web, with some searching I was able to download the needed codecs from a third-party Web-site; Microsoft had wanted me to pay them for an upgrade instead

Woe is Vista

That's not my main Vista beef, however. That lies with their overzealous anti-piracy practices. When I first received the demo notebook I unpacked it, flipped it on and began the initial automated install. On battery power. That was my mistake; the notebook crashed mid-install, the battery dead.

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When I rebooted on AC power it was completely locked-up, all I could do was reinstall from the bundled Vista DVD. Which I did. However, it refused to accept the license key (pasted to the bottom of the notebook) as valid. I know Microsoft doesn't want you to install on Vista license on multiple machines, but I'd think re-installing it on the same machine would be acceptable.

I ignored the annoying pop-up messages and used the notebook without incident until, 30 days later; I was completely locked-out of Vista. An hour on the phone with a sympathetic HP-contracted technical support contact and a number of complicated workarounds couldn't resolve the license key issue. Not wanting to deal with Microsoft technical support, and being at the end of the loan period anyway, I got to a command prompt in safe mode, copied my files to USB key, and shipped the unit back to HP. Who says a little DOS command knowledge can't still come in handy these days?

While I can't fully blame HP for the Vista issues, it would be nice to see the vendors use their muscle to push Microsoft towards a more user-friendly licensing and anti-piracy regime.

Summary

While it would be nice to see HP get more creative by bringing some of their consumer innovations to their business lineup, as a business notebook the 6910p stacks up well with the Lenovo ThinkPads of the world and its other competitors in the space. Starting at US$1399, it's a good fit for the businessperson requiring a notebook for a mix of road and office use.