So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Hewlett-Packard Australia Compaq Presario A900 (A936TU)
A 17in notebook that's good for home users
- Great screen size for the price, good usability, good speakers
- Lacks PC Card and ExpressCard expansion slots, doesn't support the latest networking options, screen is reflective in bright environments
Despite some negative points, this unit offers several features rarely seen in this price bracket. If you don't need independent graphics or the latest networking options, take a peek.
Price$ 1,799.00 (AUD)
It may not be fancy and feature-packed, but the Compaq Presario A936TU is good enough to be a basic desktop replacement notebook for the home.
Its main drawcard is a 17.1in screen that has a resolution of 1440x900. Units anywhere near this price ($1799) with a screen this large are rare; the next cheapest we've seen is the $1999 Toshiba Satellite P210/J00 (PSPBQA-02J001). DVDs are displayed with clarity and images are displayed with vivid colour. However, a negative is the unit's significant reflectivity in well-lit environments.
The unit's style and build quality are very good. The graphite-coloured Compaq proves that simplicity can be attractive; to this end, it sports a fingerprint motif on its palm-rests and cover. The screen is sturdy and shows no sign of flex, with the L-shaped hinge supporting it well.
Inside the unit is 2GB of DDR2 RAM and a well-performing 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. Our WorldBench 6 benchmarks returned a result of 70, which indicates that the unit will be capable of handling most office and home applications, as well as multitasking. In our iTunes test, where we convert 53min of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3 files, the A936TU produced a respectable score of 1min 22sec: exactly what we were expecting.
There is no independent graphics card, however; instead it uses an Intel X3100 controller, which is part of the Intel 965GM chipset. The weakness of the Intel X3100 for games is highlighted by the 3DMark06 score of 572, which indicates that most modern games won't run on this unit.
Although some users who game will be disappointed by that result, many will appreciate the 250GB hard drive that spins at 5400rpm, which is a positive addition given the price. This provides ample space for images that have been copied from the 5-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, MS, MSPro, xD) located on the left side of the notebook, for example.
While it does have many positives, there are many areas where this unit falters: with no PC Card or ExpressCard slot provided, the only expansion ports available are three USB 2.0 ports. The device also lacks the latest networking connectivity. A dial-up modem, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi and 10/100 Ethernet capabilities are present, but the lack of Gigabit Ethernet and draft-n wireless are negatives for a desktop replacement candidate.
The size of the unit puts this device firmly into the desktop replacement category, as does its weight of 3kg (without its power supply). If you're intent on carrying this unit to class or to the office, you'll have to lug 3.5kg. Its large dimensions allow for a full-sized keyboard and number pad to be included, both of which work very effectively. The keys are responsive and will be familiar to touch-typists; the touchpad offers a good balance between smoothness and grip, allowing for accurate use.
Above the keyboard is a set of good Altec Lansing speakers that offer excellent clarity, albeit with unimpressive bass. Other sound options include headphone and microphone ports, as well as a built-in microphone installed to the right of the webcam above the screen.
Away from an outlet, the A936TU lasted 1hr 18min in our worst-case scenario, which is not too bad considering it has a 17in screen. But considering its big size, you probably won't want to take it with you while travelling anyway, so won't need to run on batteries for prolonged periods of time.
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