Compaq's Unimpressive Presario
The Good: Outstanding sound, decent battery life
The Bad: Heavy and short on flash-memory card slots
The Bottom Line: An adequate machine, but other low-priced laptops deliver more
I haven't touched a computer bearing the Compaq name since the company was bought by Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) in 2001. And that wasn't just for sentimental reasons.
When Compaq's management agreed to be absorbed into HP, Compaq was generating more than $30 billion in annual sales. Compaq had always been a bit of a maverick in the PC business. Never showing too much loyalty to any one supplier, it did business with both chipmaking powerhouses Intel (INTC) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).
As I recall, a few of the low-end Compaq machines even contained chips from specialty maker Cyrix, which was later snapped up by National Semiconductor (NSM). Compaq, it seemed, was a company willing to try anything once. That made it kind of fun to watch.
Now it's just a brand name under the Hewlett-Packard umbrella. Compaq machines show up primarily at retail outlets, riding on the brand recognition built by the original company. In the final review in our series on low-end notebook computers (see BW Online, 12/14/05, "H-P's Middling Low-Price Laptop"), I took the Compaq Presario V4000 for a run. While I was satisfied, I came back wishing for the old days.
The machine, which carries a starting price of $749 including rebates, has some solid features. But it lacks some of the polish and attention to detail that others in the series have.
First, I put it through the Rocky Test, which you'll remember involves playing a DVD of the Sly Stallone classic, Rocky, on battery power alone, with the screen turned up to maximum brightness to test battery longevity. The Compaq acquitted itself well on this test, making the top three of the machines so far tested. It tied for No. 2 of the batch with the Averatec 3700-EH1 (see BW Online, 12/09/05, "Averatec's Stellar White Dwarf"), giving out after 114 minutes. It came in behind the reigning battery champ, the Gateway NX200S, which lasted 129 minutes (see BW Online, 11/09/05, "Gateway's Mighty Mite").
But watching the movie left me feeling unhappy with the screen. As with the Averatec, I kept wanting to brighten the picture, only to find it was already set at maximum brightness. True, it's a nice, big screen, measuring 15.4 inches diagonally. But it seems that if a screen is going to be that big, it should also be bright.
The laptop's sound, on the other hand, was excellent. A pair of JBL speakers embedded into the body packed a loud audio punch. Controlling sound volume was easy, with two buttons located above the keyboard, while a third served as a mute button.
Still, other key ingredients were missing. The unit lacks slots for flash-memory cards, unlike some of the other machines tested. It has only two USB ports, used for plugging in devices such as a mouse, printers, and digital-music players, on the left side, near the rear of the machine. Some carry three.
Compaq's machine generally performed adequately on most computing tasks. It contains an Intel Celeron M 370 processor, running at 1.5 gigahertz -- and it never seemed to run slow. However, late in the testing process, it gave me the "Blue Screen of Death" while I was doing nothing more computationally intensive than typing into the notepad application. I didn't take this as a good sign.
Finally, this machine, which weighs in at 6.54 pounds, is the heaviest of the bunch tested. It could stand to go on a diet. A machine that heavy doesn't travel well, though at least some of its heft results from the screen size. Such features are always a complicated tradeoff in the design process, but it felt about a half-pound too heavy.
Like its corporate sibling, the Presario V4000 comes out firmly in the middle of this group -- sad indeed for a product bearing the Compaq name.