HP Compaq Nx9600
At a Glance
Big-screen laptop produces great sound, even without extra-cost expansion base's Harman-Kardon speakers.
The HP Compaq Nx9600 is for gadget lovers. This big, black, 9.4-pound laptop's 17-inch wide screen, with its optional sharp native resolution of 1680 by 1050, is just the start. Our review unit featured not only an optional multiformat DVD burner, but a six-in-one memory card reader, a new ExpressCard slot for the latest connectivity and storage cards, and a slot for an HP USB Digital Drive, a pocket-size Secure Digital card reader.
In addition to a separate numeric keypad, you get a wide, comfortable keyboard and a case that's a little higher in the back, giving the keyboard a nice slant. The rectangular touchpad has horizontal and vertical scroll zones and a touchpad lock with an LED that glows orange when the cursor is live (unlike some laptops, whose LEDs glow when the touchpad is locked). The mouse buttons are small but covered with a felt-like material that's easy to grab with a thumb. The keyboard is quiet, has an excellent layout, and requires only a light touch.
The Nx9600 has no special video or CD controls, but the built-in sound is excellent for a notebook, and you do get a nice set of volume up/down/mute buttons and a Wi-Fi on/off switch at the top of the keyboard. For desktop use, you might consider adding HP's $250 Xb2000 expansion base, which serves as a stand and port replicator, has a drive bay for extra storage, and features loud, beautiful-sounding Harman Kardon speakers. A wireless mouse and keyboard accompany the base.
All the user-accessible components, including memory and the hard drive, are easy to reach for upgrading. Three large bottom-mounted fans keep things running cool.
The one serious drawback to the Compaq Nx9600 is its battery life, a shortcoming of most large notebooks. It lasted just 1 hour and 20 minutes in our tests--the shortest battery life of any notebook we've seen by a half-hour margin. Its WorldBench 5 score of 85 is average for a 3.6-GHz Pentium 4 560 laptop, but we've seen higher scores from notebooks using high-end Pentium-M processors.
Decked out with the latest in card slots, the hefty HP Compaq Nx9600 will please gadget junkies--at least, it will until the battery runs out.