HP Compaq nw8240
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 7 (July 2005)

HP Compaq nw8240

Mobile workstations have always been a compromise between power and portability. Workstations need to be the most powerful machines on the block; yet, this power usually means additional bulk, making most mobile workstations bulky when compared to a typical laptop. The HP Compaq nw8240 goes against the grain and does a nice balancing act to create a mobile workstation that is not just powerful, but also thin, light, and attractive.

The Compaq nw8240 is the successor to HP’s nw8200, and, visually, the difference between the two is striking. While the nw8200 was a fast machine, it was also thick and clunky. The nw8240, though similar in features, looks like it has undergone an extreme makeover. The new design is sleek and elegant, with lots of ergonomic improvements.

The nw8240 is quite thin, a little over an inch thick, and weighs in at around 6 pounds, making it one of the slimmest and lightest mobile workstations on the market. Flipping open the lid reveals a 15.4-inch-wide display and a nice keyboard arrangement with dual pointing devices. The touchpad is fairly large and an improvement over the nw8200. For added convenience, the nw8240 has a dedicated button to switch off wireless networking, which is great if you need privacy. I found the styling and ergonomics of the nw8240 to be top-notch.

The sleek new HP Compaq nw8240 packs powerful graphics performance in a thin, light package.

The back of the device is almost entirely taken up by the battery pack, forcing most of the interface ports to the side of the machine. Having the ports on the side can be a bit cumbersome, but it’s a small price to pay for having a thin system. On the left side are a modem, Gigabit Ethernet, S-video, FireWire, and a USB port. The right side has audio, two more USB interfaces, and a serial port. It also has an optical drive that can be configured with CD or DVD drives; the one I tested shipped with a DVD writer. Another nice addition is an SD memory slot that accepts cards from most digital cameras.

Mobile workstations are all about graphics, and this machine offers excellent graphics performance, powered by an ATI FireGL 5000 chip. The FireGL 5000 is a good choice for graphics; it’s certified for use with virtually every high-end graphics program, ensuring consistent performance with demanding applications.

The machine boots quickly to Microsoft Windows Professional, revealing a screen that is clean and crisp. Color quality was excellent, and the machine’s ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the screen to match the current lighting conditions. The screen runs at 1920x1200 resolution, which accommodates a lot of data on screen. Combined with a 15.4-inch screen, however, things started to get a little small for my tired eyes. I tried a few lower resolutions, but couldn’t find one that was as crisp as the native resolution. I ran a number of graphics and 3D content creation applications on this machine and it was very responsive.

Battery life was good. The four hours of battery life HP claims is probably the norm for word processing. Running graphics apps put my typical battery life at just over three hours. For those who need more power, HP sells a clip-on battery that bulks up the bottom of machine. The nw8240 seems to scale its power requirements to the computing task at hand. When doing a simple task, such as browsing the Internet, it typically ran quite cool, but when I tossed a huge 3D rendering job at it, the side heat vent got quite toasty (the system was drawing more power to meet the constant demands of the rendering).

Performance was impressive. A quick Sandra benchmark clocked the processor at 8325 mips in integer performance, with a FPU score of 2599 mflops, 3599 for the SSE2 instructions. Its integer performance is slightly ahead of a 3.0 ghz Pentium IV chip, with floating point lagging by about 20 percent. It is typical for a Pentium M chip, which sacrifices a little floating-point performance for power consumption. Memory speed clocked in at a respectable 2944 mb/sec.

The 60gb drive in this machine ran at 7200 rpm, giving good performance. Drive speed was clocked at 2 mb/sec, a little faster than most desktop 7200 rpm drives, perhaps due to a smaller platter size that shortens access times. The drive can handle basic video editing and makes the machine a little more responsive.

The nw8240 is a nice balance of portability, style, and power. Faster mobile workstations exist, but weigh nearly double. It’s fast and can handle virtually any application with good performance.

George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.

Hewlett-Packard www.hp.com
Price: $3707 as configured, $2199 for base configuration
Minimum System Requirements: Not applicable.