How much can you really expect from an $829 business notebook? If you're talking about the HP Compaq 6735b, more than you think. HP has packed a wealth of features ideal for small-business users into this budget platform. The only giveaway that the 6735b is a low-cost entry is its rather bland, very plastic chassis. More-expensive models (such as HP's own EliteBook series) use richer materials. But we'll happily swap style for substance if it means getting a spill-resistant keyboard, a hard drive with active protection, and useful utilities in the trade.
With the 6735b, HP tried not to offend anyone. The flip side, of course, is that the dark gray and black motif won't thrill anyone, either. The only design touch of note: HP uses aqua and amber LEDs (along with a couple of blue ones), which are indeed pleasing to look at. Weighing a reasonable 5.9 pounds and measuring 14.0 x 10.5 x 1.3 inches, the 6735b is as average as they come.
The black, full-size keyboard is very comfortable, with good tactile feedback. The touchpad could be a bit larger, but its low-friction surface is easy to use and its buttons are plenty responsive. HP has included its familiar touch-sensitive volume strip and a dedicated mute button above the keyboard, but no multimedia control keys like you'll find on its Pavilion line. Around the edges are four USB ports, FireWire, VGA, Ethernet, modem, headphone and mic jacks, and even a serial port for legacy connectivity. HP has also included a memory card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot but no PC Card slot, which some business users might miss. You do get a dock connector on the bottom, however, which is a nice touch for a budget machine.
Our 6735b configuration came with HP's BrightView 15.4-inch widescreen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. Users that work under unforgiving office fluorescents may want to opt for the available antiglare screen (a no-cost option), and those who prefer a higher-res view can specify a 1680 x 1050 anti-glare panel for just $25 more. On our tests, the 1280 x 800 glossy panel delivered vibrant colors and plenty of brightness, even in a sunlit room. Text was sharp, and viewing angles were wide (hampered only by reflections from nearby windows). Watching Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl on the included multiformat DVD burner, the LCD showed natural color reproduction, good rendering of shadow detail, and some (but not excessive) motion blur during action scenes.
Unlike other low-cost models, the 6735b's optical drive can bereplaced with a second hard drive. Its built-in stereo speakers sound better than those in most low-cost models, with adequate volume for use around a conference table. The machine works with HP's full-size docking solution, for users who prefer a desktop feel when they are in the office. An integrated webcam is also an option.
Despite its budget price, the 6735b doesn't cut corners to maintain durability and security features important to business travelers. The keyboard is spill-resistant, and the hard drive has HP's 3D DriveGuard protection with a three-axis digital accelerometer to protect your data in the event of a fall. Enterprise IT managers will appreciate the TPM circuitry, while small-business buyers without the benefit of an IT department will like the wizard for the HP ProtectTools suite, which walks you through setup for the fingerprint reader, passwords, and the full drive software encryption.
If you forget your password, the HP SpareKey utility provides a back door, letting you set up personal questions to answer so that you can get in and reset your password. HP has also included utilities to help keep prying eyes from finding deleted files. Normally when deleting a file, Windows simply removes the pointer to that file; eventually, the OS might get around to using that space for a new file, but you don't want to bet on it. So HP File Sanitizer actually overwrites the file location with random data up to seven times. And the included Disk Sanitizer utility is a BIOS-level program that wipes the entire hard drive, which is ideal for systems that eventually get passed along. Another handy extra is HP QuickLook 2, which lets you see a snapshot of your Outlook e-mail, calendar, and contacts when the machine is turned off or in hibernate, without having to boot to Windows.
The 2.0-GHz AMD Turion RM-70 processor and 2GB of RAM in our configuration is adequate for business productivity applications, but it's no speed demon. The 6735b scored 2,350 on PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista application performance)--about 800 points below the average among mainstream notebooks. On the plus side, it performed multitasking scenarios reasonably well. The machine needed 7 minutes and 5 seconds to encode about 2 hours of music into AAC format in iTunes; that time increased by 30 seconds (or only about 7 percent) when we performed the same test with a virus scan running in the background. Should you need more speed, the notebook can be configured with a 2.2-GHz AMD Turion Ultra Dual Core ZM-82 CPU and up to 8GB of RAM.
On 3DMark03, which tests DirectX 9 performance, the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200 graphics chip managed a score of 3,308, which is good for a business machine. But it struggled on 3DMark06 (which tests DirectX 9 3D graphics, CPU, and 3D features), delivering a score of just 1,469. Our F.E.A.R. test (run at a resolution of 1024 x 768) showed a frame rate of 21 frames per second; upping the resolution dropped that to an unplayable 8 fps. The 6735b clearly is no gamer, but it is adequate for running less-demanding 3D titles; the notebook averaged 59.4 fps on our World of Warcraft test.
The notebook's 5,400-rpm, 120GB hard drive performed in line with those of other business machines, delivering a transfer rate of 15.3 MBps on our LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying and moving a 4.97GB file of mixed media). Alas, as configured the 6735b was a bit slower than other recent business entries to boot to its Windows Vista Business OS, requiring 1 minute and 20 seconds from the moment you hit the power button until you have full control of the notebook.
Wireless and Battery Scores
The included six-cell battery lasted a little more than 2 hours on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's low but expected given our test unit's large screen and smallish battery; HP notes that buyers have other battery options available to them, including an eight-cell power pack. On our Wi-Fi test, the machine's 802.11a/b/g/n radio performed in line with others in its class, delivering 18.7 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and 14.7 Mbps at 50 feet. The platform also supports Qualcomm's Gobi embedded mobile broadband option (AT&T or Verizon Wireless).
Fortunately, what you won't find in the 6735b is the trialware that gunks up consumer PCs. As a business SKU, HP includes only the OS, its ProtectTools suite, and its welcome QuickLook utility. A one-year parts-and-labor warranty (with 24/7 tech support) is standard, and HP offers a whopping 35 service/support upgrade plans, including ones that cover accidental damage and offer next-day on-site service.
HP Compaq 6735b Verdict
Yes, you can find faster, sexier machines than the HP Compaq 6735b. But for this price, you'd be hard-pressed to find one with more business-friendly extras and utilities. With its handy QuickLook 2 and file-deletion utilities, the 6735b may be a step ahead of other leading low-cost business portables, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad R500 and Toshiba Tecra A9. It doesn't have the panache or ruggedness of the aluminum-clad HP EliteBook family (whose configurations start at $1,199), so road warriors and mobile executives may want to spend the extra money on the pricier model. But for most users, the affordable 6735b has all the features they'll need, and then some.