By Neil Bennett | on September 17, 2007
Pros: Powerful, considering specs. Excellent screen. Great ergonomics.
Cons: Entry-level graphics chip. Larger and bulkier than the MacBook Pro.
The Compaq 8710w is an updated version of the nw9440 mobile workstation reviewed back in August 2006. HP has done more than just plumb in Intel’s Santa Rosa motherboard-chip-wireless combo, and the 8710w boasts an innovative touchpanel, a new graphics chip with an HDMI output and the option to run Windows Vista.
The 8710w is still an ugly sister to the 17-inch MacBook Pro’s Cinderella, but its matte grey flash is an improvement over its predecessor’s dull black, but HP has kept the nw9440’s best case-design feature: icons for all of the ports around the keyboard, making it easy to find the right port without moving the laptop.
The 8710w has a responsive keyboard with a numeric keypad, and a choice of trackpad – with three buttons and a vertical scrollbar – or pointer (not that we’ve ever met anyone who actually prefers a pointer to a trackpad). Above the keyboard sits a touchpanel strip that can be used to launch applications and increase or decrease audio levels. It is not a true innovation like Apple’s magnetic power connector – but quite nifty anyway.
Considering its specifications, the 8710w was an excellent performer. With a 2.2GHz processor, it was noticeably slower in our Cinebench rendering test than the 2.4GHz chip-powered 17-inch MacBook Pro, but almost two per cent faster than the 15-inch MacBook Pro we looked at in July, which has the same chip. However, if you plan to invest in a mobile workstation, we recommend paying a little extra and getting the faster T7700 chip, as you’ll appreciate the speed boost.
Today’s Intel Core 2 Duo chips are only between 66-84MHz faster than the previous generation (as seen in the nw9440) but Santa Rosa offers faster throughput between components, with the frontside bus (FSB) speed raised from 667MHz to 800MHz.
Strangely, the 8710 outperformed the 17-inch MacBook Pro in our After Effects test. This may be because our review unit ran the 64-bit version of Windows Vista and had 4GB of RAM, something After Effects can take full advantage of through splitting the rendering process using its new multi-processor technology, which is beyond Mac OS X 10.4. Because not all applications support Vista yet – including Avid Xpress Pro and many 3D packages – HP offers XP as an option.
Also new in the 8710w is nVidia’s Quadro FX 1600M, replacing the 1500M. This adds some power-boosting technology and support for Shader Model 4.0, and has 512MB of RAM of its own. However, for a top-of-the-line model like the 8710w, we’d expect a higher-end chip, such as the 2500M or 3500M.
The Quadro FX 1600 delivered less power in simple 3D scenes than the GeForce 8600GT used by the MacBook Pro, but more in complex Maya 8.5 scenes. It powers a glossy 1,920-x-1,200 display that is just as impressive as the MacBook Pro’s, although there’s no option of a matte screen. The use of this nVidia chip allows HP to include an HDMI port instead of a DVI port, which can be connected to a standard LCD display using a HDMI-to-DVI cable. The separate VGA port may seem redundant, but there remain projectors out there lacking DVI inputs.
The Compaq 8710w is currently the best 17-inch mobile workstation on the market, ostensibly because its main rival Dell is yet to announced a Santa Rosa-powered replacement of the Precision M90.
However, it’s a shame that HP failed to make the 8710w as small and light as the MacBook Pro, and didn’t include a more powerful graphics chip.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro has a 2.2GHz Intel T7500 processor, 2GB of RAM and an nVidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics chip. The 17-inch MacBook Pro has a 2.4GHz Intel T7700 processor, 4GB of RAM and an nVidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics chip. The Compaq 8710w has a 2.2GHz Intel T7500 processor, 4GB of RAM and an nVidia Quadro FX 1600M graphics chip.
For Photoshop, After Effects and Maya tests, shorter bars are better. For Cinebench and battery life tests, longer bars are better.