You get what you pay for - In this case, I got more than that
Feb 4, 2007
Pros: Inexpensive, sleek, lots of good features built in, easy to use
Cons: Only comes with 256 megs RAM, touch pad mouse is a bit quirky
The Bottom Line: This is technically a "cheap" notebook but I have found, for me, it is an excellent choice. Great for anyone who wants a second computer or for students, etc.
Read the update at the end of this review to see how this computer has stood the test of time.
When my five-year-old Gateway Solo Notebook bit the dust a few months ago, I knew I needed to replace it but I also knew I would never spend the kind of money for a notebook like I did with the Gateway. I have two desktop computers and a notebook, for me, is a little portable extra and not something I need for everyday.
Because of this, I looked for an inexpensive yet still functional notebook that I felt would hold up and keep up with what I wanted to do but didnt costs a huge amount.
I did some reading of reviews and became confused. Did I need certain features? Should I spend more for things I may only use now and then? Is a certain name better than another?
Finally, I made a list of what I absolutely needed in a notebook and went searching. Like I said, because this was going to be just an extra portable workstation for me, I didnt need as much as people looking for a notebook as their primary computer.
Having said all that, I warn you, I am not a technical person. If a car is pretty and starts, it seems like a good deal to me. If MP3 Player plays and isnt so complicated that I have to study up on how to work it, its a winner. So, I will try my best to explain the technical aspects of this computer but caution you that this review is more for the common person looking to read a review by a typical computer user who doesnt know all the technical terms but who does know what she likes and doesnt like when using a notebook.
I chose the Compaq Presario M2105US because CompUSA was having a great sale on it. Base price was $729.00, with two rebates, the price dropped to $549.00. I knew I would need extra RAM (memory) but even with that, I didnt break $600 by much.
Obviously for that price, I didnt get top of the line engineering. But I got a lot more than I expected and I really enjoy my new notebook, except for a few minor design problems that I wish were different.
This computer is fast but not wickedly so. It has a 1.6GHz AMD processor. That is plenty for what I use my computer for which is word processing, surfing the net, watching DVDs, and working on my website.
It comes loaded with just 256 megs of shared memory. You must, no matter what notebook you buy, upgrade the memory immediately if it only has 256 megs of memory. I only noticed lag when on the internet with the 256 but, for $49.99 (after a $20 rebate), I installed 512 more megs of RAM and the computer is now fast and can handle multiple windows and has never locked up. The memory is the cheapest you can get - DDR-SDRAM - which is widely available and very easy to install yourself. If youre leery, CompUSA can install it for you for $29.99. I am sure other places offer similar services.
The Screen is 15. Its HUGE. I am shocked at how big it is. Its extremely crisp and vibrant and very bright. It is a Active Matrix LCD (TFT) type meaning that it looks great if you are looking straight on but looking at the screen from the side or at an angle will cause distortion. Since I only look straight at the screen and dont generally have anyone gathered around me to see my screen, this type is fine for me. Better screens are more like a typical desktop screen where you can see it from all angles with no visual changes. You can change the angle of the screen back and forth without losing clarity. I prefer the screen to be tilted back some when I am watching a video and to be straight up when I am online or using programs and both positions look fine.
The colors are vibrant and the icons are sharp and crisp. Print, even tiny stuff, is clear with no fuzz or distortion. Frankly, I am amazed at the quality of the screen. I didnt expect it to look so good considering the price. The top resolution is 1024 x 768 (XGA), which for me, is just fine. However, some may prefer a higher resolution for certain applications.
The keyboard is a typical 101 key notebook one. The keys are gray with black letters and a pleasure to use. I find I make far less typos using that keyboard than my desktop one. It has a good rebound and feels good under my fingers. I dont get the sense that the keyboard is fragile, but I am careful because I do know it is an inexpensive notebook so something has to be lower quality and the keyboard may be it. So far though, it is great. No problems.
Besides the power button, there is an on/off switch for the included wireless router and the volume buttons. One lowers the volume, one raises it, and one turns it off completely. These are handy and I find myself using the volume buttons more than I thought I would. Much handier than having to go through the sliding scale volume controller on the bottom of the screen (which you can also do).
The mouse is one feature I dont like. It is a typical finger touch and tap one with two buttons for right and left click. The area is metal and sliding my finger along it is sometimes tricky. What I dearly miss is a scroll button or wheel. In order to scroll down a page you have to go to the frame and manipulate it with your finger mouse to move down. A hassle. The mouse is the most disappointing feature on this notebook. I solved my problem by using an external mouse when I am online for more than a few minutes. I really think they should come up with a better mousing system than that.
Having said that, the pad is intuitive and a slight tap is all that is needed to click on links and the like. Some of these mouse pads are frustrating because you have to pound on the area to get them to activate. Luckily that is not so with this one. Its sensitive to the touch and easy to use except for the fact that it cant scroll. The right and left buttons are also very easy to use. If you are used to this type of finger touch mouse, you may love this one. I just get frustrated easily and prefer to hook up an external mouse.
The computer comes with a 24 X CD-RW and a DVD player in one. The DVD player is amazing. Movies look crisp and there are no problems with streaming or frames. The movies flow and look vibrant and sound good. Of course, the speakers are just little notebook speakers but they are actually quite good. Music from both DVDs and CDs sounds pretty darn good for coming out of two little notebook speakers. You can use this as a CD player if you want but you cannot play CDs with the top of the notebook down. It must be open to play music. When you close the top, the system automatically goes into sleep mode. The speakers are good enough to listen to music through though. Not like a home theater, of course, but quite passable.
Making CDs is very simple. Not much software comes preloaded on this machine but there is a CD making program and its a snap. A CD, depending on what is on it and how much, takes just a couple minutes to complete. I have only made three CDs, mostly to test out the machine and it was a simple process. I experienced no errors and no long waits for my CDs. I wish it had a DVD burner and could have gotten a notebook with one included but for a considerable jump in price. Ill live. It would have been a fun feature but nothing I personally have to have on a notebook.
The Software included is a little on the sparse side. The computer comes with Windows XP Home Edition preloaded and you also get the disc in case you need it which is good since I ended up needing it for a program I installed.
Microsoft Works, Microsoft Money, Microsoft MSN Encarta Plus, Microsoft Windows Movie Maker, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and several multimedia applications are preloaded, as well as a lot of advertisements and junk that I deleted right away. You will get the Microsoft Works Suite CD as well as a recovery CD along with the Windows XP one in the box with several brochures.
Norton Antivirus is also loaded with 60 days of free updates. Along with those programs, you get a complete owners manual and complete HP Support which you can use to troubleshoot or learn more about the computer and components. This is a good feature because the written information is barely there. I was shocked that there was very little information in print form but found it all on the computer itself.
The hard drive is 40 gigs although my notebook says it has a 55 gig hard drive in it. I dont get it but the official size is 40 gigs. This is quite small for todays programs and was a concern. Then I realized that I didnt need too much on that computer. I can file share with my main computer at any time and get just what I need. I wanted to keep it simple. Had I wanted this notebook for every day use, I would have gone for at least double the size of the hard drive. For me, 40 gigs will suffice, especially since I can burn CDs with programs and photos rather than storing everything on the hard drive.
I dont know much about graphics and gaming but my son is an avid gamer and he tested this notebook out. He says that its OK for games but a hardcore gamer will want a better graphics card and more video memory. I dont play computer games but find the graphics when playing videos from the net and when viewing anything else seem to be fine.
The cost cutting measures come into play with the amount of available ports and slots. There is a headphone jack and a microphone jack in front and both work fine. On the left side of the computer is an Ethernet jack for a DSL hookup or other Ethernet applications. There is on USB port on the left side as well. Also, there is a phone jack for those using dial up internet service. There is a 15 pin port on the left side and, on the right side, another USB port and a round nine pin port.
Many notebooks I looked at had four USB ports but two is plenty for me. I have a hub if I ever truly needed to hook more than two USB items in at once but I dont see that happening. Everything is easily accessible in the front of sides of the computer, making hooking externals up easy and painless.
This computer came with a wireless card built in. (54g 802.11b/g WLAN with 125HSM/SpeedBooster and BroadRange support) I never expected to use it I figured I would use dial up when away and my wired DSL when at home. But I caved and bought a wireless router and love the freedom of wireless connectivity. There is no set up. Once the router is hooked up and you set up your network with the router company (More savvy people can do this without the help of the router tech support people but not this girl. I called and had them walk me through it step by step. Mine was a little more complicated by the fact that I have a wired router as well so I had to be sure everything was hooked right and working.). The wireless card searches automatically for a signal and tells you how strong that signal is. I find it to be excellent to just OK depending on where I am in the house and what other appliances are running. I also bought an inexpensive router so that could explain my sometimes low signals when I am quite aways away from the router.
The computer is not super light at six and a half pounds but it isnt bulky. Its quite thin at about 1.6 inches and looks sleek. The black and silver color scheme is smart looking with a black top and the Compaq name in silver and a silver base and sides. It looks sleek and expensive even though it is anything but expensive.
The power cord is a two-piece one with a large block in the middle. It is a standard three-prong plug which I am grateful for. I hate those big block plugs that are so heavy and take up two outlets.
The 6-cell Lithium Ion battery snaps into the back of the computer easily and is about 2/3 as wide as the computer itself. The info I reviewed said the battery lasts up to three hours.
I have used it several times and got about two and a half to almost three hours from it before I got the low battery warning. My Gateway, which cost many times the amount of this notebook, only lasted an hour and a half at best on just battery so this was a pleasant surprise. I rarely use just the battery but its good to know I have about three hours of use when I want it without using electricity.
There is a 12-cell battery that is rated at seven hours longevity that can be bought optionally but I see no need for that for me. I am generally around an outlet.
The warranty is so so. You get a standard one year warranty with phone support. You can opt to upgrade the warranty but I didnt.
One thing I noticed is that, if I set the notebook directly on my lap and work, it can get hot. Not burning hot but I definitely feel the heat. Setting it on a table or other hard surface greatly reduces the heat that it generates. I saw a neat fan that can be set under any laptop to keep it cool that I may buy just to be safe. I dont want to blow circuits or anything because it overheats. The heat is less than my Gateway had. That thing would literally burn my legs. This just gets warm enough to let me know I shouldnt be setting a notebook computer directly on lap for long periods of time.
HP (which makes Compaq) has 24-hour telephone technical support which I used a few times. I am not sure if I am impressed or depressed about it. There is always someone there and there are rarely any wait times. However, I have spoken to about four or five different technicians (mostly when I was trying to get the wireless environment set up and didnt realize I had to call the router company instead) and all had very thick accents to the point where I was unable to understand some of what they were saying. They also led me on a wild goose chase ending up in the same place I was when I called. While they are friendly and seemingly knowledgeable, I ended up figuring out one problem (My wireless router was disabled on the computer and no one could figure out how to enable it. While on hold as the tech looked into more options, I figured it out myself and it has been running great ever since).
They seem to genuinely want you to be happy with your product. I have not gotten attitude or rudeness at all from tech support. I am sure they know what they are doing but its a little frustrating not to understand them especially when they are talking technical talk and Im not a technical person. Still, when I pointed that out, they slowed down and tried to be more understandable and were.
HP also has a technical support website with a load of info and support via the net in the form of live chat, forums, FAQs, and troubleshooters.
Im really liking this notebook. I have found it is all I need to do everything I want. I even found wireless connectivity to be a beautiful thing when I have a strong signal. No more wires and limitations to where I can be because the wires only go so far. I now lie in bed connected to the net, something I couldnt do if I didnt have the wireless feature.
This computer isnt top of the line or anywhere near it but it is perfect for me. It works well, looks fantastic both in design and screen quality, and does everything I need and a bunch of stuff I dont. I like the CD-RW and DVD feature although I must point out there is no floppy disc slot on this machine. Whoever would have thought floppies would be a thing of the past? You can buy an optional external floppy disc drive if you have the need. I dont think I will ever have the need. If I, by chance, install something that comes with a floppy, I can burn it to a CD on my desktop. These are things that a person using the notebook as a primary computer will want to take note of. Because this is my secondary computer, the shortcomings it may have arent a problem because I can go to my desktop and correct those shortcomings most of the time. If you dont have desktop to go to, you will want a notebook with more features.
The list of specs is below. This comes from the manufacturer and may be helpful for those who are more savvy than I.
Processor Brand: AMD Processor Class: Mobile Sempron Processor Number: 2800 Processor Speed: 1.6 GHz Bus Speed: 1.6 GHz Mobile Technology: Other L2 Cache Size: 256 KB Memory Speed: PC2700 (333MHz) Memory Technology: DDR-SDRAM Installed Memory: 256 MB Maximum Memory: 1 GB Hard Drive Capacity: 40 GB Drive Controllers: IDE (Ultra ATA/DMA) Rotational Speed: 4200 RPM CD-RW Write Speed: 24 X CD-RW Additional Drives: DVD/CD-RW Combo Sound Support: Digital Audio (16-bit) Video Chipset Brand: ATI Video Chipset: RADEON XPRESS 200M IGP Shared Video RAM: 32 MB Shared Video RAM (Max): 128 MB Resolution: 1024 x 768 (XGA) Display Size: 15.0 in Display Type: Active Matrix LCD (TFT) Port Connectors: 2 Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 1 Audio - Headphone-out 1 Audio - Microphone-in 1 Video - VGA (15-pin) 1 Video - TV-Out (S-Video) 1 RJ-11 (modem) 1 RJ-45 Ethernet (LAN) Card Slots: (1) Type II / Type I CardBus Network Support: Ethernet (10/100 Mbps) Wireless Protocol: 802.11b 802.11g Modem Speed: 56 Kbps Input Devices: Keyboard Touchpad Battery Life (average): up to 3 Hours Number of Batteries: 1 Installed Operating System: Windows XP Home Edition
Personally, I think I got a steal on this computer. For under $600 even with the added memory, I got a 15-inch screen with crisp bright graphics. The screen isnt made for side or angled viewing but I dont find that to be a problem at all. I got 40 gigs of hard drive space, 256 megs of RAM (which isnt enough on any notebook and, luckily, this computer has inexpensive memory and upgrading is a snap), A CD-RW and a DVD player in one, a wireless LAN if I choose to use it, enough software to get me started right way, and speed that seems perfectly fine for me. I have had several windows open, been connected to the net, and was downloading things and I didnt notice any major slowing down of the machine. Its a little workhorse!
I bought the machine at CompUSA during a promotion and got rebates but I see it on the net selling for around $670 and up. It may be selling for less on sale so, if you think this is for you, definitely comparison shop and check out who has the sales and specials.
While this notebook isnt very upgradeable, if youre looking for an inexpensive notebook and dont need hoards of space on the hard drive and also dont mind having to look straight at the screen rather than on an angle (and who really looks at the screen on an angle?), this is a good choice. HP is a good name and Compaq seems to have a good reputation for having few major problems. You get tech support via phone or the net for a year (or more if you upgrade the warranty) and the replacement or extra parts like batteries and cords are reasonably priced unlike my out of this world Gateway extras. Although everything is fixed and not removable like my Gateway (a major plus with that machine), if you compare the price with the quality, you will find that this is a good choice for a second computer, a student, or anyone who doesnt have extraordinary demands to make on a notebook. It is also durable and seems sturdy to me. Its not quite as sturdy as an HP ThinkPad is (I had one of those and they are like tanks) but it feels solid in your hands and nothing is loose or seems to be fragile. The mouse area could use a scroll wheel of some sort but it is passable the way it is.
I like this laptop and think I made the right choice for me. Again, if this were a primary computer, I would have gotten something with more features and a bigger hard drive. But for me, someone who wants a secondary portable notebook to use on trips or other areas of the house, this was $549 well spent. Heck, I spend more than that on skin care and clothes in a couple months. This, at least, should last for a while and simplify my life.
I give this 4 stars. There are things that could be improved and its not top of the line but compared to others in its class, its a cut above the rest as far as I am concerned. I love my Compaq and wont let anyone else near it!
UPDATE: February 4, 2007 - My desktop computer died and I have been using this laptop exclusively for about a year. I have only seen some slight markings on the mouse area from use. Otherwise, this thing works like a dream and much harder than I ever intended to work it. I have used it daily for many hours and have had not one bit of trouble. I can now say that I got MUCH more than I paid for!
Amount Paid (US$): 549 final Operating System: Windows Processor: AMD K-2 Processor speed: over 1000 Screen Size: 15 inches RAM: 256 Internal Storage: CD-RW and DVD Hard Drive (GB): 31-40
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