HP's notebooks have had something of a re-birth in recent months. A year ago it seemed the company had lost their way, now with its back to basics approach it seems that it can't do any wrong.

Take the Compaq nc4200, weighing in at £1000 (inc. VAT) it ticks the “affordable” button before you've even checked out what it has to offer. True, it's billed as a corporate model but as HP sells its wares in places like PC World as well as online at Dabs or Misco, you don't have to be in business to mean business with this machine.

The machine is solid and well built, if a little understated and weighs in at 1.8kg, and with a battery life in use of over 4 hours, means you can take it on the go with you and not run out of power. The notebook has plenty of protection and the casing is solid and would stand up to the occasional knock.

To keep weight to a minimum, you'll find a 12.1-inch screen in the 4:3 aspect ratio. It doesn't have a Super-TFT panel but it's bright enough for most uses. The lack of widescreen has a knock-on effect, making the keyboard compact. Thankfully, the keys are solid and well mounted, making it comfortable to use. With both a touchpad and pointing stick for navigation, the rubberised mouse buttons feel soft and smooth under a fingertip.

The system is powered by a 1.86GHz Pentium M processor with 512MB of DDR2 SDRAM and a 60GB hard drive. This isn't the most powerful specification on the market but it'll get the job done and we found it more than powerful enough to handle standard office tasks. Less impressive are the graphics, as it uses the integrated Intel 915GM chipset. This makes it ideal for presentations and running DVDs but not for anything else.

A feature of Compaq machines is the inclusion of HP Protection tools, which allow you to set up enhanced security, which will stop people from prying around you machine. If you should lose your notebook, is also adds the extra security that any information stored on it isn't accessible.

You won't find an internal drive it this machine, but you'll find one in the box. Road warriors have a satisfactory array of ports, including three USB, a VGA Out, an S-Video Out, and an SD card reader. You'll find Gigabit Ethernet for high-speed fixed networks and 802.11b/g for Wi-Fi access, as well as Bluetooth for wireless peripherals.

Verdict

Business users may be the target market but if you’re looking for an affordable machine for the home or student halls, this is definitely worth considering. HP has managed to build a lightweight machine that manages to offer performance and battery life. If you can live without an external drive being built-in and take the screen for what it is - standard - then you’ll be happy with this machine.