Compaq Evo N410c

Verdict: Little Evo a swell machine, although reliability could be a worry. StaffSeptember 1, 2002
Compaq Evo N410c

Bang for Buck: 6

Street Price: $1,799
Inside: 1.2 MHz Pentium III-M, 30 GB HD, 256 MB RAM, 16 MB ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card
Outside: 12.1 inch display, touchpad pointing device, fullsize keyboard, external 8X combo DVD-ROM drive
Ports: 2 USB, serial, VGA, PC card (Type II)
Communications: Integrated V.92 56K modem, integrated 10/100 Ethernet, integrated MultiPort wireless networking
Dimensions: 10.4 inches (W) x 9 inches (D) x .89 inches (H), 3.5 lbs.

Doing the CFO notebook buyer’s guides in the mid-Nineties, we could see troubles coming down the pike for Compaq. Why? Because we witnessed noticeable drop off in quality of Compaq notebooks during that time. Ironic, too since Compaq invented the portable genre. But fact is, Compaq sent us bum machine three years running. Needless to say, we didn’t exactly give Compaq notebooks rave review over the years. But Fast Evo N410 step in the right direction — although we still have some worries about the company’s craftsmanship.

Good news is, Evo series features a lot of design smarts. At the top of list: the MultiPort, a silver strip on the outside of display lid. It’s more than just a swell racing stripe, mind you. Metallic strip actually connects to USB port for wireless networking. Can swap strip out for different wireless standards, including 802.11b and BlueTooth. Clever Trevors.

We also liked dual battery capability of this Evo, although machine ran over two hours on one battery charge. That’s not bad by current ultralight standards.

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In addition, we appreciated Compaq putting volume buttons on the front edge of the machine, although we wished the tiny knobs triggered a volume indicator on screen. Buttons were so sensitive we weren’t sure at first if they worked. Really had to hold the buttons down to have an effect. Overall, however, audio quality was well above-average, with little Evo scoring high on our MD test. Video capabilities impressed, too — on a par with Apple iBook. No big surprise there. Both notebooks employ the same ATI Mobility Radeon video card.

12.1 inch screen was fine, although not particularly notable. To be fair, other reviewers have been more effusive about the displays on Evo series notebooks, so maybe it’s us. Compaq says display lid is encased in magnesium — big selling point for Secret Service agents.

Small small computer, weighing in at 3.5 pounds. Very easy on the shoulders. If you want to prove how tough you are, you can always order optional mobile expansion unit. Said expansion unit hardly a slice, however — adds nearly three pounds to carrying weight. But also features tons of ports as well as 3-spindle support. Those spindles can accommodate slew of peripherals, including optical drives, zip drive, battery, or an additional hard drive. Docking unit also features Compaq PremierSound, which is an audio system.

Compaq didn’t send us one of those nifty docking stations, however (was it something we said in the mid-Nineties?). Instead, we got something called an “external multibay.” Basically a caddy, external multibay houses optical drives such as DVD or DVD/CD-RW. Took us a while to get the multibay to work properly. Got all lathered up, then finally put in a frantic call to Compaq marketing department. Turns out we were using the wrong USB cord. We calmed down after that.

Evo N410c a well-configured — and fast — machine for $1,799. Our only real concern: message boards on consumer electronics Web sites seem to have their fair share of complaints about Compaq’s reliability and customer service. Don’t know if you can go solely by that, and we want to give Compaq benefit of the doubt. Still, such messages give us pause — particularly given our past experience with company’s notebooks. Your move.

(Editor’s Note: Thin is in for notebook computers, but how about the computer makers themselves — how much cash do they keep on hand? See for yourself with the CFO PeerMetrix interactive scorecards.)