Outfit your road warriors with Compaq's Evo N410c

The Evo N410c is a speedy, long-lasting, thin-and-light notebook. Read our full review and find out why we believe the Evo N410c is a dream for frequent business fliers.

By Stephanie Bruzzese

Compaq's newest thin-and-light notebook, the feature-packed Evo N410c, takes battery capability to a new level: This 3.5-pound wonder can hold an amazing four cells at once. But besides burly battery capacity and some other unique features—including the silver MultiPort in the lid for 802.11b (Wi-Fi) or Bluetooth modules—the Evo N410c isn't all cutting-edge. Its 1.2-GHz Pentium III-M processor, 256 MB of memory, 40-GB hard drive, and 12.1-inch display can't touch the specs of bigger notebooks.

These components provide plenty of oomph for a road warrior's typical tasks, however, without costing an arm and a leg. And for a few more bucks, you can grab the optional Mobile Expansion Unit—a docking station with two swappable drive bays—to make for a more desktop-like experience. All told, the Evo N410c is a smart choice for corporations looking to outfit traveling employees with modern, versatile, and long-lasting laptops. Click here to check the latest prices.

From the moment you set eyes on it, you'll know that the Evo N410c looks different. But until you spend a few minutes examining this tiny notebook (Figure A), you won't be able to tell how versatile it really is.

Figure A
CNET Rating: 8 out of 10

The good: Very long battery life; fast for a thin-and-light; many configuration choices; USB 2.0 ports. The bad: So-so keyboard; no FireWire connector. The bottom line: The Evo N410c is a speedy, long-lasting, thin-and-light notebook—a dream for frequent business fliers

A raised, silver bump called the MultiPort runs down the right side of the N410c's black lid. Lift the silver cover along this ridge, and you'll find a built-in, USB-based wireless-connection port. The port supports optional 802.11b (Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth modules, each of which costs $129 extra and are easy to install by unscrewing the cover, inserting the module, and then replacing the screws. This easy-to-access setup will also make it simpler to migrate to future wireless standards, according to Compaq.

Even with the MultiPort, the Evo manages to keep trim at 10.5 x 9.5 x 0.9 inches and 3.5 pounds. However, you should count on this Evo to weigh another 0.75 pounds with the AC adapter.

For such a thin system, Compaq was able to stuff the N410c's case full of ports and slots. The right edge contains jacks for headphones, a microphone, USB, IrDA, a 56-Kbps modem, and Ethernet, as well as one Type II PC card slot. The opposite side features a VGA slot, another USB port, and a Kensington lock slot, while the front edge offers two volume-control buttons. Finally, the back edge includes parallel and serial ports as well as a NTSC/PAL video out. The Evo lacks a FireWire port, but its fast USB 2.0 connections make up for the absence. Plus, you can increase your Evo's ports with its versatile Mobile Expansion Unit (see the Features section of this review for more).

Ports aside, the Evo N410c's bright screen measures an acceptable 12.1 inches with a default 1,024 x 768-pixel resolution. This notebook's exceptionally comfortable keyboard is nice and wide, with decent-size keys and an inverted-T cursor pad that is separated from the rest of the keys. This sort of layout prevents your right pinkie from hitting the Up Arrow when it really seeks the Shift button. The system also comes with a touch pad, which is planted comfortably in the middle of the wrist rest. Under the touch pad are two slightly small mouse buttons, along with a dedicated scroll button for quick trips through documents or Web pages. Four convenient, programmable application quick-launch buttons lie above the keyboard's upper-right corner.

You can configure the Evo N410c in a multitude of ways. You won't find internal, swappable drive bays on the notebook itself, but you can get them with either the optional $79 MultiBay or the $199 Mobile Expansion Unit. The MultiBay isn't much larger than the drives themselves and acts as a typical external drive connected via a cable. The bigger Mobile Expansion Unit, on the other hand, snaps onto the notebook's bottom and comes with two internal bays that house a range of optional optical drives, including CD ($99), DVD ($219), CD-RW ($249), and DVD/CD-RW combo ($299). The bays also hold a floppy drive ($69) and various-size second hard drives. Or, if you're a power collector, you can fill both bays with extra batteries at $184 a pop.

You can also attach yet another, tube-shaped extra battery to the back edge of the laptop itself for a grand total of four batteries at once. If you're scoring at home, that includes the primary battery, two more in the Mobile Expansion Unit, and the extra cell on the back, all of which add up to a possible 10 hours of life, according to Compaq. The tube-shaped batteries come in two sizes: 14.8-volt, 1.96mAh for $179 and 14.4-volt, 2.7mAh for $219.

The Mobile Expansion Unit is also a port replicator, offering extra ports for parallel, serial, VGA, USB, and analog audio-in and -out, as well as two PS/2 slots. While the expansion unit and its complementary components aren't cheap, companies that already have Evo notebooks or Compaq Armada E and M Series laptops can save a few bucks by interchanging drives and batteries.

The Evo N410c offers a limited number of configuration options. You can choose a Pentium III-M processor running at either 1.0 GHz or 1.2 GHz; a 4,200 rpm hard drive at 20 GB or 30 GB; and 133-MHz SDRAM between 256 MB and 1,024 MB. The screen size and the graphics chip are limited to just one choice each—a 12.1-inch, active-matrix display with a default resolution of 1,024 x 768, and an ATI Mobility Radeon chip with 16 MB of 266-MHz DDR SDRAM.

The Evo N410c ships with no office suites or extra applications, which is typical for a corporate notebook since most companies already own software site licenses. But the system does include Compaq's remote-manageability program, Intelligent Manageability, which conveniently allows IS managers to keep tabs on your notebook's vitals when you're away from home base.

The Compaq Evo N410c is a thin-and-light notebook with great mobile application performance (Table A) and battery life. With its 1.2-GHz Pentium 3-M CPU, 256 MB of RAM, and 4,200 rpm hard drive, it scored higher than competing thin-and-light systems when CNET Labs ran MobileMark 2002. The Evo beat the similarly configured IBM ThinkPad X30 by a small amount and crushed the 933-MHz Gateway 200 by a significant margin.

Table A
Longer bars indicate faster performance.

Battery life
The Evo N410c's 14.4-volt, 2,700mAh primary battery kept it running for an impressive 229 minutes (Table B), just 10 minutes less than the ThinkPad X30, which has a 10.8-volt, 4,400mAh battery. (CNET Labs did not test the Evo's multitude of secondary batteries.) The Gateway, with its 7.4-volt, 3,600mAh battery, came in last place—not surprising, considering its smaller battery.

Table B
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance.

To measure mobile-application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. MobileMark measures both applications performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications: Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0.

Service and support
HP's approach to service and support is a mixed bag. On one hand, the company offers a three-year parts-and-labor warranty with all Evo N410cs, which we applaud. On the other hand, Compaq doesn't provide any options for extending service longer than three years. (Other vendors offer up to five years.) The only variations on the three-year plan are your choice of return-to-depot repair, onsite service, and accidental-damage coverage. Toll-free, 24/7 phone support lasts for the length of the warranty.

Compaq also puts all the documentation that you need on its handy Product Reference Library CD, which cuts down on the paper trail. In addition, the company includes some helpful hard-copy manuals with the system, such as the Getting Started guide to familiarizing yourself with the Evo N410c's system and features. Compaq's online support is average, offering an FAQ database and e-mail tech support but no good user forums or real-time chat sessions with the product-support department.

Complete specifications
Click here to check the latest prices. Table C lists complete product specifications.
Table C
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor type Pentium III-M
Clock speed 1.0 GHz (Reviewed: 1.2 GHz)
RAM installed 256 MB
RAM technology SDRAM
Max supported RAM 1 GB
Cache type L2 Cache
Cache size 512 KB
Hard drive size 20 GB (Reviewed: 40 GB)
Controller type IDE / EIDE
Physical Characteristics
Weight 3.5 lbs
Width 10.5 in
Depth 9.5 in
Height 0.89 in
Input device(s) included Keyboard, touchpad
Diagonal screen size 12.1 in
Display technology XGA TFT active matrix
Display max resolution 1024 x 768
Video / Audio
Video RAM installed 16 MB
Video output ATI Mobility Radeon
Audio output Integrated 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible
Modem / Networking
Modem type Fax / modem
Max transfer rate 56 Kbps
Networking 10/100 Ethernet
Expansion / Connectivity
Port(s) total (free) / Connector type 2 x USB, 1 x IrDA, 1 x Mic, 1 x TV-out, 1 x Parallel, 1 x Serial
Battery installed (max) Lithium Ion
Mfr estimated battery life 2.20 hr
Operational power consumption 65 Watt
OS provided Microsoft Windows XP Professional
Service / Support 3 year warranty
Processor speed:
The unit "MHz" measures microprocessor internal clock speed, not application performance. Many factors affect application performance.
Hard disk:
The unit "GB" represents 1,000 million bytes of hard disk capacity.
Modem max. data rate:
56k modems are capable of receiving data at speeds up to 56 kbps. However, due to FCC rules that restrict power output, maximum download speeds are limited to about 53 kbps. Data transmitting speeds are limited to 33.6 kbps. Actual speeds depend on many factors and are often less than the maximum possible.
Speed of CD-ROM drive:
Data transfer rates and transfer speeds will vary, depending on a variety of factors.

This review was originally published by CNET on Sept. 11, 2002.

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