HP Compaq nx5000
Price: $1,199+ US
Swap out the DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive for a spare battery.
1400×1050 screen and keyboard with vi-friendly layout.
Good sound from JBL speakers.
Only two CDs of software installed.
Mystery lock up.
We covered HP's new Linux laptop at LinuxWorld in August 2004, and they loaned us one for a full review that fall. The nx5000 is a mid-size business notebook PC with a base weight of 5.75 pounds and a base price of $1,199. Display choices are XGA (1024×768) or SXGA+ (1400×1050), for an additional $75. Our review unit had the 1400×1050 screen and a combo DVD/CD-RW drive and weighed in at 2.85kg, or 6.28lb. The processor was a 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M. The nx5000 comes with 256MB to 2GB of memory, and ours had 512MB. A subset of SuSE 9.1 Professional is preinstalled and two CDs are included.
Physical layout is thoughtful, with a good-size keyboard. As on many laptops, the Ctrl keys are undersized and squeezed into the corner of the bottom row with a bunch of other modifiers. For regular use, you'll want to swap Caps Lock and Ctrl. The Escape key is undersized but in a convenient place above the tilde, and the backslash/pipe key is big and where it belongs, above Enter.
Overall size is larger than lightness-crazed road-warrior types will be comfortable with, but if you're transporting it only for commuting or occasional trips, the extra size and weight could be a good trade-off for you.
HP claims a full working day of battery life with both batteries installed, but laptop battery life is a notorious “your mileage may vary” measurement. Under light use with wireless on, including some text editing, Web surfing, listening to Internet radio and uploading the photo for this article, the nx5000 with one battery lasted more than 4.5 hours. HP installs Thomas Renninger's powersave dæmon, which is a nice touch.
The Atheros a/b/g card was not configured out of the box, but a quick point-and-click session to set it to DHCP brought it up on an 802.11b network. The installed Atheros driver is proprietary. There's one other proprietary module installed, the slamr module for Winmodem support.
Laptop audio is usually tinny and awful, but the nx5000's speakers, branded with a JBL Pro logo, are consumer audio quality and plenty good enough for Internet radio, playing games or watching a DVD. If you use the nx5000 as your home entertainment system too, the weight starts to look not so bad. Speaking of watching DVDs, the included DVD-playing software is InterVideo's LinDVD, which is DVD CCA-licensed. Playback was smooth, even with tasks running in the background. For day-to-day use, it might be more practical to swap out the DVD drive for the extra battery, use an independently developed DVD player that lets you play movies from the hard drive and simply connect an external drive when needed.
The volume controls for the speakers and headphones work separately, and the KDE volume control is configured to control speaker volume only. We had to go to the YaST volume settings control panel to turn up the headphones. This is a little confusing to start with, but the right thing for those times when you want to listen in private and not annoy everyone else in the library or café when you forget to plug in the headphones and an instant message comes in. A little user-interface help is needed here.
Everything onboard works, but how well is the system configured to work with the external USB devices that are your eyes and ears on the road?
We plugged in a brand-new Canon PowerShot S410 camera and fired up the preinstalled Digikam to pull the photos off with no configuration needed.
Plugging in a Sony DCR-HC20 MiniDV camcorder meant a little command-line work. The IEEE 1394 modules were installed, and following the instructions in Marcel's column in the December 2004 issue, we modprobed them in. Kino was not installed, but we brought in a copy from a SuSE 9.1 Professional DVD and captured some video.
It's understandable that a nonlinear video editing tool is missing from a default laptop install, but also strangely missing was OpenSSH, which people at Linux Journal use constantly. We pulled that in from the SuSE DVD as well. If you invest in this laptop, you also might want to pick up a copy of the full distribution so that you can get your favorite tools just as easily.
Fortunately, for our ability to test HP's Linux support, we found one thing that didn't work—the front-panel volume and mute buttons. We got through to a Linux support person quickly, but the nx5000 he had seemed not to have the same load as the review unit, and the solution that got the review unit working didn't work for him. The solution was to run LinEAK, which was installed but not running in our KDE session.
Finally, right before we sent the laptop back, one person was able to get the nx5000 to lock up twice in one day simply by editing a file with Vim in a Konsole window. Ctrl-Alt-Backspace wouldn't work to kill X, and we weren't able to duplicate the problem.
With the nx5000, HP gets closer than anyone has yet to a general-purpose business PC running Linux. If you want to make your company's Linux desktop migration a treat of working in café and enjoying media instead of a chore, get one to evaluate. Dorm-room or small-apartment dwellers can consider this as a good main computer and entertainment system.
Don Marti is Editor in Chief of Linux Journal.