The HP Compaq 8710w is an updated version of the nw9440 mobile workstation, and HP has done more than just plumb in Intel's Santa Rosa motherboard-chip-wireless combo. The HP Compaq 8710w boasts an innovative touchpanel, a new graphics chip with an HDMI output and the option to run Windows Vista.
The HP Compaq 8710w is still an ugly sister to the 17in MacBook Pro's Cinderella, but its matte grey flash is an improvement over its predecessor's dull black and HP has kept the HP Compaq 8710w's best case-design feature: icons for all of the ports around the keyboard, making it easy to find the right port without moving the laptop.
The HP Compaq 8710w has a responsive keyboard with a numeric keypad, and a choice of trackpad - with three buttons and a vertical scrollbar - or pointer (not that we've ever met anyone who actually prefers a pointer to a trackpad). Above the HP Compaq 8710w's keyboard sits a touchpanel strip that can be used to launch applications and increase or decrease audio levels. It is not a true innovation like Apple's magnetic power connector - but quite nifty anyway.
Considering its specifications, the HP Compaq 8710w is an excellent performer. With a 2.2GHz processor, it was noticeably slower in our Cinebench rendering test than the 2.4GHz chip-powered 17in MacBook Pro, but almost two percent faster than the 15in MacBook Pro which has the same chip. However, if you plan to invest in a mobile workstation, we recommend paying a little extra and getting the faster T7700 chip, as you'll appreciate the speed boost.
Today's Intel Core 2 Duo chips are only between 66-84MHz faster than the previous generation (as seen in the HP Compaq 8710w) but Santa Rosa offers faster throughput between components, with the frontside bus speed raised from 667MHz to 800MHz.
Strangely, the HP Compaq 8710w outperformed the 17in MacBook Pro in our After Effects test. This may be because our review unit ran the 64bit version of Windows Vista and had 4GB of RAM, something After Effects can take full advantage of through splitting the rendering process using its new multiprocessor technology, which is beyond Mac OS X 10.4. Because not all applications support Vista yet - including Avid Xpress Pro and many 3D packages - HP offers XP as an option.
Also new in the HP Compaq 8710w is nVidia's Quadro FX 1600M, replacing the 1500M. This adds some power-boosting technology and support for Shader Model 4.0, and has 512MB of RAM of its own. However, for a top-of-the-line model like the HP Compaq 8710w, we'd expect a higher-end chip, such as the 2500M or 3500M.
The Quadro FX 1600 delivered less power in simple 3D scenes than the GeForce 8600GT used by the MacBook Pro, but more in complex Maya 8.5 scenes. It powers a glossy 1,920x1,200 display that is just as impressive as the MacBook Pro's, although there's no option of a matte screen. The use of this nVidia chip allows HP to include an HDMI port instead of a DVI port with the HP Compaq 8710w, which can be connected to a standard LCD display using a HDMI-to-DVI cable. The separate VGA port may seem redundant, but there remain projectors out there lacking DVI inputs.
The HP Compaq 8710w is one of the best 17in mobile workstations on the market, ostensibly because its main rival Dell is yet to announced a Santa Rosa-powered replacement of the Precision M90. However, it's a shame that HP failed to make the Compaq 8710w as small and light as the MacBook Pro, and didn't include a more powerful graphics chip.