HP 6910p notebook received - first impressions

HP6910p Santa keeps bringing me toys and it isn't even Christmas yet.  This time I received the long awaited HP 6910p notebook computer.  I like to do first impression posts pretty quickly on new hardware because first impressions count, and I forget about the out of box experience later.

In the spirit of transparency you should know that HP is sponsoring my team this fiscal year although the year is half over and we just got the machine.  I don't know what that means, but I'm guessing we'll have the HP 6910p long after the fiscal year closes on June 30th.  I also have no idea why the 6910p was chosen.  I would have picked a different machine but since I wasn't asked, I'll just accept what I was given and assume HP had a good reason.  AT&T is also sponsoring our HSDPA cell module data connections in the unit.  Thanks HP and ATT.  We appreciate the goodies.  Now for my initial thoughts on the machine.

The Hardware

I like the form factor.  The 6910p is a 14.1" widescreen and the LCD we have runs a native resolution of 1440x900.  This unit is going to make a nice travel partner.  It isn't the slickest until on the market from a size perspective, but the dimensions are pretty nice.

The machines we received are full featured.  It has the Intel PM965 "Santa Rosa" chipset, the Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor, 4GB of RAM, 120GB 7200rpm SATA primary drive, ATI Mobility Radeon X2300 discrete video processor with 128MB of memory, 3 USB ports, IEEE 1394 "FireWire" port, Intel 82566MM GigE Ethernet, Intel 4965AGN wireless, Sierra Wireless HSDPA cell wireless, etc.  In short, pretty much all the bells and whistles.

Included with my package were a couple of Multibay hard drives.  Those hard drives allow me to have two spindles in the unit which is a core requirement for my team when running the usual array of virtual machine demos.  Unfortunately, the drives that came were 80GB 5400rpm PATA drives.  What am I supposed to do with them?  They aren't going to cut it so I pulled a 100GB 7200rpm PATA drive from a USB enclosure I have and replaced one of the 80GB drives with it.  That wasn't a trivial chore.  A NASA engineer must have designed the Multibay hard drive enclosure because it took some time to disassemble it, replace the drive, and reassemble it.  Fun.

The LCD screen has a matte finish and is plenty bright.  I've been running 1680x1050 or higher resolutions on my other 15.4" laptops so going back to 1440x900 seemed like a step backwards, but you get used to it pretty quickly.  The ATI Catalyst drivers work on Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 RC1.  We'll get to my units long term role but this is probably a good hint.

The 6910p includes an integrated smart card reader (I haven't tried yet), a PCMCIA card bus slot, S-Video out, VGA out, audio connections and a SD slot for memory cards.  We received the standard battery (from what I can tell) but haven't tested battery life.  I normally run plugged in on high performance so I don't worry too much about life.

One thing I would have liked in this machine is an ExpressCard slot.  HP now makes other business notebooks with an ExpressCard slot so if that is important to you, you might want to consider one of those models.

The Software

I was pretty pleasantly surprised with the first boot experience.  On the first boot, you are given the option of installing either the 32bit or 64bit version of Windows Vista Business.  That is soo cool.  I picked the x64 version and let the install proceed.  The install takes a pretty long time.  The installation routine partitions the primary drive into several partitions, installs the software, then takes a snapshot of everything for later recovery if needed.  I thought that was nicely done although it takes over an hour for the process to complete.  After logging in and checking a few things out, I did my usual best practice of creating the disk recovery set (which HP supplies a program for).  I created the factory image recovery disk set which takes either 9 CDs, 2 DVDs or a single dual layer DVD.  After it completed, I booted the disk set to see if it looked like it would work, then flattened the box.

Why would I flatten the machine?

Simple, Hyper-V baby!!!  As you might suspect from the previous paragraph, I did not spend any time looking at the Windows Vista implementation provided for any significant period of time.  It looked like the usual OEM stuff but I did notice it was not cluttered with a bunch of software I would not need.  I did see a firewall product, a lite version of Roxio 9, a DVD playback product, etc.  It looked like a well thought out mix.  You know, business stuff. 

But I need a server demo machine and wanted to see if this little bad boy would run Windows Server 2008 RC1 with the Hyper-V virtualization stack.  I was not disappointed.  Windows Server 2008 RC1 setup allowed me to nuke the partitions, re-partition the drive and install the Enterprise edition without issue.  I turned on wireless support, audio support, installed the ATI Catalyst video drivers, etc.  I also installed the ATT cell module software and confirmed it works with Windows Server 2008 Enterprise x64.  It does.  The 6910p is running Windows Server 2008 RC1 x64 with Hyper-V nearly as fast as my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p.  This is a really good sign.  I loaded up a massive MOSS virtual machine and confirmed it ran well enough.  It did.

Summary

Looks like I have a nice little workhorse machine.  I need another primary drive so I can easily swap operating systems if needed.  I am also investigating the true capabilities of the Multibay.  It would appear that although I received a PATA hard drive Multibay caddy, this unit also supports SATA drives in the Multibay.  Time will tell on that.

When I receive another primary drive, I'll go back and install some other operating systems and try them out.  Until then, I plan to keep on using it as a Windows Server 2008 RC1 demo server. Cheers.

[UPDATE for 1/19/2008]  I finally got around to installing the x64 version of Windows Vista Ultimate on this machine so I thought I would offer some additional information.  First, it appears there is an issue with the Intel AMT drivers, service and software.  On my machine it hangs the Explorer shell at login.  It eventually gets past whatever the error is but it isn't the best experience.  After removing the software in add/remove programs, it plays nice.  Something for HP and Intel to look into.  Maybe us as well.

Second, I don't really like some of the hardware design aspects.  There are intake/exhaust areas on the bottom.  This means if you plan to use it on your lap, you'll definitely want to use a Targus Coolpad or something so that the machine can breath properly.

Third, it's a little noisy.  It isn't terrible but it is noticeable.  I am running default power and fan settings in the BIOS so I may experiment with that over time to see if I can reduce some of the noise. 

To summarize, it runs Windows Vista x64 and Windows Server 2008 x64 fast and clean as expected.  It's smaller and lighter than my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p so it's going to make it hard to decide what to take on the road with me.  I would imagine it'll get the nod when I have to take two machines.  Since I'm running x64 versions of the OS, I did not spend any time looking at the factory 32bit image that it shipped with.  Enjoy.