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Editors' note: This review is part of our, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.

With any entry-level laptop, the first order of business is to figure out which features were sacrificed in order to hit a bargain-basement price. With the $349 Compaq Presario CQ62-215DX-one of the least expensive non-Netbook laptops available-you must make do with a single-core AMD Sempron processor, only 2GB of memory, neither a Webcam nor a media card reader, and so-so battery life. So, what does your $349 get you? For starters, an updated, attractive design, which is particularly impressive given the price. Most low-end laptops look the part, but the Compaq Presario CQ62 could pass for a laptop that costs double or triple its price. A comfortable keyboard sits below the roomy 15.6-inch display, though the single dual-use mouse button is stiff and difficult to use.

The Compaq Presario CQ62-215DX is unquestionably a looker for an entry-level laptop. The Toshiba Satellite C655-S5049 costs $50 less, however, and though it may have a less inspired design, it's more comfortable in use with its multitouch touch pad and superior (and separate) mouse buttons.

The Presario CQ62's performance is acceptable for basic, everyday use-the same tasks you'd use a Netbook for-but dual-core laptops cost only a bit more and offer much greater performance and likely a longer lifespan.

Price $349
Processor 2.19GHz AMD Sempron V120
Memory 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz
Hard drive 250GB at 7, 200rpm
Chipset
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250
Operating System
Dimensions (WDH) 14.7 x 9.7 x 1.4 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.5 / 6.3 pounds
Category Midsize

HP rolled out a long-overdue design update to its laptops earlier this year, and we're pleased to see the makeover extend down to the entry-level Presario CQ62. The glossy surfaces, chrome accents, and tapered edges of the previous design have been replaced with a simpler, more unified look. The chassis is made from a textured plastic that looks and feels like a Sony Vaio chassis (rarely a bad thing). The CQ62's matte-black casing features a textured diamond pattern.

The keyboard features wide, flat keys that result in a comfortable typing experience. HP leaves off a dedicated number pad, which only a small set of people-gamers, accountants, and data-entry jockeys-may miss, but it adds a column of shortcut keys along the left side of the keyboard. The keys offer one-button access to Windows Live Mail, CyberLink PowerDVD 9, your default browser, a print window, and a calculator. It will take some getting used to, however, before you're not hitting the print key instead of Shift, the calculator key instead of the Alt key, or caps lock instead of the "a" key.

We were never fans of the glossy touch pads of past HP and Compaq laptops, which struck us as an example of putting form before function. They may have looked good on a store shelf, but in use they created drag against your mousing finger. HP's new laptop design does away with the glossy touch pads; the Compaq Presario CQ62 features a touch pad with a matte finish. In fact, the textured design of the keyboard deck runs uninterrupted across the touch pad. Though we like the feel of the touch pad, we were disappointed to find it doesn't support multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling. We're seeing multitouch touch pads on more and more laptops, including Toshiba's entry-level Satellite C655-S5049.

A small LED sits in the upper-left corner of the touch pad. Double tap the corner, and the LED glows orange, alerting you that the touch pad is disabled. Double tap again, and the LED turns off and the touch pad is back in action. Neat.

Below the touch pad is a single mouse button bar; we prefer two separate mouse buttons. The button is very stiff, and didn't loosen up in the days we banged on the laptop during the course of this review. You really need to be deliberate with your mouse clicks-so deliberate, in fact, that we found ourselves using the click function of the touch pad to avoid struggling with the mouse button. As part of the laptop that a user interacts with the most, it's hard to fathom why more care wasn't used with designing the mouse button.

The laptop features Altec Lansing stereo speakers, and we were mildly impressed with their output. They are loud and clear enough at max volume to hear movie dialogue, but like nearly every laptop speaker set, they lack the depth to deliver satisfying music playback.

Compaq Presario CQ62-215DX Average for category [midsize]
Video VGA VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/ microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner

Not surprisingly, the Presario CQ62 lacks higher-end, but increasingly common, connections such as HDMI and eSATA ports and an ExpressCard slot. Many budget laptops leave these out. We were surprised, however, to find a media card reader absent; the even-cheaper Toshiba Satellite C655-S5049 features this convenient slot. But like the entry-level Satellite, the Presario leaves off a Webcam. The Presario does supply an always appreciated Wi-Fi on/off button (mapped to the F12 key). Lastly, some entry-level laptops cut a corner by leaving offer Draft N Wi-Fi, but that is not the case here.

The Compaq Presario CQ62-215DX is based on the single-core AMD Sempron processor. It's clocked at 2.2GHz, which is the same speed as the single-core Intel Celeron 900 chip on the Toshiba Satellite C665-S5049. In testing, both systems trailed the budget laptops with dual-core CPUs, the cheapest of which cost $150 to $200 more. The slowest dual-core system, the Dell Inspiron iM510R-1212PBL, was 16 percent faster on the multitasking benchmark than the Compaq CQ62. The Presario CQ62's only win occurred on our multitasking benchmark, where it bested the Satellite C665 by 34 percent. On our Photoshop and iTunes tests, the Compaq CQ62 finished dead last, trailing the Satellite C665 by 26 percent on both tests.



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