Two years after Hewlett-Packard bought Compaq, those two brands can still seem like the products of separate companies. They still don't convey a clear message to any customer -- to judge from recent models we've seen, the Compaq name stands for affordable but unremarkable laptops and power-user desktops, while HP means power-user laptops and affordable, only somewhat remarkable desktops.
The Compaq Presario SR1000Z desktop emphasized making beginners feel welcome with such add-ons as Compaq Organize, a system taskbar that provides quick access to the software on the system. That bundle featured Microsoft Works Suite 2004, Microsoft Money 2004 (both old versions) and both spyware and antivirus protection. Windows XP was up to date, but a CD of it was not provided.
The HP Pavilion zd7000 laptop, meanwhile, offered no such front end and included only Works 7.0, not the full Suite release. On the other hand, this machine did include an actual Windows CD.
This 9.3-pound monster, equipped with a 17-inch widescreen LCD, gives off enough heat to warm your home, or at least your room, in the winter. (Only one of HP's home-use laptops weighs under six pounds.)
Both computers include Apple's iTunes music software, a refreshing break from the mediocre music software other Windows vendors bundle.
We reached tech support with less than a minute of hold time over four different calls. That's great by any standard, and the representatives we spoke to ably answered our questions.
The selection of HP and Compaq models at the company's Web site should meet even the tightest budget. Counting rebates, laptops start at $599 and desktops start at $379.
-- John Breeden II
Compaq Presario SR1000Z desktop, $968, 17-inch FP7317 LCD, $420 ($50 mail-in rebate available).
2 GHz AMD Sempron 3000+, 142 GB hard drive, 512 MB memory, 256 MB graphics memory, 48x32x48x CD-RW/16x DVD-ROM combo drive, 16x DVD-ROM drive, multi-format card reader, floppy drive, 100-Mbps Ethernet, v.92 modem, two PCI slots open; ports available: six USB 2.0, two FireWire, one parallel, one serial. On tested configuration, three-year warranty and three years of 24-hour, toll-free tech support; $40 per issue afterward.
HP Pavilion zd7000 laptop, $1,524 ($50 mail-in rebate available).
9.3 pounds, 17-inch widescreen LCD, 2.8 GHz Intel Pentium 4, 55.8 GB hard drive, 512 MB memory, 64 MB graphics memory, CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive (speeds not available), multi-format card reader, 100-Mbps Ethernet, v.92 modem, 802.11g WiFi, one PC Card slot, one FireWire, three USB 2.0 ports available. One-year warranty. One year of 24-hour, toll-free tech support; $40 per issue afterward.