HP's corporate range has undergone something of a return-to-basics approach and the Compaq nc8230 fits neatly into this philosophy. The gun-metal grey of the chassis is understated and the magnesium-alloy and plastic has been to used to great effect to make a solid and sturdy chassis. It may not be the most stylish machine on test here, but it's certainly the toughest.

Weighing in at 2.8kg, the body of the nc8230 is large enough to accommodate a 15.4-inch screen. Being a business machine, it lacks the Super-TFT coating you'll find on more consumer-biased HP laptops. While images are sharp, we found the screen had a very small brightness range, which isn't ideal.

The screen is supported by the ATi Mobility Radeon X600 graphics adapter, which is an entry-level offering but more than up to the job of handling everyday graphics, whether that's a presentation, editing images or simply watching a DVD.

HP has taken advantage of the widescreen to design the main chassis so the keyboard sits squarely in the centre by placing small speakers on either side. The keyboard is well spaced and the keys firm and comfortable to use. With a touchpad as well as a pointing stick, along with two sets of mouse and scroll buttons, users are spoilt for choice regarding navigation.

Under test, the machine returned a battery life of 261 minutes and while the chassis may not be the most portable, such a battery life and the tough design of the case make it ideal for those who need a reliable machine on the move.

Based around Intel's Centrino platform, you'll find an Intel Pentium M 750, which runs at 1.86GHz, Intel 915PM chipset and PRO/Wireless 2200BG Wi-FI adapter supporting 802.11g. The processor is backed by 512MB of DDR2 memory and, while the 60GB hard drive isn't the largest on offer, the 5400rpm rotational speed is quick enough for most users.

The optical drive burns CDs but not DVDs, which is less than ideal when performing large back-ups, but it will play both types of disc.

Performance proved to be reliable with the MobileMark 2005 score of 196 living up to our experiences of using this machine on a daily basis. Capable of handling tasks with ease, we found no flaws with loading or saving to disk, with the system running tasks effortlessly.

The HP Compaq nc8230 may be an understated laptop to look at but, in terms of performance and handling, it has everything the typical worker will be looking for. Portability may not be its strong point, but you'll find plenty to recommend in this machine.