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With all the rage focusing on post PC devices over the past 3 years one of the form factors that originally signified mobility, notebooks have also been cursed by the rise of Tablets and Smart phones. For me personally, nothing beats a good notebook, mobility and performance just being a couple of the many reasons why the form factor still reigns supreme. Since the beginning of this year I have been looking into purchasing a new laptop since my current one, an Acer Ferrari is beginning to get long in the tooth. Just to give you an idea: Wireless no longer works, features a mix of USB 1 and 2 I/O ports, the 160 GB drive is starting to get cramped, ATI Mobility Radeon Graphics can no longer keep up with the latest graphics packages, in addition to the 4 GB of DDR 2 RAM not handling the latest applications efficiently, battery life is abysmal (max I can get out of it is an hour some days) and the glossy display while great in some instances is not as bright and vibrant as it use to be. Although I have cared the system throughout its lifetime, itís becoming more ball and chain.
All of these points to the need for something that far surpasses that setup. Browsing the plethora of brands I looked at include Apple, Acer, HP, Lenovo, Sony, Toshiba and many others. I said to myself, if I am going to spend serious cash on a notebook (my budget is around 1500), I want something that will be able to take on a variety of task, which includes managing large libraries of media (photos, videos, music) in addition to handling industrial apps in architecture and design. I want my investment to be returned to me with this device. This is where the HP EliteBook comes in, a sweet balance between portability and desktop replacement, with the power of a third generation Intel Core I CPU, workstation class graphics, fast inputs: USB 3, eSATA, Firewire (1394a). The HP EliteBook series offers the right combination within a family of notebooks that range from 14 to 17 inches.
For this review, I settled on the 15 inch 8570w, a power house of features and performance that definitely shows its value in every dimension. What immediately impresses me about this notebook is the quality design and finish. Using a metal finish, you get the idea behind this notebook which is a no compromise approach to building something that not only looks good, but also delivers robust performance across the board. Letís start off with the specs:
This is certainly a jam packed system! I had to mention the RJ-45 and RJ-11 ports because on a lot of modern mobile systems, these have been supplanted by fast wireless. Regardless of this, wired Ethernet remains ubiquitous and necessary for many environments where wireless might not exist or sufficient. For instance, I work in education where we have a network infrastructure which supports wireless, but has been disabled because of abuse and the leadership within the organization does not want it up at all, even though it can be secured easily. So, wired Ethernet will remain the only method of access to our network for the foreseeable future. I should also mention the RJ-11, the last time I used a modem was around 2005, so I found that a bit strange part of this package. Even in a developing country such as Jamaica, local ISPs by default offer broad band or 3G/4G as part of their Internet bundles. I think itís a legacy port the EliteBook could have safely abandoned. Since we are on the topic of networking, the Elitebook includes integrated networking, both wireless and Bluetooth are integrated. So you canít have one without the other.
Setup & Installation
The EliteBook setup was easy and uneventful. I took it out of the simple flat rectangular box, opened it up, hit the unassuming power button and I was up and running in a few minutes. Again, the aesthetics of this notebook grabs you right away, the chassis feels robust and sturdy, built using quality materials of aerospace craftsmanship the metallic finish is just stunning and classy. The latch keeping the lid closed requires the push of a button to open it. On the front are subtle indicators for Wireless, Power, AC/Battery Power and Hard disk. Next to it is the Smart Card Reader providing easy access. On the left side of the chassis you will find a plethora of ports for HDMI, eSATA, 2x USB 2.0 ports, Firewire (1394) and a Express Card Slot. On the right side are audio in and out jacks along with 2x USB 3.0 super speed ports, Smart Card Reader, dual layer optical drive and VGA out.
The chassis features the now standard island style keys (which is my first time using such a keyboard for an extended period). I always assumed typing on such a keyboard would take some getting used to. Well I can prove myself wrong, since this entire review was typed using this machine. My assumption was the keys would require some travel, but that was not the case at all. The keys do require a little pressure when typing, but not much making the tactile feedback just right. This of course hints at the intention of avoiding accidental hits, they are just the right size, not too big or small. In addition to a full size keyboard you will find a numeric keypad which makes it excellent for number crunchers. A disappointment though is lack of a backlit keyboard which would have been great for those nights when you are working on a tough project in a dark room. At the upper right side of the chassis are quick access buttons for wireless, volume mute, Internet and Calculator. Below the keyboard, there is a Biometric reader providing authentication, encryption and pre-boot protection. Going back to the keyboard, at the center you will find the pointing stick for easily moving the mouse pointer with greater precision. It seemed a bit depressed when I open the lid, so I tried adjusting it a bit and popped off. No worry, as I was able to fit it on back without any fuss.
The crŤme de la crŤme of inputs is the excellent glass touchpad featuring a large surface area that makes working in your apps smooth and fast. The touchpad features six sets of buttons:
In addition these options, the Touchpad features built in gestures for easily working with documents and images. You can do two finger scroll smoothly vertically or horizontal. I notice on some cheaper notebooks that include similar gestures, the experience is erratic and almost uncontrollable. On the HP EliteBook, it just works smooth especially when scrolling a long web page or Word document, not a single lag. Itís on par with what you would find on an Apple MacBook Pro. Other gestures include Pinch and Zoom which is great for working with images, you can easily enlarge images. The Touchpad also has some hidden options, you can double tap to quickly turn it on or off from the upper left corner of the Touchpad. This is to prevent accidental activation of the touchpad when not needed in certain scenarios.
I notice after hibernating the EliteBook and resuming from hibernation the touchpad no longer worked. I restarted the system and it still would not work. I thought I had turned it off accidentally, but that was not the case. Even after uninstalling the touchpad from Device Manager in Windows 7, it refused to work. Eventually, I tried taking out the battery, wait a few minutes reinstalled it and started up again and it started working. This is something HP needs to investigate since some persons were not so lucky.
Performance & USe
The EliteBook 8570w comes with an Intel Core i5 vPro CPU, which makes it fit for persons who want to run virtual machines, featuring two cores and 4 threads through Hyper-Threading to handle a variety of demanding task easily. Intelģ Hyper-Threading Technology (Intelģ HT Technology) delivers two processing threads per physical core. Highly threaded applications can get more work done in parallel, completing tasks sooner. Now on its 3rd generation Core I series of processors, the Ivy Bridge bassd CPU utilizing the 22 NM lithography supports up to 32 GBs of RAM which is fully supported by the EliteBook. The smaller the geometry of the processor, the faster and more power efficient it is. The clock speed is 2.8 GHz in this model, with Turbo boost up to 3.5 GHz. Turbo Boost is an intelligent throttling technology which allows the CPU to reduce power for day to day activities, before task that might require the power of all cores at its full processor cycle Turbo boost will give it maximum speed. Some examples include rendering task in Photoshop or AutoCAD or running an Antivirus scan. vPro is Intelís enterprise hardware assisted virtualization technology which allows you to run virtual machines and efficiently manage them over your network securely.
Upgrading the RAM is exceptionally easy, just turn it over, and slide the latch near the battery and the chassis opens up revealing the empty slot. You can install additional memory in the slots located under the keyboard too. See the screenshots for examples.
Performance is more than just processor and graphics. Because the HP EliteBook comes with a standard mechanical hard disk, there is a bit of bottle neck in areas where read/write performance is concerned. This is evident even with the boot performance of Windows 7, which comes in at a dramatic 52 seconds versus the HP Z210 I reviewed earlier in 2012 which starts up in 6 seconds, even with the amount of data I have accumulated over a year now. To make up for this, USB 3.0 support allows the read/write to deliver significant performance when moving data back and forth. For instance, I backed up a 4.2 GB user Windows Easy Transfer .MIG file using an Iomega Super Speed USB 3.0 supported external hard disk. The backup only took a few minutes. To contrast the performance restoring the backup using the Super Speed USB on HP EliteBook, I was impressed, only taking about 8 minutes which would require at least 22 minutes if I was using USB 2.0. Although there is support for 128 to 256 GBs of purchase, cost might be a factor and storage might be a priority over speed. Besides, when the system is fully booted itís just as fast in most daily operations compared to the HP Z210 Workstation.
The results speak for themselves, especially in the Computation and System Storage scores. The bottleneck is definitely the spinning disk; the HP Z210 on the other hand uses an SSD. So, you might want to seriously consider the SSD as an option at purchase and invest in an external hard disk which is very cheap for additional storage needs. Check out the other test I performed.
Paginate 69 Page Document
Rip from CD and Encoding Ė 73 Minute Audio disc Ė HP Z210
Rip from CD and Encoding Ė 73 Minute Audio disc Ė HP Elitebook
The HP Elitebooks optical drive was no match for the HP Z210, taking 2 mins 58 seconds longer to rip the same CD. Encoding in iTunes took a little bit longer than expected too.
HP Z210 Antivirus Scan Ė Microsoft Security Essentials
HP EliteBook Antivirus Scan Ė Microsoft Security Essentials
Antivirus scanning is a CPU intensive task, so I was impressed with the results I got with the Intel Core i5 when running a full virus scan. You can definitely see the benefits of Hyper Threading in such a scenario. 587,731 files were scanned within 15 minutes, 11 minutes faster than the HP Z210 which is using an Intel Xeon E31245 processor and a SSD.
Start and Shutdown performance
Acer Ferrari 5000
Boot time was measured from BIOS screen to desktop with clickable Start menu in Windows 7.
Acer Ferrari running Windows 8 Pro.
Again, the bottleneck which is the hard disk spoils the show a bit coming in at a rather disappointing 52 seconds. Albeit, the system performs wonderfully when fully booted, but if you hibernate and shutdown the machine a lot, you will play the waiting game a lot throughout the day and trust me, if you are exposed to an SSD, it spoils you! J I did a basic copy to disk task using a 3.5 GB ISO file on three systems. USB 3.0 is absolutely fast and the results prove it. Surprisingly, there were no differences versus the Z210, in fact it was only 4 milliseconds slower than the EliteBook. You do see the difference with USB 2.0.
Input/Output Performance Ė Copy to Disk Ė 3.5 GB ISO file
Display & Graphics
The EliteBook display features a 15.6" diagonal LED-backlit HD+ WVA anti-glare with a max resolution of 1600 x 900. My 7 year old Acer in comparison supports 1920 x 1080 but suffers when it comes to its glossy display. At home I work in a room with a lot of natural light, so I am subjected to a lot of reflections. Since I started using the HP EliteBook I have not experienced any of it and you can see for yourself in the pictures I took. The display automatically adjusts brightness when not in use within minutes. You can make further adjustments from the Power Options Control Panel. The screen is bright and crisp, photos pop while text is smooth with deep blacks and colors richer and fuller when viewed in person. You will find ports such as HDMI and VGA out allowing you to connect additional displays or high definition displays to extend your work area. The Web Cam records and takes pictures at up to 1280 x 720, quality is respectable too, great for fun and communication activities such as Skype which comes bundled with the HP.
As I keep saying, this is a no compromise notebook, the graphics can be added to that list. Featuring a powerful top of the line workstation class NVIDIA Quadro K1000M (2 GB dedicated DDR3). Excellent for apps such as Photoshop, Adobe Premier and AutoCAD.
Image Processing Test
I did some common image processing tests using Adobe Photoshop CS6, here are the results.
Test were executed using 11 Action Scripts by Script Arsenal. Shorter bar indicates best. Interestingly enough, the older HP XW4600 Workstation came out ahead. Although, I should note, the Core i5 included with the EliteBook does not have Hyper-Threading a technology Photoshop can benefit from in such scenarios.
Sound & Disk
I mentioned earlier I want a computer for my large library of media. Music is something thatís always a part of my computing experience. The EliteBook certainly does not disappoint, featuring pumping bass with a warm rich quality that fills the room. I have always admired some of HP laptops when it comes to sound quality. Itís especially great when watching a movie; you really admire the engineering that went into this laptop. The EliteBook bundles SRS Premium Sound Pro technology providing you with easy tools to fine tune the quality of your listening experience whether you are enjoying music, listening voice or watching a movie. Options for each category include bass, treble, center, space and focus. You can use the Graphic Equalizer to target a range of genres such as Folk, Grunge, Jazz, Metal, New Age, Opera, Reggae and many others.
Disk and Partitions
The HP EliteBook includes a 500 GB 7200 RPM hard disk with support for SATA II. HP includes 3D DriveGuard which protects the hard drive against sudden movements or impacts to the computer. The partitioning scheme list three disks:
Of course, if you want to blow it out and just have Windows 7 and the necessary drivers installed, you can do that. HP includes the Windows 7 operating system install disc separately, so if you donít want the bundled apps that come preinstalled that option is available, although this will entail some manual work on your part. I did a backup after I had initially setup the HP and that required at least 83 GBs of space. When you take into account Windows 7 uses approximately 8 to 10 GBs of space, you could definitely reap some additional space by blowing out the support partitions. I would still create a system image before doing this.
Operating System & Bundled Software
One trade off though is support for some unique features only found in the Enterprise or Ultimate edition of Windows 7 and that is support for BitLocker Drive Encryption. Windows 7 Professional does not support the Trusted Platform Module which is supported by the EliteBook. TPM is a required component for BitLocker to work in order to decrypt an encrypted hard disk. HP makes up for that though with the bundled HP Protection Tools which provides encryption, biometric reader and pre-boot protection (read on for further information). For businesses that intend to purchase EliteBook in bulk, you will likely already have a volume license contract which entitles you to the Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade license and the preloaded Windows 7 Professional already works as a qualifying license.
The EliteBook also supports Windows 8; you can make that an option at purchase. Because Windows 8 is still maturing, I prefer the proven and mature Windows 7 which features excellent performance across the board. Of course, Windows 8 does have the edge in areas such as better battery life, startup and ability to be used on Touch devices; you wonít miss it on a form factor such as the EliteBook though.
The EliteBook comes with a lot of HP branded software:
Apart from the above, you also get Microsoft Office Starter 2010 which includes Word Starter and Excel Starter 2010. This introductory edition of Office fits the bill for most persons needs. Although I have a license for Office 2010 Professional, I didnít bother to install it and this review was typed up just fine in Word Starter 2010. Unfortunately, Microsoft has discontinued the Starter edition with the release of 2013. So, future notebooks will come with a trial of Office 365 which you will have to sign up for a subscription for after 30 days. I guess Microsoft found out it was too good, possibly cannibalizing sales of premium editions of Office. I know a lot of persons at work who use it without any problems.
Microsoft Security Essentials comes bundled as the default Antivirus utility and I have no problems with that since itís what I use on my other systems at work and home. Itís free and Microsoft releases regular updates for it. You also get other software such as Skype, a recent Microsoft acquisition which I use for instant messaging and video conferencing with friends.
Overall, there is nothing to hate in the bundled software selection. Of course, you might not want it and you have the option of course to remove it if you wish.
The EliteBook comes built in with a strong suite of security features. The physical security cable lock can lock your machine to a desk, great for open spaces you might be working in such as a cafť or open office. The hand rest area has a Biometric reader which is easy to setup so you can skip complex passwords. The process takes the swipe of a finger to start the setup wizard. The HP Protect Tools Security Manager provides different levels of security, including Drive Encryption and Pre-Boot Security (which is not natively available in Windows 7 Professional). I chose to use only the Windows Logon Security option. After entering a few security questions and deciding on what to protect I was prompted to choose more than one index finger for backup purposes (just in case you lose one in an accident I guess, which can become an unfortunate reality). After confirming with a series of swipes, I was ready. No more need to remember or enter complex passwords, with just the swipe of a finger I was at the desktop.
I used the EliteBook throughout a normal workday and was definitely pleased with it under real world conditions. The Battery Type: 8-cell (83 WHr) Li-Ion battery is expected to provide up to 6 hours and 30 minutes. With balanced power options in Windows enabled, I was able to get the total 6 hours and 30 minutes just doing light web browsing. If you make adjustments to the Power Options and dim the display, you can get a full day use out of it.
Maintenance & Support
I have been using the HP EliteBook for more than a couple weeks now and I notice keeping it clean is a lot easier than prior laptops I have owned. For instance, itís not a dust trap. HP Services offers limited 3-year standard parts and labor warranty, pick-up or carry-in, and toll-free 24x7 hardware technical phone support (depending on model); On-site service and warranty upgrades are also available.
The PC industry is definitely in a state of transition right now. The biggest trend being underpowered good enough devices such as Chromebookís (even HP has gotten into the game) or Tablets such as the iPad. The belief is that the days of over powered systems such as the EliteBook are now over. That maybe true in the foreseeable future, but for today, I still need to manage my large library of media I have accumulated over the years, I canít take that to the cloud just yet. The apps I use canít be satisfied by the Cloud either or Tablet. Itís all about no compromise really, itís all about mobility and power in a package that not only looks good on the outside, but offers the support and maintenance any professional is looking for on the inside too. Who is the HP EliteBook for though? This is an important question, because the specs immediately suggest high end professional environments (video editing suite, architectural design, graphic design, and data analysis), taking into account the GPU, Processor, Display and features such as 1394. Itís also a great value for someone looking for a robust notebook that does not sacrifice on everything. It looks good and powerful enough for anything you want to throw at it. My recommendations stand, seriously consider the SSD at purchase, I am sure it will make a world of difference in areas where performance bottlenecks exist with a spinning disk. This is an impressive package that delivers a lot of value to anyone looking for a robust mobile solution.