Made for small business users, HP's ProBook 4425s is the newest AMD-powered 14-inch member of the company's popular line. With a classy, but sturdy design and excellent keyboard, the 4425s ($849 as configured) looks the part of a more expensive executive-class system. However, its quad-core AMD processor leaves much to be desired, as does its battery life. Add to that a somewhat finicky touchpad, and you've got a small business machine that doesn't quite make the cut.
Weighing 5 pounds and measuring 13.2 x 9.2 x 1.1 inches, the 4425s isn't the lightest or thinnest 14-inch notebook, but it slides into a bag easily enough (the Lenovo ThinkPad L412, for example, weighs 5.2 pounds). Like other ProBooks, the 4425s has a brushed aluminum lid and deck with a glossy black plastic bezel and keyboard mount. While some may prefer the ProBook 5310m's black aluminum finish or the unadorned EliteBook 8440p, we didn't mind the dark brown color of the 4425s. The bottom of the machine is constructed from hard plastic.
Unlike the EliteBook 8440p, the 4425's lid is connected to the rest of the chassis with a plastic drop hinge. The look is slick, but it's not as durable as the magnesium hinges on the EliteBook. However, the keyboard is spill-resistant, and HP's 3D DriveGuard helps protect the hard drive from sudden movement or shock.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like most of HP's premium notebooks, the ProBook 4425s has an island-style keyboard. We found it very comfortable to type on, and were up to our typical speed in no time. We liked the slightly gritty texture on the surface of the keys, which kept our fingers from slipping.
While HP has made strides with the touchpad in the Envy 14, we found the 4425s' touchpad slightly more finicky. While not as egregious as before, the cursor sometimes jumped as we navigated the desktop. Because the mouse buttons are built into the touchpad, users who use both hands will have a serious problem with the pointer jumping as they try to click. The 3.5 x 2-inch pad supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, but we found them to be rather jerky and hard to control without using two fingers.
Throughout our tests, the ProBook 4425s stayed pleasantly cool. Even after streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad at 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard at 88 degrees, and the bottom at 83 degrees. All are well below what we consider uncomfortable.
Ports and Webcam
For a 14-inch notebook, the ProBook 4425s has a typical spread of connections. On the left side is a Kensington lock slot, VGA port, Ethernet, HDMI, eSATA/USB port, a regular USB port, and an ExpressCard/34 slot. On the front lip are audio in/out jacks and a 5-in-1 memory card reader. The right side has two more USB ports (for a total of four), as well as a modem port and a tray-loading dual-layer DVD SuperMulti drive.
The 2-megapixel webcam provided reasonably sharp images, though low-light performance was mediocre. When conducting a Skype call from our office cubicle, the dim overhead lighting produced a fair amount of visual noise, even though fine details of our face and fingers were visible to the other caller.
Display and Audio
We liked the matte finish on the 14-inch, 1366 x 768 display; we could turn the screen nearly 90 degrees left and right of center and still see the images on screen. A 720p episode of Glee streamed from Fox.com was crisp, but colors were somewhat muted, and we noticed some artifacts in areas where lighter colors transitioned to dark. However, a 1080p WMV file ("The Discoverers") was bright and vivid.
At maximum volume, the 4425s' speakers were loud enough to fill a large room, but the sound was unpleasantly tinny when we rocked out to a heavy metal tune. However, when we switched to jazz, the sound was less grating.
Despite having a 1.6-GHz AMD Phenom II P920 quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 7,200-rpm hard drive, the ProBook 4425s's performance was mediocre. On PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures overall system performance, the 4425s scored 3,522, below the category average (4,404), as well as the Lenovo ThinkPad L412 (4,167) and HP EliteBook 8440p (5,552). However, in everyday tasks--surfing the web, writing documents, and watching movies--the 4425s was able to keep up. While playing music from Pandora and running a virus scan, we were able to zoom around Manhattan in Google Earth with 3D buildings turned on with no impact on performance.
The ProBook's 7,200-rpm, 250GB hard drive was adequately fast, completing our file transfer test (copying 4.97GB of mixed media files), in 3 minutes and 4 seconds--a transfer rate of 27.7 MBps. That's about 4 MBps faster than the category average, well above the T412 (18.6MBps), but a hair slower than the 8440p (29.6 MBps). The drive booted into Windows 7 Professional (32-bit) in a speedy 55 seconds, a little faster than the category average of 61 seconds.
The 4425s completed the Oxelon video transcoding test, in which we convert a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI using Oxelon media converter, in 1 minute and 46 seconds. That's about 40 seconds slower than the category average, and well behind the 8440p (55 seconds) and the L412 (1:03).
The ProBook 4425s has an integrated ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 series chip with 256MB of dedicated video memory that provides marginally better performance than its Intel GMA HD counterpart. On 3DMark06, a benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the 4425s scored 1,760, which is below the thin and light average (2,479), but nearly equal to the EliteBook 8440p (1,766) and better than the ThinkPad L412 (1,586). This means you can get away with casual gaming so long as you don't have all the eye candy cranked up.
On World of Warcraft, we managed 51 frames per second with the resolution set to 1024 x 768 and effects on default; that's equal to the 8440p and the L412, but well below the average of 89 fps. Maxing out everything dropped the 4425s to just 14 fps. In the more demanding game Far Cry 2, the ProBook managed 21 fps at 1024 x 768. Though that score below the category average (28 fps) and virtually unplayable, it's still twice as good as the L412 and EliteBook 8440p.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Sadly, the 4425s lasted just 3 hours and 2 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). Although we're seeing a lot more 14-inch systems with similar endurance, that's still not a good endurance for a laptop that's designed to be portable. The L412 lasted 3:47, while the EliteBook 8440p lasted 4:41, just a few minutes shy of the category average. The good news is that you can add a 9-cell battery for $69.
The ProBook 4425s' Broadcom 4313 802.11n Wi-Fi card was also lackluster. We measured throughput of 20.3 Mbps when the system was 15 feet from the router, and 16.2 Mbps when it was 50 feet away. Both scores fall below the averages of 29.1 and 20.6 Mbps, respectively.
HP preloads the 4425s with its ProtectTools security suite, which is the best set of security tools we've seen on a business notebook. The ProtectTools wizard allows you to set up a single password that provides preboot security, serves as your windows login, and gives you access to your hard drive, which it also encrypts. Without this password a thief would not be able to boot the system or even get data off of its hard drive. You can even set up face detection with the Web cam, so that only your mug can unlock the notebook. You can also use the File Sanitizer to completely shred files you no longer need so they can't be undeleted.
If you lose your password, HP has a solution. With the included SpareKey program, you can set up three identifying questions that will help you get your access back.
QuickWeb and QuickLook
Like other ProBooks, the 4425s comes with two instant-on options, QuickWeb and QuickLook. QuickWeb is a browser-only version of DeviceVM's common Splashtop OS. When the power is off, it took 30 seconds after hitting the QuickWeb button (F6) for the computer to boot and launch a Mozilla-based browser, which isn't the fastest (the ProBook 4720s took just 15 seconds, for example) but it's a little speedier than booting into Windows. However, we had difficulty connecting to our router using the QuickWeb configuration utility.
The 4425s now runs QuickLook 3, an instant environment that not only lets you see the contents of your Outlook inbox, but, unlike previous versions, edit it as well. While being able to compose new e-mails is a plus, QuickLook is still limited in that it doesn't download new e-mails from the Internet and only shows you what was in your inbox the last time you used Outlook in Windows.
Also included is DayStarter, which shows you your Outlook calendar for the day while the notebook is starting up.
The ProBook 4425s' eight-cell battery took 1 hour and 10 minutes to reach a 80-percent charge. To get to 100 percent, it needed a total of 1 hours and 55 minutes. During that time, the system used an average of 45.3 watts. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency rating of 28.6 was slightly worse than the 22.2 category average (lower is better). EPEAT gives the ProBook a rating of 21 out of 27.
Software and Warranty
Along the top of the desktop is the HP Advisor Dock, which has links and shortcuts to HP's utilities, eBay, and security. While it's somewhat limited in its usefulness--there's nothing here that can't be easily accessed through the Start menu--you can customize it to your liking.
HP also added PowerAssistant, a power management utility that shows you how much energy, money, and CO2 you save by selecting certain power profiles. In addition to five presets (Power Saver, Office, Mobile, Presentation, High Performance), users can also create their own profile.
Trials of McAfee, Corel Home Office, and Microsoft Office are included, as well as a full version of ArcSoft Media suite, which, among other things, upscales DVDs to look more Blu-ray-like.
On its website, HP sells the ProBook 4425s in three Smart Buy configurations; ours was the most expensive, though you can spend as little as $619 on the system--not that we'd recommend that. The base model comes with a 2.1-GHz AMD Athlon II P320 dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. You can also custom configure a ProBook with just the components you want, but this option is much more expensive.
As of this writing, the only way to purchase an extended 9-cell battery ($69) is to custom configure the notebook, in which case the system will cost $1,233.
HP also offers 14-inch Intel-based ProBooks: The 4420s starts at $759, and comes with a 2.26-GHz Intel Core i3-350M processor, 2GB of RAM, a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, Intel HD graphics, and a 6-cell battery.
While it sports an attractive and durable design and comes with helpful security software, the $849 HP ProBook 4425s lacks both the power and endurance of similarly priced competition. For $130 more, the HP EliteBook 8440p, for example, gives you much better performance and battery life; same goes for the $859 Lenovo ThinkPad L412, which has the same RAM and hard drive, but an Intel Core i3-370M processor. Yes, this small business machine gives you quad-core power, but it doesn't last long enough on a charge.