Made for business users on a budget looking for a big screen and enough performance to last the next few years, HP’s 4720s is the newest 17-inch member of the company’s popular ProBook line. With a snappy Core i5 CPU, discrete graphics, a high-res 1600 x 900 screen, and good battery life, this desktop replacement (starting at $925; $1,059 as configured) has what it takes to sit on a lot of desks. We also like the built-in software and security options. Unfortunately, an awkward touchpad prevents the 4720s from getting a higher rating.
At 6.8 pounds and 16.2 x 10.5 x 1.1 inches, the 4720s is considerably more portable than other 17 and 18-inch systems like the Toshiba Satellite P505 (8.6 pounds), Dell Studio 17 (7.8 pounds), and Acer Aspire 8940G (9.2 pounds). Like other ProBooks, the 4720s has a brushed aluminum lid and deck with a glossy black plastic bezel and keyboard mount. Unlike the ProBook 5310m, which had a slick black aluminum lid and deck, the 4720s’s lid and deck are a bland coffee color. The bottom of the machine is constructed from hard plastic.
Keyboard and Touchpad
At first glance, the ProBook 4720s’s keyboard seems like everything we’d want in a workstation keyboard; it has a numeric keypad, all the keys are properly positioned, and there’s plenty of room to stretch out. As soon as we started typing, our opinion changed. The keys were a little small for our fingers, and not as responsive as we’d like. On the Ten Thumbs typing test, we scored a weak 74 words per minute with a subpar 4-percent error rate, while our typical score is 80 wpm with a 1-percent error rate.
The touchpad is much more difficult to work with than the keyboard, and the cursor jumped around 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 pad supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, but we found them to be rather jerky and hard to control.
Throughout our tests, the ProBook 4720s stayed pleasantly cool. Even after streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad at a reasonable 92 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard at a palatable 93 degrees, and the bottom at a chilly 89 degrees. Even though it probably wouldn’t fit on most laps, it’s nice to know that the system is cool enough to use if you’re wearing shorts.
As you might expect from a desktop replacement, the ProBook 4720s has a lot of connections. On the left side are a Kensington lock slot, VGA port, Ethernet, HDMI-out, eSATA/USB port, 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. The system can also be configured with a 56K modem. The only port that’s missing is DisplayPort, but HDMI-out should be more than adequate for outputting to high-res monitors or televisions.
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 our call partner.
Display and Audio
The 17.3-inch, 1600 x 900 display offered bright colors and sharp images that remained vibrant, even at viewing angles close to 90 degrees left and right of center. No matter what video we played, from a 720p episode of Fringe to a DVD of Dark City to a 1080p WMV file from Microsoft’s HD showcase, playback was smooth. However, all of the videos suffered from visual noise and pixelation in dark areas, such as shadows or night scenes.
At maximum volume, the 4720s’ 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.
The ProBook 4720s’s 2.26-GHz Intel Core i5 M430 CPU, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4500 video card, and 7,200-rpm hard drive combined to give it snappy overall performance. No matter what we threw at it—from gaming in World of Warcraft to flying the flight simulator in Google Earth—the ProBook 4720s provided near-instant response.
On PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures overall system performance, the 4720s scored 5,286, well above the category average for desktop replacements (4,976), and far ahead of the 15-inch Toshiba Tecra A11 (4,565). The Samsung R780, which has the same Core i5 M430 CPU, did better (5,933), but that system has a 1GB Nvidia graphics card.
The ProBook’s 7,200-rpm, 320GB Seagate hard drive managed to complete our file transfer test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, in 2 minutes and 46 seconds—a transfer rate of 30.7 MBps. That’s exactly on par with the desktop replacement category average of 30.7 MBps, but much faster than the Toshiba Tecra A11 (19.3 MBps) and a bit speedier than the Samsung R780 (25.7 MBps) and Dell Studio 17 (28.6 MBps). The same drive booted into Windows 7 Professional (32-bit) in 67 seconds, a little slower than the category average of 64 seconds.
The 4720s completed the Oxelon video transcoding test, in which we convert a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI using Oxelon media converter, in just 58 seconds. That’s about 7 seconds faster than the category average of 65 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the Toshiba Tecra A11 (1:10), and 3 seconds better than the Samsung R780 (1:01). The Dell Studio 17, however, finished this test 2 seconds quicker (0:56).
The ProBook 4720s has a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4500 series chip with 512MB of dedicated video memory that helps it achieve strong graphics performance. On 3DMark06, a benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the 4720s scored 2,948, which is good in comparison to most business systems, but a bit below the desktop replacement average of 6,997. The Toshiba Tecra A11 scored only 1,496, but the Samsung R780 and Dell Studio 17 managed a whopping 7,069 and 6,494, respectively.
Though this is a business system, it’s definitely fast enough for gaming, with a large screen and numeric keypad that fraggers will appreciate. In 1024 x 768 resolution, the ProBook achieved a whopping 121 frames per second in World of Warcraft, way above the category average of 87 fps. However, that number dropped to a barely playable 20 fps when we raised the resolution to 1600 x 900 and turned all the visual effects up.
In the more demanding game Far Cry 2, the ProBook managed 41 fps at 1024 x 768, though the category average is an even stronger 68 fps. The number dropped to an unplayable 10 fps when we raised the resolution to 1600 x 900.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
We didn’t’ expect the 17-inch, 6.8-pound 4720s to have much endurance, so we were pleasantly surprised when it lasted a strong 4 hours and 15 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That’s outstanding in comparison to the category average of 2 hours and 27 minutes.
The ProBook 4720s’ Atheros 802.11n Wi-Fi card transferred files at a rate of 46.6 Mbps when the system was 15 feet from the router, and 24.5 Mbps when it was 50 feet away. The short-range rate compares favorably to the Toshiba Tecra A11, which achieved scores of 38.5 Mbps and 25.7 Mbps, respectively.
The ProBook 4720s’ eight-cell battery took 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach a 80-percent charge. To get to 100 percent, it needed a total of 2 hours and 8 minutes. During that time, the system used an average of 70.4 watts. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency rating of 35.3 was far better than the 68.1 category average (lower is better). EPEAT gives the ProBook a rating of 21 out of 27.
On its website, HP sells the ProBook 4720s in two Smart Buy configurations that cost $925 and $1,059, respectively. You can also custom configure a ProBook with just the components you want, but this option is much more expensive.
Our review unit was the $1,059 model, which comes with a 2.26-GHz Core i5-430M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 7,200-rpm, 500GB hard drive. The $925 model comes with a slower 2.26-GHz Core i3-350M CPU, and a smaller 320GB hard drive.
If you want to configure the ProBook 4720s yourself, you can choose CPUs ranging from a 2.13-GHz Core i3 to a 2.66-GHz Core i7. You can choose up to 4GB of RAM, a 7,200-rpm hard drive up to 500GB, and get a Blu-ray drive instead of a standard DVD burner. However, selecting the same configuration as ours through “configure to order” cost $1,403; that’s over $350 more, so we wouldn’t recommend it.
Software and Warranty
Like other ProBooks, the 4720s 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 takes just 15 seconds after hitting the QuickWeb button (Fn + F6), for the computer to boot and launch a Mozilla-based browser, which is great for quickly checking e-mail or surfing the web. QuickLook is an instant environment that lets you see the contents of your Outlook inbox. We find this functionality to be less than impressive because 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.
In addition to standard utilities like a power manager, HP preloads the 4720s 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 prebook 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 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.
The ProBook 4720s combines solid performance, strong graphics, best-in-class security, and surprisingly good battery life in a neat 17-inch package. An inaccurate touchpad and grainy video playback hold the system back a bit, but at $1,059 for Core i5 power and discrete graphics, this is a value-priced desktop replacement that businesses will appreciate.