HP EliteBook 2530p Review

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Pros: Elegant business-rugged design; Strong overall performance; Comfortable keyboard; Helpful security software; Long battery life

Cons: Small touchpad buttons; Only two USB ports; Sluggish mobile broadband

Verdict: Built for road warriors, this 12-inch ultraportable offers a durable design and well over 6 hours of battery life.

The HP EliteBook 2530p offers everything a road warrior could want in a notebook: a durable, sleek design, fast performance, extra long battery life, and mobile broadband. Although it may be too pricey and comparatively heavy for some ultraportable shoppers, the performance and protection is worth it for those who can afford it.

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Road-Ready Design

We loved the EliteBook's sturdy design when we reviewed the 14.1-inch6930p, but it's especially apropos in the 2530p, whose 12.1-inch screen makes it ideal for road warriors. The 2530p, too, has a DuraCase lid, made of brushed anodized aluminum and magnesium alloy. The 3.8-pound 2530p feels a bit heavier than other ultraportables, owing mostly to its rugged build. For example, theSony VAIO Z Seriesweighs only 3.3 pounds and features a larger 13.1-inch display. Nevertheless, the 2530p is plenty light for travel and is easy to hold in one hand.

On the inside, the palm rest and thin strip surrounding the touch-sensitive keys are a matching gray, but the keyboard is black. Because the keyboard extends to the edges of the 11.1-inch-wide deck, the keys were comfortable to type on, despite the notebook's otherwise small size. As with the 6930p, the keyboard and touch buttons are quiet, and the rubbery touchpad has a good amount of resistance, but the touch buttons are narrow; HP also includes a pointing stick with its own corresponding set of mouse buttons. The stick was responsive and has a good rubbery texture.

Above the keyboard are touch-sensitive controls for Wi-Fi, volume, mute, HP Info Center, HP Presentation Options, and one to disable and enable the touchpad. The controls were responsive to taps, although the volume controls required a bit more pressure. In addition to discreet increase and decrease buttons is a convenient strip along which you can slide your finger to adjust the volume.

Display and Sound

The 12.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1280 x 800. In this model, HP Illumi-Lite LED-backlit displays are standard. When we watched a DVD of Anchorman using the integrated optical drive, the screen was exceptionally bright, and the speakers delivered surprisingly loud sound. Thanks to the matte finish, we were able to enjoy a wide variety of viewing angles; we could still comfortably watch the movie when we tilted the lid far forward and when we turned the machine at a 90-degree angle. The 2530p's screen should be fine for making presentations to one or two people.

Features and Webcam

The 2530p has two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, a VGA port, Ethernet and modem jacks, mic and headphone ports, docking and battery connectors, and a Kensington lock slot. It also has an ExpressCard/54 slot and an SD Card reader. Ideally, we would have liked to see at least one more USB port.

The 2-megapixel webcam captured sharp, well-lit still photos. Our VGA video showed delays, even when we captured video, which doesn't involve a (potentially slow) Internet connection. When we made a Skype call, our friend noticed some latency around our mouth but, predictably, said the picture became more fluid as she shrunk the window.

Security Features

Aside from its rock-solid lid and chassis, the 2530p has a 3D accelerometer to protect the hard drive in the event of a drop. On the security front, it has TPM 1.2 circuitry, a fingerprint reader (located on the right side of the palm rest), drive encryption, HP Disk Sanitizer, which permanently deletes files, a credential manager, and HP SpareKey, which saves three questions and answers you can use to log in should you forget your password. Users can also configure their notebook to have a Kensington lock slot, and they can install a Smart Card reader in lieu of an ExpressCard slot.

Business Card Reader

Like the 6930p, the 2530p comes equipped with Presto BizCard 5 which, used in conjunction with the webcam, can scan business cards. Just put the business card face up and with the words upside down, into the small slot in the front of the notebook, launch the program, press the icon for starting a capture, and slowly lower the notebook's lid until you hear a quick succession of beeps, followed by a shutter noise. In addition to the snapshot sound, you know you've lowered the lid enough when the LED light on the lid glows solid blue.

As with the 6930p, finding that sweet spot was tough. We accidentally lowered the lid too far a few times, sending the notebook into sleep mode. We finally prevailed, though, and the software was mostly accurate in processing the different lines of information on our business card.

Performance

Our configuration of the 2530p was outfitted with a low-voltage 1.86-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400 LV CPU, and a standard 3GB of RAM (expandable to 8GB). The system scored 3,929 on PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista application performance); that's higher than Lenovo's ThinkPad X200 (3,601) and the Sony VAIO Z (3,346), and those notebooks were configured with more-powerful 2.4-GHz processors. The 2530p's score is substantial, at more than 1,200 points above average for the ultraportable category. The 2530p is also available with a 1.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9300 or a 1.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo ULV SU9300 processor for those who want maximum endurance.

The 2530p's 5,400-rpm 120GB hard drive copied 4.97GB of multimedia files in 7 minutes, a slightly below-average rate of 12.1 MBps. (The Sony VAIO Z's 5,400-rpm drive was 40 seconds slower.) It took 1 minute and 9 seconds to boot, whereas the typical Vista notebook takes between 50 and 60 seconds to start up. What makes this slower-than-average boot time odd is that the 2530p comes with a virtually blank image; users must go to the HP Info Center to install recommended and optional software, which even includes McAfee software, InterVideo WinDVD, and HP Webcam, among others. Other storage options include a 1.8-inch hard drive (120GB SATA), 2.5-inch hard drive (120GB or 160GB), or Intel's blazing 80GB SSD ($659). However, to choose a 2.5-inch drive is to forgo the optical drive, though you do gain an additional USB port.

Our hands-on testing confirmed that the 2530p is a strong performer. With the notebook unplugged, we were able to watch a movie in High Performance mode smoothly while defragging the hard drive. We could also navigate between numerous tabs in Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8 with ease. The only time the notebook faltered was when launching McAfee Total Care while watching Anchorman; just opening the program caused the movie to freeze for a moment.

On the graphics side, the 2530p's Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD notched 2,436 on 3DMark03, which is nearly 1,000 points above average for an ultraportable, coming in just shy of the ThinkPad X200 (2,475). On our frame rate tests, it managed 36.2 fps in our World of Warcraft test with the screen set to a resolution of 1024 x 768. (The average for the category is 41 fps, but this 12.1-inch business machine wasn't exactly designed to be a gaming machine anyway.)

Wireless Performance and Battery Life

The 2530p's Wi-Fi scores were strong at 15 feet, with throughput of 19.4 Mbps, but it dropped to a mediocre 14.3 Mbps at 50 feet. Additionally, the system comes with Gobi technology, software-based mobile broadband that allows users to switch carriers (AT&T or Verizon Wireless) without having to worry about buying new hardware. If you don't need Gobi, opting out of it will save you $125.

We tested the 2530p using AT&T's HSDPA network, and the results were disappointing: Its download speeds of 438.4 Mbps and upload speeds of 330 Mbps were about half as fast as we expected them to be. Our anecdotal page-load tests were decent. Coupled with Google Chrome, which showed better load times than any major browser, our HSDPA connection took 5 seconds to load NYTimes.com and Hulu.com's main page each, and 7 to load Laptopmag.com.

The 2530p's six-cell battery lasted an impressive 6:59 on our battery test, in which we connect to a Wi-Fi network and run a script that simulates Web surfing. Although our review unit came with a six-cell battery, you can also opt for a three-cell or nine-cell battery. The three-cell is standard and weighs 0.4 pounds. The six-cell battery costs $139 and adds 0.3 pounds. The nine-cell battery costs $159 and adds 0.4 pounds to the system.

Software and Warranty

Although the 2530p comes with a refreshingly blank image, users also have the option of installing recommended and optional software through the HP Info Center (press the launch button on the chassis to access it). Programs include McAfee Total Protection, HP Webcam, InterVideo WinDVD, NewSoft Presto BizCard 5, and a trio of Roxio programs. HP includes a three-year warranty with 24/7 toll-free phone support.

Verdict

The HP EliteBook 2530p is a tough and elegant ultraportable well suited to road warriors. Its boot time is slow, but it's otherwise zippy and lasts almost 7 hours on a charge. The $1,999Sony VAIO Z Seriescosts slightly less and delivers better performance and a bigger screen, but it doesn't feel as durable and it lasted 2 hours less on our battery test. TheLenovo ThinkPad X200is also faster and lighter, but it doesn't offer an integrated optical drive. If you can work with a 12-inch display and want both an integrated DVD drive and long battery life, the EliteBook 2530p is a very good choice.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.86-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo LV SL9400
Operating System MS Windows Vista Business
RAM 3GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 120GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 12.1
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW DL
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD
Video Memory 384MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Mobile Broadband EV-DO Rev. A & HSDPA
Ports (excluding USB) Docking Connector
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) security lock slot
USB Ports 2
Card Slots SD/SDHC Card reader
Card Slots ExpressCard
Warranty/Support Three-year parts-and-labor/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 11.1 x 8.4 x 1.0 inches
Weight 3.8 pounds
Company Website http://www.hp.com