HP EliteBook 2540p Review

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Pros: Sleek, durable design ; Core i7 power ; Long battery life ; Convenient instant-on software ; Energy efficient

Cons: A bit pricey ; Small hard drive ; Small touchpad and touch buttons

Verdict: This good-looking and durable business ultraportable offers a great combination of speed and battery life.

Tailor made for well-heeled business users, HP's EliteBook line is known for its elegant but rugged designs and top-of-the-line components. The 2540p ($1,629 as configured), a new 12-inch addition to the line, lives up to this reputation, delivering fast Core i7 performance and long endurance thanks to the Ultra-Low Voltage CPU and large six-cell battery. And unlike with Lenovo's ThinkPad X201s, you get a built-in optical drive. The EliteBook 2540p isn't perfect, but it's one of the best business ultraportables available.

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Design

While HP recently focused on redesigning its line of notebooks for small businesses, its enterprise-ready line of EliteBooks look the same as before, which is to say the 2540p is still one sleek machine. The system has a full magnesium alloy casing, which extends to the palm rest, hinges, and chassis on the inside. The surfaces, meanwhile, are made of scratch-resistant anodized aluminum. The overall look is more modern than the latest ThinkPad X201s.

At 4 pounds with the six-cell battery, the 2540p is a bit on the heavy side for an ultraporable. For example, the ThinkPad X201s weighs 3.4 pounds with its extended battery. Then again, the X201s doesn't come with an integrated optical drive, and the 2540p's small size (11.1 x 8.4 x 1.1 inches) makes it easy to carry with one hand. While the six-cell battery jutting out of the back might make it awkward to place inside a larger bag, some might appreciate how it gives them something to hold on to when they carry the laptop with one hand.

The 2540p's spill-resistant keyboard is a contrasting black. At the center of the keyboard is a bumpy, concave pointing stick with matching buttons just beneath the space bar. Additionally, on the palm rest you'll find a traditional touchpad with its own two mouse buttons. The lower right corner of the palm rest houses a fingerprint reader, a feature you'll find on any business notebook worth its salt (including the similar Lenovo ThinkPad X201). Above the keyboard is a row of touch-sensitive LED lights that respond to light taps. Using these controls, you can turn Wi-Fi on or off, launch your default web browser, open HP's Software Installer (more on that later), adjust the volume, or turn off the touchpad.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keys on the 2540p are coated in HP's DuraKey coating, which makes them scratch-resistant and allows for a nice, gritty finish. We were able to type quickly, matching our all-time best score of 88 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. However, we found the layout to be a little flat, whereas the X201s' keys have a chunkier feel that will appeal to touch typists.

While business users will appreciate having a pointing stick, we're not fans of its concave shape. We prefer the slightly convex TrackPoint on Lenovo's ThinkPad line. Nevertheless, we could move the cursor across the desktop with relatively subtle movements, and we never felt as if we didn't have control. The corresponding buttons, which have a rubbery finish, are easy--but not too easy--to press. In fact, we soon came to prefer using the pointing stick to the touchpad, particularly since the touchpad measures a small 2.7 x 1.4 inches.

Heat

After playing a Hulu video clip for 15 minutes, we observed cooler-than-average temperatures on some areas of the 2540p: 86 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 89 in the center of the keyboard, and 97 on the underside of the notebook (the average ultraportable measures 96, 96, and 101 degrees in these locations). However, the notebook's vent was hot--it measured a disturbing 119 degrees.

Durability and Security

In addition to the magnesium alloy casing, scratch-resistant surfaces, and spill-resistant keyboard, the 2540p was tested in accordance with military specifications (MIL-STD 810G), which includes a drop test from several feet, among others trials. HP says the notebook can also withstand up to 300 pounds of pressure. Security features include the fingerprint reader, along with a 3D accelerometer that parks the hard drive head in the event of a drop.

The 2540p also comes with a host of HP-branded security tools, including HP Spare Key, which helps you get back into the computer if you've forgotten your password, and the Disk and File Sanitizer utilities.

Ports and Webcam

Our configuration of the 2540p has three USB ports, Ethernet and modem jacks, VGA and DisplayPort, headphone and mic ports, a Kensington lock slot, and SD Card and ExpressCard/34 slots. It also has a tray-loading DVD burner built into the left side. Two of the USB ports and the Ethernet jack are located on the back side of the system, which is unusual but allows for a discreet arrangement of cables when back at your desk.

It's worth noting that because Ultra-Low Voltage systems like this one have a 1.8-inch hard drive (standard-voltage systems have a 2.5-inch drive), this version of the 2540p has room for three USB ports in addition to an optical drive. The standard-voltage version of this notebook does not have room for an optical drive, and has just two USB ports.

The 2-megapixel webcam showed an impressive amount of detail at its highest resolution, although video at that quality was predictably slow. Our VGA video was predictably smoother, whereas both samples exhibited good sound.

Our machine also came loaded with optional HP Business Card Reader software, which uses the webcam to take snapshots of cards and then organizes key pieces of contact information, such as names, titles, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. We held a card in place with our hand and then slowly tipped the notebook's screen forward, observing the blue LED light at the top of the lid. As it blinked rapidly, we knew we were close to the point at which it would take a snapshot. Once we hit that spot, we heard a tone followed by a snapshot noise. When we looked again at our screen, the program had filled in such applicable fields as e-mail address, title, and phone number.

Display and Sound

The 12.1-inch (1280 x 800) display on the EliteBook 2540p is crisp enough to compose e-mails and peruse websites without having to do too much scrolling. The picture looked bright when we watched an episode of The Real World on MTV.com and clips of the Oscars on Hulu.com. Although the screen is plenty bright, the colors looked fairly muted. At least the matte finish allows for versatile viewing angles from the sides and front (to some extent).

The speaker, located underneath the front side of the notebook, produced acceptable sound. After becoming inspired by the movie Crazy Heart, we listened to the country-western jam "Song to a Dead Man" by T Bone Burnett. The audio was surprisingly rich. When it came to more bass-heavy songs, such as Jennifer Lopez' "Jenny From the Block," the tinniness became more obvious.

Performance

Powered by a 2.13-GHz Intel Core i7-640LM CPU, 4GB of RAM, Windows 7 Professional (64-bit), and a 5,400-rpm hard drive, the 2540p notched a score of 6,002 on PCMark Vantage. That smokes the ultraportable category average of 2,968. However, it's worth noting that the Lenovo ThinkPad X201s, which has the same CPU, OS, and amount of RAM, managed a higher score of 6,106 on the same test. (Stay tuned for a full review.)



The 2540p's relatively small 250GB hard drive transferred a 4.97GB mixed media folder at a rate of 18.2 MBps, which isn't quite as fast as the category average of 21.6 MBps. However, the X201s completed the test at almost the same rate (18.8 MBps). Meanwhile, the 2540p booted in a fast 46 seconds.

In our daily use, the low-voltage Core i7 processor was more than fast enough to keep up with us as we jumped between half a dozen open windows, including Internet Explorer 8, where we had open tabs for various blogs, Twitter, Hulu, Slacker, and our Gmail account. When it came to heavier-duty computing, the 2540p took 1:18 to transcode a 114MB video clip using Oxelon Media Converter. The average ultraportable takes an additional 40 seconds.

Graphics

For an ultraportable, a class of notebooks that rarely claims to be good at gaming, the 2540p offers decent graphics performance. The system's 3DMark06 score of 1,519 is well above the category average of 902. And with World of Warcraft frame rates of 45 frames per second at 1024 x 768 (albeit, this rate drops to 8 fps at 1280 x 800), one could do some light gaming on this notebook, particularly if he or she is willing to lower the resolution. The less expensive ThinkPad X201s achieved a similar 3DMark06 score of 1,486, but its max frame rate on World of Warcraft, 23 fps, was much lower.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The 2540p's six-cell battery held out for 6 hours and 54 minutes on the LAPTOP battery test, which is much longer than the average ultraportable, which lasts 5:34 on a charge. (The ThinkPad X201s' six-cell battery lasted 5:35 on the same test, although its nine-cell battery went for 8:31.) Users can also configure the system with a three-cell battery that sits flush with the system, or a nine-cell battery, which adds nearly an extra pound. HP says that the three-, six-, and nine-cell batteries can last up to 4, 8.5, and 12.5 hours on a charge, respectively.

The Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi radio delivered strong throughput of 38.7 Mbps and 23.5 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet from our access point, respectively.

Energy Efficiency

We already shared that the 2540p operates more coolly than other notebooks. It's also more energy efficient, taking just 1:01 to charge to 80 percent, and 2:11 to charge fully (during this time, it consumed an average of 39.3 watts). The notebook's LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating, which we derive by dividing the battery life by the total watts, is a very good 12.4, whereas the average ultraportable has a less efficient rating of 19.7 (lower is better). The 2540p also boasts a Gold rating from EPEAT.

Software and Warranty

As befits a business notebook, the 2540p comes refreshingly devoid of trialware. However, HP also bundles a software installer through which you can elect to install many of the programs you'd otherwise expect to find on laptops out of the box, including trials of McAfee security and Microsoft Office, among others.

Much of the included software is HP-branded, such as HP QuickWeb, which lets you view a browser in a instant-on Linux OS while the machine boots up. The overall instant-on environment, QuickLook 3, also integrates with Outlook for calendar and e-mail read-only access. To enter QuickWeb, just hold browser launch button as the PC is booting up. From the time we pressed the button, the browser took about 10 seconds to load, and it looks like a pared-down version of Firefox. Forget about using your usual plug-ins.

As the costliest preconfigured 2540p you can choose, this business notebook comes with a three-year warranty, which is fairly standard in the world of business notebooks. Only the $1,099 configuration comes with a one-year warranty. To see how HP did in our latest Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Configurations

The 2540p is customizable online, but there will also be three preconfigured options. A $1,549 version has the same 2.13-GHz Core i7 processor as the $1,629 model we reviewed, but with 2GB of RAM and a 5,400-rpm, 160GB hard drive. For $70 more, we think our $1,629 machine is the better deal. Other options include a $1,099 model with a standard-voltage 2.53-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 7,200-rpm, 250GB hard drive, and a six-cell battery. On the wireless front, the 2540p is both GPS- and EV-DO/HSPA mobile broadband-ready.

Verdict

At $1,629, the HP EliteBook 2540p is not for bargain hunters. But if you travel frequently on business and want a notebook that can look good while standing up to some abuse, this ultraportable is worth the premium. It also boasts fast performance and will easily last through that cross-country flight. Some may prefer the Lenovo ThinkPad X201s, which offers a bigger 320GB hard drive and a longer-lasting nine-cell battery for the same price. But if you want a better looking ultraportable with a built in optical drive and instant-on capabilities, the 2540p is the notebook to buy.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.13-GHz Intel Core i7-640LM
Operating System MS Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 250GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 12.1
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive DVD /- RW
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel GMA HD
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
USB Ports 3
Card Slots SD memory reader
Card Slots ExpressCard/34
Warranty/Support Two-year limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 11.1 x 8.4 x 1.1 inches
Weight 4 pounds
Company Website www.hp.com