The ProBook 4510s offers style and substance for business users on a budget. At $699, this 15.6-inch machine is a good performer for the price and comes with plenty of business-friendly durability and security features, not to mention good battery life. Plus, it looks stylish, complete with glossy touches and a raised keyboard. Although it lacks a fingerprint reader and the touchpad buttons take some getting used to, this laptop is a solid investment for those who can't splurge for HP's premium EliteBook line.
Although the ProBook is HP's entry-level brand for business users, its design is far from dull. Underneath the glossy (and fingerprint-prone) black lid, the chassis has a mix of textures: a glossy keyboard deck, a satin palm rest, and a speaker strip lining the top. Because the bezel is thin, it's easy to focus instead on the bright 16:9 display. As an added touch, the power and QuickLook 2 buttons and LED lights all glow turquoise blue, which also keep the design interesting. The notebook is also available in red (HP calls it merlot)--a pleasant surprise for a business machine.
At 5.6 pounds, the ProBook is not unreasonably heavy for a 15-inch system. Because of its 16:9 display, it has a wider footprint, at 14.6 x 9.8 inches. And with a thickness ranging from 1.2 to 1.5 inches, it's less svelte than some other 15-inch systems.
Keyboard and Touchpad
One of the freshest parts of the ProBook's design is its keyboard: it's the first HP laptop that features island-style keys. This layout makes any budget notebook look more refined.
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On the one hand, we took quickly to the keys' slightly textured, scratch-resistant finish and their comfortable spacing. The deck has a number pad on the right, which you don't often see on 15-inch systems. The keyboard is spill-resistant, to boot. On the other hand, once we started pounding out documents a bit more furiously, the keyboard flexed a little. Then again, this might have something to do with the fact that we tested a preproduction unit. HP says that the final units offer structural changes designed to reduce the keyboard's flex.
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The 3.3 x 1.7-inch touchpad is plenty large, and the rubbery texture provides just the right amount of friction. The touch buttons, meanwhile, feel like trap doors. Instead of being straightforward push buttons, they're hinged at the top, so only the part closest to the edge of the notebook depresses. To put it another way, it's kind of like pressing a piano key. We would have preferred traditional buttons.
Display and Sound
The bright, LED-backlit 15.6-inch (1366 x 768) display has very good viewing angles, thanks to its matte finish (a glossy BrightView screen with increased contrast is available for the same price). We were able to watch an episode of Heroes on DVD from the sides and with the lid dipped down. Aside from making movies look more cinematic, that 16:9 aspect ratio is a practical choice for business customers because the lower profile helps out on airplane trays--not that we expect many users to travel with this system too often.
When playing music, including tracks by Coldplay, The White Stripes, and Pearl Jam, the speakers sounded pleasant overall but tinny at max volume. Dialogue from video clips on Hulu.com was clear, however.
Ports and Webcam
The ProBook 4510s has a thorough selection of ports: Four USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI output, Ethernet and modem jacks, a Kensington lock slot, and headphone and mic ports. It also has a 5-in-1 memory card reader and an ExpressCard/34 slot for low-profile mobile broadband cards. None of the ports are on the back; most are on the sides of the notebook, with the headphone and mic ports and the memory card reader on the front side.
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The 2.0-megapixel webcam showed pleasant lighting in both still shots and VGA video. Stills, in particular, included an impressive amount of detail, such as the shine in our hair. Video captures looked smooth, but because it's fixed focus, the image drifted in and out of focus as we moved around in front of the camera.
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Our configuration had a 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6570 CPU and 2GB of RAM. Although its scores were below average for a mainstream notebook, the difference seems forgivable when you remember the ProBook 4510s is a $699 budget notebook. Its PCMark Vantage score of 2,784, for instance, is about 350 points below average.
On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, the 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive duplicated a 4.97GB folder of mixed media at a rate of 15.8 MBps; the mainstream average is 18.0 MBps. However, it booted into Windows Vista Business in 65 seconds, only 4 seconds longer than the average.
Anecdotally, we were able to navigate between several tabs in Internet Explorer, searching our inbox, reading a blog, and downloading Handbrake, the open source media converter. Then, we downloaded and ran TweetDeck at full screen, while still switching back to IE to continue Web surfing.
Meanwhile, when we took transcoded a 5-minute-and-5-second MP4 clip to AVI using Handbrake, the ProBook 4510s took 7 minutes and 27 seconds. This time rose to 14:02 when we zipped a 5GB folder in the background. That's not so bad when you think that the $1,354Dell Studio XPS 13, a premium notebook with a faster processor and more RAM, took 6:31 (and with discrete graphics, mind you) and 11:39, respectively.
The Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics card delivers comparably weak gaming performance. It scored 1,915 on 3DMark03 and 831 on 3DMark06, whereas the average mainstream notebook scores 5,578 and 2,969 on the same tests. As we expected, the ProBook 4510s choked on Far Cry 2: it ran at 4.6 frames per second with 1024 x 768-pixel resolution.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The six-cell battery lasted 4 hours and 31 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which is a full 70 minutes longer than the average mainstream notebook. There is also an eight-cell battery option ($10) that promises 34 percent more battery life. The battery also promises fast charging times: HP claims the battery recharges to 90 percent in 90 minutes. (We'll be updating this review once we've tested that claim.)
The Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11a/b/g/n radio delivered throughput of 21.1 Mbps and 17 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively. That's better than the category average (18.4 Mbps and 15.7 Mbps). While our configuration didn't come with Bluetooth, users can have an optional EV-DO/HDSPA module installed for mobile broadband ($125).
Security and Durability Features
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In addition to a spillproof keyboard, the 4510s (and every ProBook configuration) has a 3D accelerometer to protect the hard drive in the event of drops. It also has drive encryption, HP Disk and File Sanitizer, HP Recovery Manager, HP Credential Manager, and HP Spare Key, which includes a hints option in case you forget your login information. HP additionally includes its QuickLook 2, an instant-on OS that allows you to read e-mail and glance at your calendar before booting Windows. Unfortunately, this feature requires Microsoft Outlook.
Curiously, there's no fingerprint reader; that's only an option with the higher-end EliteBook series. Particularly since fingerprint readers are an option even on low to mid-end consumer machines, it was an odd move on HP's part to reserve them for its premium line.
Other optional features you'll miss if you go with the ProBook instead of the EliteBook include business card reader software, a Smart Card reader, a 16-billion-color DreamColor display (a workstation feature), a Blu-ray burner (the ProBook only offers a Blu-ray reader), and the EliteBook line's durability, which includes magnesium alloy chassis and a fingerprint- and scratch-resistant finish on the interior.
Software and Warranty
In addition to the security software described above, the ProBook 4510s comes preinstalled with some programs and trialware (on a business machine, we expect a cleaner image than we do with consumer models). These programs include Microsoft Office 2007, InterVideo WinDVD 8, McAfee Total Protection, PDF Complete, Roxio Creator Business, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Toolbar.
The notebook has a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, including 24/7, toll-free customer service. Three-year warranties, which we expect more with business notebooks, come standard on the EliteBook line.
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The 15.6-inch ProBook is configurable online, but also available as three pre-configured SKUs (Smart Buys, as HP calls them). In addition to our configuration, (FM848UT), there's also the FM853UT ($749), which has an eight-cell battery and Bluetooth, and the FM847UT ($529), which has all the same specs as our review unit, but with a slower 1.83-GHz Intel Celeron Dual-Core T1700 processor. We'd skip that version.
If you configure your own ProBook, you can choose from an Intel Celeron, Celeron Dual-Core, or Core 2 Duo CPU. The clock speed for these processor families goes up to 2.2-, 1.83-, and 2.8-GHz, respectively. The machine supports up to 8GB of RAM--provided you also opt for 64-bit Windows Vista. The hard drives range from 160GB to 500GB 5,400-rpm (the high end is a $150 upgrade), or you can get a 7,200-rpm 160GB or 250GB HDD (the latter a $50 upgrade); as of press time, pricing for other configurations was TBA.
Users can also opt for a Blu-ray drive (but not a burner, as noted above) for $200. Although the resolution doesn't change, you can order a display with HP's BrightView technology, a glossy screen with increased contrast, for the same price. On the graphics front, users have a choice between Intel's integrated GMA 4500MHD card, or ATI's discrete Mobility Radeon HD 4330 card with 512MB of dedicated memory ($70).
HP ProBook 4510s Verdict
As the flagship model of HP's new budget-friendly business line, the $699 ProBook 4510s is an attractive, durable machine with good productivity performance and a variety of security features. We also suggest considering theLenovo ThinkPad SL400; for $639 you'll get similar specs and performance, albeit a smaller hard drive and screen. But when it comes to affordable 15-inch business notebooks, the HP ProBook is strong choice.