Notebook PC Review: Hewlett Packard ProBook 4430s Laptop

Last year I reviewed the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Elitebook 8440w Mobile Workstation, and earlier this year I looked at the svelte but ultra-powerful Elitebook 2540p. These represented a fairly typical pair of powerful business notebooks – with the prices to go along with the features! But imagine if HP decided to cram many of their business features into a mid-price laptop that would satisfy corporate IT, the comptroller and end-users alike? Based on my experience, they could call that the HP ProBook 4430s. Let’s look in more detail!

The Hype:
Equipped to get the job done
• Optimized for Genuine Windows® 7 Professional, you gain strong Intel® processor capabilities, wireless functionality, and a choice of three display sizes.

Stylish design
• The metallic gray color complements the vertically brushed aluminum finish. Your PC’s good looks stand up to the commute between home and work with added aluminum casing.

Security beyond passwords
• Secure access to your information using optional HP Face Recognition or fingerprint-reading technology, and protect your notebook, and its sensitive data, with HP ProtectTools.

Easy productivity
• Use HP QuickWeb to access the Internet, email, contacts, and calendar fast—at the touch of a button—without long boot-up times.
• Reduce your communication costs and improve your productivity with an optional HD webcam, dual-array microphones, and SRS Premium Sound—ideal for high-quality web casting.

Always on, always available
• Stay connected in more places with WLAN.
• The HP ProBook 4430s and 4530s offer a choice of a 6-cell battery with HP Fast Charge or a longer-life 9-cell battery, and the HP ProBook 4730 features an 8-cell battery—all designed to meet the needs of mobile professionals.

The best of both worlds
• With Switchable Graphics, you can get high performance from discrete graphics, or the long battery life of integrated graphics, in the same notebook.
• The HP ProBook 4430s offers a choice of a 6-cell battery with HP Fast Charge or a longer-life 9-cell battery—all designed to meet the needs of mobile professionals.

The Reality:

As I said, satisfying business users in terms of a computer is about meeting the needs of the user, their IT department and corporate comptroller simultaneously. That isn’t an easy task! My latest favorite HP notebook, the EliteBook 2540p, is a wonderfully robust laptop that was powerful enough for me and configurable enough for IT, but would cost too much to be justified for all but the highest-end users (which fortunately, includes my department!).

However, for the majority of users it would be tough to justify a quad-core i7 processor based system with loads of bells and whistles – especially when their tasks are normally limited to using the Microsoft Office suite of applications along with a web browser.

I once again copied the bulk of the HP press release in terms of specs into the ‘hype’, because there is actually a lot of stuff there, and it is really cool – but very little of the ‘Easy to use’ stuff was I actually able to test. That is because of corporate security and other boring details, but suffice to say that what I saw matched up with the claims.

But mixed in with QuickWeb 3 and other things I couldn’t test, there was a ton of stuff I COULD test! Things like the Power Assistant, SRS Premium Sound, ArcSoft TotalMedia Suite and the HP Connection Manager. These are all value-added items that are useful for average users and power users alike – and are a far cry from the old shovelware computers used to come loaded with!

System Specifications
There are ‘build to order’ as well as pre-configured options available to customize the Elitebook series, and the mid-line pre-configured choice on the HP website was identical to the unit I tested:
HP ProBook 4430s
– Model Number XU013UT
– Operating System – Windows® 7 Professional 64
– Processor – Intel® Core™ i3-2310M (2.10 GHz, 3 MB L3 cache)
– Graphics – Intel® HD Graphics 3000
– Display – 14″ diagonal LED-backlit HD anti-glare (1366 x 768)
– Hard Drive – 320 GB 7200 rpm SATA II
– Optical Drive – DVD+/-RW SuperMulti DL LightScribe*
– Memory – 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
– WLAN – 802.11b/g/n WiFi
– Webcam Module – 720p HD Webcam
– Bluetooth module – Bluetooth 3.0 HS Combo
– Fingerprint Reader – Yes
– Battery – 6-cell 47 WHr
– Adapter – 65W Smart AC adapter
– Price – $649

It was interesting looking at the various choices. The low-end choice for $579 had Windows® 7 Home Premium rather that the 64-bit Professional version that my review unit came with, but little else. For corporate use the Professional version is preferred, so that would be the best price reference. The standard selections offer little variety, whereas I was able to get close to $2000 using a custom configuration! This seemed like ‘punitive pricing’ that made me think HP *really* wants you to pick a standard setup. My personal pick would be the $649 unit I tested as it offers the best overall price/performance.

Before I launch into details, let me provide a frame of reference as a reminder: I am still using my work HP Compaq 6910p as a frame of reference. Our company is replacing my groups laptops this year and also switching to Windows 7 … but for now the HP Compaq 6910p remains my main point of comparison, along with my Alienware m11x. The 6910p has a Core2Duo T7300 with 2GB RAM, whereas the Alienware m11x has a low-power Core i7 with 4GB RAM.

Build Quality
The build expectations of a $649 laptop are different from those for one in the $1500-2000 range, in that basically you expect a lot of compromises. There are none.

The ProBook 4430s feels solid and much more in keeping with recent EliteBooks than the plasticky consumer-grade notebooks you’d expect to find in this price range. You have a brushed metal exterior for the upper portions, including the screen hinge, which results in a rigid feel that gives you a sense of security as you lug it around and flip open the screen. I have noticed a trend towards thin plastic screen lids in order to make laptops thinner and lighter … and I’m glad that HP didn’t go that route!

In recent years the 13.3 and 14″ screen laptop has become the solid mainstream choice that reduces bulk significantly from a 15″ laptop but doesn’t feel as cramped as a 12″ screen.

My wife swears by her 13.3″ screen laptop and finds my 15″ systems to bulky for her taste. It might seem like a minor issue, but the weight and handling difference between a 13.3″ system and a 15″ laptop like my Macbook Pro are significant – whereas there is only minor difference dropping down to my Alienware m11x or a typical 12″ laptop. To get a significantly more portable system you’d really have to go to a netbook.

Every day as I go between the many different plants and offices my company has in the area, I see folks walking around with laptops either open or under their arms. They typically also have at least a notebook if not other items. Portability matters, and in that regard a light and reasonably thin laptop is a boon – and carrying around the 4430s for a few weeks felt natural and effortless.

Configuration Comments

Looking over the configuration there isn’t a single item I would change in this price range. The Core i3 is perfectly suited for mainstream business, clearly packing more punch than the Core2Duo in my HP 6910p, but not requiring the added funds to jump to the i5. 4GB of memory is also perfect, as it allows the computer plenty of breathing room without getting into pricy upgrades.

The 4430s has four (!) USB ports, which seems to be one place where companies are cutting corners on lower-priced laptops either based on cost or space considerations. Either way, the extra ports – two per side – are greatly welcome. Many companies still use wired mice and keyboards as well as USB flash drives for data transfer, making three ports a bare minimum.

The one surprise based on earlier HP corporate laptop configurations was the inclusion of both a HDMI and VGA out connector! This made it possible for me to use the laptop with an external monitor at work and with our TV at home, which is the perfect combination. I was visiting a remote site for a joint project and noted that the large monitor in one conference room had only HDMI inputs, which would have made this very useful.

Core Performance

The problem with laptops in the past was the choice between speed and bulk. Intel’s Core processors have largely eliminated this as an issue, making the choices about size, features and battery life. In performance as just about every way the 4430s is a great mainstream computer.

I have a fairly standard set of tests I run on laptops – I install Microsoft Office, Google Chrome (to sync up with my bookmarks), a suite of statistics programs (JMP, MiniTab, R), a couple of games (Magicka, Torchlight) and give it all a go! The Core i3 means that most stuff – running MS Office and doing web browsing and simple statistical analysis – is a non-issue.

As I expected, once I started throwing heavy math at the system I bumped into its limitations – doing complex Fourier Transforms on hundreds of thousands of rows … well, it is much slower than on an i5 or i7 system. Again, that is as expected – but it is a reminder that the i3 is very adequate for the majority of stuff people do on a PC … but not the truly heavy lifting that power users need.

Graphics Performance

As I mentioned I loaded up Magicka and Torchlight to check the basic gaming capabilities, and with the Intel® HD Graphics 3000 integrated system the performance was quite adequate for these games. Nothing stellar, but they were functional. Exactly as I would expect based on the components.

But where the system does much better is if you load up a DVD. The graphics are highly detailed and you never skip a frame, and the sound is fantastic! As noted the ProBook 4430s has ‘SRS Premium Sound’, which integrates a high quality HD sound card, responsive internal speakers with a solid dynamic range, and software that brings it all together. The overall; effect is that you really enjoy watching movies on the 4430s without feeling that you are somehow missing out.

My only issue here is with the screen itself – the matte display seems darker and the colors more washed out than on my other laptops. However, those are higher-end systems so it is hard to compare. It is not enough to impact my desire to use the HP for multimedia as well as core business purposes – just be aware that if you are used to higher end displays this one might fall a bit short.

Battery Performance

When you look at the configuration – low-power, low-end i3 processor, integrated graphics, and so on – it seems like the 4430s should have excellent battery life. And it does: I was able to go most of a day without needing to be plugged in with the standard battery. The system is specified to deliver up to 6 hours with the standard battery, and even without too many drastic measures I was able to come close to that figure. Even when using it in full-power mode I was able to get more than 3-4 hours.

HP Value-Added Features
HP is touting their QuickWeb features, and for the business traveler I can imagine that there is definitely a usefulness. QuickWeb is a fast and streamlined way to do something fast and simple on the Web without having to boot into Windows. However, in an era of web-enabled smartphones I never found it practically useful.

The ProBook also comes with ProtectTools, a suite of software set up to keep your system and identity secure. You have credential management software that helps wrangle all of the passwords, as well as tools that encrypt your drive (a necessity at my work), pre-boot security, and more. The expected fingerprint reader is there, as well as enhanced facial recognition management system.

HP’s Connection Manager helps you control your wireless setup. At first I thought this would be a useless add-on, but it is elegant and works very well without ever getting in the way or feeling like a resource hog. Similarly the new version of HP Power Assistant is even better than the last one I used – it allows broad control over the power schemes on the system and understanding what is using power. The interface is simple and efficient and very useful.

Finally, you get the ArcSoft TotalMedia Suite, which is a bunch of media-centric tools including MediaImpression, TotalMedia LabelMaker, TotalMedia ShowBiz, TotalMedia Studio, TotalMedia Theater and WebCam Companion. These take advantage of the full range of hardware and give you a set of solid tools that are useful for work or home.

What I don’t Like
There is no such thing as a perfect … well, anything! So naturally there are things with the HP Pro book 4430s that I wish could be changed or done differently.

I already mentioned the screen, which is decent but compare to the high-end sound is definitely the weakest link of the multimedia experience. My other complaint might seem a bit odd, but in contrast with the high quality brushed metal upper portions and screen hinge, the bottom has a very cheap plastic feel. I am fairly certain that the goal was to get the ProBook into the ‘3-5lb’ class, which it just does at 4.9lbs. I would have preferred something that felt a bit more robust even at the cost of more weight.

At the start of this review I stated that there are many choices facing those responsible for buying corporate laptops, making it hard to please everyone at once. But I feel that the HP ProBook cuts across a wide range of stuff that users desire – portability, power, music sound, multimedia tools. It also has loads of security and configurability tools IT departments will appreciate, and does it all at a price that would satisfy any budget manager! If you or your business are looking for a solid ultraportable with top-notch laptop performance, the HP ProBook 4430s is a great choice!

Review: Hewlett-Packard Elitebook 2540p

Where to Buy:

Price: $649.00* (base model is $579)

What I Like: Great looks for a business machine; solid general performance; great battery performance; awesome sound with SRS system; excellent balance of features

What Needs Improvement: Underside plastic quality doesn’t match upper aluminum finish; screen a bit washed out for multimedia viewing

Source: Manufacturer provided review unit

Categories: Reviews