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September 25, 2010 • Reviews

Notebook PC Review: Hewlett Packard Elitebook 8440w Mobile Workstation

Taking a look at the Hewlett Packard (HP) Elitebook 8440w above, the term ‘sexy’ might not come to mind for most, but for folks who use a business laptop day in and day out, have to travel around and access their data on the go, it is absolutely GORGEOUS. However, what really matter is how it PERFORMS – in terms of speed, functionality, ruggedness, and possessing the features needed to help the widest array of business users get their job done.

HP makes a lot of claims about how the 8440w meets those needs, but I wanted to see how it really worked. So when HP offered a loaner unit to review I happily accepted and carried it with me for a few weeks as a constant ‘second laptop’ to see how it would fit my needs in business. Read on and find out how it did!

The Hype:
Lightweight. Heavy Hitter. HP’s thinnest and lightest mobile workstation for engineers, developers, graphic designers and power users who need workstation graphics with ISV certifications and a 14.0-inch diagonal display.

Workstation-class graphics:
• Maximize performance with industry-leading, workstation-caliber graphics with 512 MB of video memory and full ISV certifications to provide a high degree of reliability, faster transfer and manipulation of 3D textures.

Durable design:
• The HP EliteBook 8440w Mobile Workstation features a gunmetal finish and business-rugged construction to protect your notebook on the go. A magnesium/aluminum display enclosure and magnesium alloy chassis provides increased durability.
• Designed to meet the tough military standards (MIL-STD 810G) for vibration, dust, humidity, altitude and high temperature, it has been tested at extreme temperatures of over 60 °C/140 °F and below –29 °C/–20 °F.

Easy to use:
• Our notebooks are designed to help boost your productivity. For example, use HP QuickLook 3 to access e-mail and contact information in seconds without booting up, and HP QuickWeb to access the web in seconds even if your notebook is turned off.
• HP Power Assistant lets you take control of your notebook PCs reported power consumption! This tool allows you to conserve power, stretch battery run-time, accurately monitor your reported power needs and report workforce power consumption.
• HP Performance Tuning Framework allows you to customize your design and engineering platforms to improve your productivity and optimize overall performance.
• Whether you’re across the street or across the country, HP’s integrated wireless technologies have got you covered. Experience faster connections in more places than ever before and get more done with HP Mobile Broadband powered by Gobi.

Flexible battery solutions:
• From increased battery lifespan to extended computing time, HP EliteBook 8440w offers several battery solutions to meet your needs, including the HP Long Life Battery, the HP Ultra-Capacity Battery or the HP Extended Life Battery.

The Reality:
I 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.

There are a few options available to customize the Elitebook series, but on their website HP features a fixed configuration, which is identical to the unit I tested:
– Windows 7 Professional 32-Bit
– Intel® Core™ i7-620M Processor (2.66 GHz, 4 MB L3 cache)
– Mobile Intel® QM57 Express Chipset
– 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
– 320 GB 7200 rpm SATA II
– DVD+/-RW SuperMulti DL LightScribe
– NVIDIA Quadro FX 380M graphics with 512 MB gDDR3 dedicated video memory
– Intel Centrino® Ultimate-N 6300 (3×3) 802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1
– Battery Type: HP 9-cell (100 WHr) Li-Ion battery Battery Life: Up to 8 hours

Before I launch into details, let me provide a frame of reference: I took a picture of the HP EliteBook 8440w next to my current work laptop – an HP Compaq 6910p, which is pretty much the same system … but a few years older! So everything I review here will be in the context of a business laptop user with experience on a very similar system, looking to the future.

Build Quality
At my previous employer I had significant leeway to get new laptops on an annual basis, so having the same work computer for 2.5 years now has given me an appreciation to how it holds up under the stress of daily use. The HP has been a real champ – I toss it in bags, dump things on top of it and do all sorts on inadvisable hot-swapping and reconfiguring of docking systems and external devices – and yet it holds up wonderfully.

The first thing I noticed about the EliteBook was that while it shared the same basic form factor of my Compaq, it had a brushed gun-metal exterior, and a distinctly non-plastic look and feel. And it wasn’t just about the looks – doing a ‘creak test’ by moving and flexing the screen around the hinge showed it was a very robust build.

The screen latches are much stronger than the plastic tabs on my Compaq, the top and bottom are obviously meant to handle a few bumps and bands, and the sides are better protected against random bumps as well.

Configuration Comments
I can’t blame HP for my own stupidity, so I have to cop to seeing a logo on the side that I thought was a Blu-Ray, but turned out to be for LightScribe! Sadly, I went to Goozex and got a few Blu-Ray discs, wondered why there was a Display Port rather than a HDMI output, and then was concerned when the BluRay wouldn’t read …

Once I realized my error it made sense – as a business laptop the configuration with a CD/DVD writer with the LightScribe and Display Port is exactly the right thing.

Also, this is just personal preference, but even as someone who owned an original IBM ThinkPad nearly 20 years ago, isn’t it about time to drop the dual-input device layout? Not a big deal, it seems like it could make the same system even a bit smaller.

However, I was definitely confused about the system shipping with 32-bit Windows 7 Professional installed. I asked HP about this, and while they said they could provide media to upgrade to 64-bit, the normal consumer buying this would get 32-bit. In other words, despite getting 4GB of RAM it will only be able to use 3GB. That just seems like an odd decision for something targeted at the business space – my only assumption is that it saves money on the base configuration so that companies can buy it and install their own disk images.

Core Performance
The Elitebook comes with a Core i7-620M, which is actually on the lower end of the i7 chain, with dual cores, 2.66GHz top-speed, and dissipating a relatively high 35W of power. In side-by-side testing with my Core i7 Alienware laptop and my wife’s Core i5 Sony laptop, I could see that having a i7 definitely makes a difference … but having a quad-core i7 makes a bigger difference!

That is not to be critical – the Elitebook 8440w is targeting a mid-price sweet-spot, and the Core i7-620M is absolutely the right choice for that market – you get great performance, reasonable battery life, and decent pricing.

My testing involved numerous applications I use on a regular basis at my workplace that I was able to install on a trial basis on the laptop. These included Microsoft Office, JMP Statistical Analysis software from SAS Instutute, Minitab Statistical Analysis software, and the open-source R data modeling software.

Where the Elitebook 8440w shines particularly is not so much when doing simple tasks – though the powerful Core i7 does very well there – but when really pushing the computations. I had some work going on requiring some complex analysis of data sets with literally hundreds of thousands of data points. The file I/O alone is horrendous with those data sets, let alone running regressions, principal components analyses and so on.

Suffice to say that when I launched the analysis on my current laptop as well as the Elitebook 8440w, the Elitebook was done much faster. So much so, in fact that I was able in one instance to perform the same analysis on two different variables on the Elitebook 8440w in the same I could run one on the Compaq.

Graphics Performance

There are two types of graphics chips powerhouses – the type optimized for video games, and the type optimized for ‘business’ graphics, as vague as that sounds. In my ‘day job’ I don’t use video or 3D or Photoshop or anything like that … so it would seem that I don’t need something as powerful as a nVidia Quadro FX 380M.

But once you think again about rendering the screens filled with hundreds of thousands of points and you realize that it matters. Indeed, watching the graphs ooze onto my Compaq (with integrated graphics) and simply pop on to the Elitebook elicited an ‘ooh’ from me that drew attention from my family! But when not doing stuff side-by-side, I quickly became used to things ‘just happening’ on the Elitebook, and only noticed the contrast when working again on the Compaq.

And that is exactly the sort of thing you need in a business setting – you just want to get your tasks done as quickly and efficiently as possible without any fanfare.

HP Value-Added Features
HP is touting their QuickLook and QuickWeb features, and for the business traveler I can imagine that there is definitely a usefulness. I wasn’t able to make use of QuickLook due to security constraints with my Outlook data, but it looked to be a useful tool with some nice features. Similarly QuickWeb is a fast and streamlines way to do something fast and simple on the Web without having to boot into Windows.

I am torn on my opinion of those utilities. In the business travel I have done recently, anyone who has a work laptop with them in an airport or out at a restaurant also has a smartphone. I can easily check my email, calendar or a website on my phone quicker than on the Elitebook. So I see it as a ‘nice to have’ but probably not particularly useful in general practice.

They also offer the Power Assistant and Performance Tuning Framework to help manage your battery life. The Power Assistant helps you understand your laptop’s power usage and help you plan to be more efficient – and the Performance Tuning Framework helps you carry out that plan. Electricity usage by computers is much lower in the laptop age, but energy prices have more than balanced it off! I can see these as very useful tools – so long as the corporate IT group uses them!

Review Unit Issues
For a laptop such as this to get reviewed it needs to be shipped around to different sites and then returned and so on. As anyone who has ever shipped anything knows – stuff happens. The same is true with any sort of multi-user computer. And while the inner and outer box looked great and the outer case of the Elitebook was in great shape, I had two issues that ended up causing me a bit of concern.

First, the display latches were a bit rough in locking in place, which I discovered was because the display didn’t sit even. I can only assume it was someone performing a flex test had caused some warpage, but it isn’t clear. You could close it, you just needed to make sure to be firm when pressing into place so that both sides latched.

The other issue was with the keyboard light: basically it is a little push-button ‘reading light’ at the top of the screen near the webcam. You push it in and it unlocks and the light switches on and nicely illuminates the keyboard. Push it in again and it switches off and recesses into the storage position. However, on my review unit the latch for the light was not present, nor was it in the packing material, indicating it had been previously broken. Fortunately the light worked fine and was never obtrusive.

Conclusions
If I had to choose my major complaint about the Elitebook 8440w … it would have to be that I need to send it back!

This is not some sexy Apple laptop that would stick out in a PC dominated world, nor is it a cool Alienware that would be downright embarrassing for an older professional such as myself to use in a business setting. This laptop IS great looking – for a business laptop. It strikes a great balance between size and power, weight and features. The screen size works great for most things, and I found that all of my work desks had monitors with Display Port interfaces – which is great for dual screen setups!

The performance is superlative – graphics and raw processing alike are handled very well, as the features of this laptop seem perfectly balanced for business users. Given the price, features and overall build quality, if you are looking for a mid-range performance laptop for your office this is a great choice!

Review: Hewlett-Packard Elitebook 8440w Mobile Workstation

Where to Buy: HP.com

Price: $1,649.00 (base model is $1,425)

What I Like: Great looks for a business machine; excellent general performance; great graphics performance; excellent balance of features

What Needs Improvement: 4GB of RAM is wasted in a 32-bit OS; some minor issues with my review unit

Source: Manufacturer provided review unit

4 Responses to " Notebook PC Review: Hewlett Packard Elitebook 8440w Mobile Workstation "

  1. Mitchell Oke says:

    I’ve got the 15″ model for work (8540w with 1080p screen, Core i7, 1800M and 8Gb RAM) and alas I’ve had a lot of problems with it. The machine regularly crashes and freezes, and sometimes it doesn’t boot, just sitting at the HP logo. My bosses one didn’t work right out of the box either. They are a nice solid machine, and it’s fast, but only when it’s working 🙁

    And HP aren’t the only ones to ship machines with 4Gb RAM and 7 32-bit, Dell have a strange habit of doing it too.

  2. Daniel Chow says:

    Notebook PC Review: Hewlett Packard Elitebook 8440w Mobile Workstation http://goo.gl/fb/7PHpb #iphone

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