by Greg Ross
The HP Compaq 8510w is the latest 15.4” workstation offering featuring a Santa Rosa and DX10 update. The 8510w and 8510p (non-workstation version) replace the nw8440 and nc8430, respectively. So take a look and see what we has to say about this powerful workhorse!
Price & Review Model Specifications
The 8510w starts out at $2,199 but more powerful configurations top out at $3,399!
Our review unit as configured:
The notebook that was provided to us is a pre-production unit, and this specific configuration for our notebook did not fit any of the preconfigured models available online, but I would estimate this laptop would cost about $2899 if ordered via HP.com.
Build and Design
The HP Compaq 8510w is a business notebook, and as such consumers and corporations expect the highest quality of materials and the best designs for their money. Do they deliver?
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The main body of the laptop has an exterior hard plastic shell and a strong magnesium alloy inner shell much like its predecessor. The base of the laptop feels very firm, strong, and would definitely survive many bumps and bruises that other laptops might not. There is no flex in the keyboard, nor any other area on the keyboard deck. The underside of the notebook is also similarly rigid and strong with the exception of the area immediately underneath the notebook’s optical drive. At that point I can push against the shell and it will bend in just a little bit.
The outer shell of the screen casing is made of metal, but the inner screen bezel is plastic. As some of you may remember, my review of the nc8430 revealed that the screen bezel of that notebook was slightly ‘loose’ and could be pulled away a little bit with your finger and also pushed in towards the LCD. The 8510w improved on the construction so that the bezel would not give when you pushed in towards the screen, but the bezel can still be pulled away somewhat. The laptop screen housing also could be twisted a little bit too much.
Despite that aspect of the design, the laptop casing does do a good job of protecting the screen from damage. I could never produce any ripples in the screen by pushing on the back of the notebook, and I do believe that the housing is a little more resistant to damage from things hitting the back of the screen than the previous design. Based on my experience with the nc8430, the 8510w appears to have improved upon this aspect of protection and it will fare a little better than the previous generation did, but I would recommend users take care not to apply long term pressure to the back of the LCD.
Finally, the 8510w also features hard drive shock protection which will help to protect your hard drive in the event the laptop gets dropped or violently bumped. However, I was never able to actually trigger this protection feature so there may still be some driver issues with the prototype.
Finally, the appearance of the notebook truly does suit a professional environment. Shades of gray and black dominate along with sharp lines in the design, and at a first glace one realizes this notebook means business. The exterior of the notebook is a two-tone combination of jet black and gun metal gray. After opening up the laptop you see the same color scheme repeated, in which the keyboard deck is gray with a black keyboard and touchpad. HP also changed the media button layout to include a strip of touch sensitive buttons rather than physical ones, which mimics the design of the HP Pavilion laptops.
Screen and Speakers
The 8510w comes equipped with a 15.4” screen with the highest resolution possible for a screen of this size. At 1920 x 1200 pixels, this high definition display is capable of displaying the finest details in workstation applications like CAD, 3dsMax, Maya, and more. Paired with the BluRay optical drive in our review model, the display is also capable of playing high definition video content at 1080i and 1080p without the need for down-scaling the movie resolution.
Front and Center (view large image)
When viewing the screen up front and center, colors are vibrant and our high definition movie (compliments of the BluRay drive) is crisp and clear. The 8510w’s screen is a Samsung LCD screen whereas my previous generation laptop has an LG screen .
Bottom view (view large image)
Top view (view large image)
As with most laptops, viewing angles are rather bad. Once you get significantly off the center plane, colors and clarity get washed out or too dark. However, this laptop does better than most screens I have seen. You can still see well enough at twenty or thirty degrees up and about ten degrees down.
Horizontal viewing angle. (view large image)
Horizontal angles were slightly below average. After moving about sixty degrees to the left or right, colors started washing out but the screen was still useable all the way over to ninety degrees off center.
I believe that part of the problem with the viewing angles is the screen itself. The brightness is only rated at 200nits, while many other laptops are 50% brighter or more. While this does contribute to some additional battery life, the screen cannot be set to less than 50% brightness (100nits). Below 100nits the screen is too dark and absolutely useless.
The speakers are a little above average, and do not sound tinny or squeaky to me. While I am not a great judge of speaker quality, these speakers sounded better to me than most laptops. At the highest volume settings were significantly loud enough to make me want to back away, but they were still clear and not distorted.
Processor and Performance
The T7500 is part of Intel’s latest lineup of Core 2 processors that features an 800MHz FSB powering a CPU at 2.2GHz. Also, the Santa Rosa platform supports up to 667MHz DDR2 RAM, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, TurboMemory, and more of the latest technologies. So how does this processor perform?
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Clearly, we see how the T7500 can pull ahead of its brethren here. When compared against the Merom T7400 (score of about 4650), we can see how some of the newer technologies (faster front side bus, our RAM configuration, etc) contribute to more performance per clock. The T7500 clock is only 1.85% faster yet scored 5.8% higher.
Additionally, SuperPI is a useful tool to help evaluate how single threaded applications will run in a dual core environment as it forces the processor to calculate a lot of information but only on one core. As you can see, the T7500 can calculate 2 million digits of PI in one minute flat.
The hard drive that came with our 8510w is a Seagate 7200RPM 100GB hard drive which also uses Perpendicular Magnetic Recording to help speed up transfer rates and overall performance.
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Last and least is the Windows Experience Index score. As usual, I highlight that this benchmark is not an industry standard benchmark. It is highly dependent on the quality of your drivers and the software running in the background. This laptop scored 4.7 with the RAM as the limiting factor. All the other scores were remarkably impressive.
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During my evaluation of the 8510w, the T7500 pared with the Seagate hard drive and 2GB of RAM was able to do anything I asked of it. Vista was always fast and responsive, and the Aero interface was also similarly snappy. Multitasking a lot of things was a breeze as well and nothing slowed down by any measurable amount.
The 8510w features nVidia’s latest DX10 workstation graphics card technology. The nVidia Quadro FX 570M is a top performer, with 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 128bit bus memory that is capable of running at a core clock speed of 475MHz and a memory clock speed of 700MHz. With those reference specs, it is clear this card is the workstation equivalent of the 8600M-GT – the highest end card currently shipping in nVidia’s DX10 lineup.
3dMark05 and 3dMark06 are the latest in graphics benchmarking programs that stress the GPU to the max. And this card certainly does smash a few records for 15.4” laptops. 3dMark05 was running at 1024x768 and 3dMark06 at 1280x1024. For all gaming tests, the laptop was set to the ‘Performance’ profile, no overclocking, and plugged in.
3DMark05 (view large image)
3DMark06 (view large image)
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Settings: No AA, 50% Texture Filtering, No Vsync, 100% World Detail, 100% Road Reflection Detail, 0% Shadow Detail, Car Geometry Detail: High, Car Reflection Detail: Low, 33% Car Reflection Update Range, Rain: ON, Over Bright: OFF, Visual Treatment: High
This is definitely an improvement from the last generation 15.4” model, as we get more FPS at a higher resolution than before.
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Settings: No AA, Medium HDR, Ansiotropic 4X Texture Filter, High Texture Resolution, High Model Quality, Medium Shadow Quality, Default Shadow Resolution, Low Motion Blur Quality, High Effect Resolution, Low Effect Volume, High Lighting Quality, Vertical Sync Off
Average (DX9) FPS: 20 Outdoor, 29 Indoor
Average (DX10) FPS: 12 Outdoor, 13 Indoor
The game was definitely playable in DX9 mode, but you’ll have to turn the settings down to get the DX10 eye candy that I could not even notice. Seriously, DX10 will be overrated until games designed solely for DX10 come out and we start getting games that are not horrible ports from other consoles.
Star Wars: Battlefield II
Settings: All maxed except for AA at 4x (not 8x).
Extra Info: Maximum number of units per team to stress the AI engine.
Level: Death Star (Indoors)
Average FPS: 28
Level: Yavin (Space Outdoors)
Average FPS: 26
Frames rarely dropped below 22-23 and the game was always playable at these settings. Dogfights with 64+ units on the battle field was definitely entertaining at this resolution and level of detail.
F.E.A.R. Combat Multiplayer
Processor Settings: All maxed out.
Video Settings: Effects Settings maxed out, 4x AA, Maximum Light Detail, Shadows ON w/ max Detail and Soft Shadows enabled, Anisotropic 16x Texture Filtering at Maximum Texture Resolution, Maximum Shaders.
Average (Campus) FPS: 43
Average (High Tech) FPS: 40
Average (Docks) FPS: 42
Almost every setting was maxed out at 1280x960, and the game was always playable with smooth frame rates.
Heat and Noise
There is no denying that this laptop can be loud. When doing tasks that stress the processor and graphics card, the laptop’s fan (read: not fans) works hard to keep this laptop cool. While noisy, it does do its job of keeping temperatures down.
HP has made some improvements to the cooling ability of this laptop, such as a 2nd vent underneath the keyboard to address the complaints of its predecessor. Remarkably, this small addition did help to keep the keyboard and the internal components cooler.
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Inside you can see the single fan and the dual heat sinks that cool the laptop’s processor (bottom in the middle) and the graphics card (top right). It appears that HP has also removed the copper piece of heat sink that was sitting right on top of the fan in the nc8430 which is also another good move towards keeping the 8510w’s keyboard cooler. However, it is still a disappointment that there is a single fan and that the two hottest parts of the laptop continue to remain next door neighbors. This was especially evident when watching a Blu-Ray movie, as the exhaust was hot and the fan was running to the point where I could hear it from a few feet away if I did not have the audio playing. HD decoding is done by both the CPU and GPU, so it is no surprise that the cooling system must work hard. At least sounds and music can drown out the fan.
Also, from looking at the picture it is very clear that the graphics card of the 8510w is a modular card. It is possible this is the real MXM technology here, but it is more likely that this is an HP variant of it. However, the possibility that the GPU in this laptop may be upgradeable in the future is enticing. 8700M anyone?
Finally, here is a summary of all the temperature tests done and how hot/cool the notebook was. The CPU and HDD temps were obtained via Notebook Hardware Control, and the GPU temps read through RivaTuner.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the 8510w departs from the design of its predecessors as HP decided to use keyboards similar to their Pavilion consumer lines of computers. The layout of keys has been changed, and not for the better in my opinion, as several important keys for me were located in odd spots.
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The layout of the keyboard is just slightly different, and with practice one would probably get used it. But I do not like change when it concerns the layout of the keyboard.
While we are talking about change, I must mention that several other aspects of the keyboard have changed as well. The travel distance for the keys has lessened, and the keyboard itself is quieter and does not make as loud of clicking sounds as one types. Keys are flatter and have a little less space in between them, but that is because the keys themselves appear to be slightly larger compared to the previous version of this laptop. Overall, typing was a comfortable experience but is just ever so slightly worse than its predecessor. Ultimately, the keyboard is definitely better than many of the keyboards I have used, but HP has done better in the past.
Above the keyboard also rests a series of media and functionality buttons that many people want one-touch access to. There is an Info, WiFi Toggle, Presentation Mode, and Mute touch buttons on this glossy strip. Additionally, next to the Mute button is a volume control slider that enables the user to raise and lower the volume by sliding their finger across that area.
The touchpad has not changed since the last refresh of this series, and remains to be its snappy and smooth self. It is very responsive to my touch, and the three rubber mouse buttons are quiet and about the right size. There is also a secondary set of mouse buttons above the touchpad to work with the touch stick that comes with all 8510w’s. The touch stick is also equally comfortable to use.
Input and Output Ports, Wireless, and Battery
The 8510w features a good number of ports on all sides, so let us take a brief tour…
Left side view (view large image)
Here we see the security lock slot, GigE Ethernet, Firewire 400, HDMI-out, two USB ports, a PCMCIA card slot, smart card slot, and an SD card slot. It is a disappointment that this laptop does not have an ExpressCard slot integrated into it, but one would be available via the HP Advanced Docking Station (not reviewed) which costs an additional $229 USD.
Right side view (view large image)
Audio-out jack, microphone/line-in jack, two USB ports, BluRay optical drive, and the modem port. Shown in the keyboard picture is also an integrated microphone, which was thankfully moved away from the hard drive in this design refresh.
Rear view (view large image)
The battery, AC power jack, and the VGA out jack.
Bottom view (view large image)]
Also, on the underside there is a docking connector and the 2nd battery port. Please note the RAM access panel, as it is much larger than the previous design. Yup, both RAM slots are accessible from the bottom!
The 8510w features the Intel 4965 802.11 a/b/g/draft-n WiFi card, which always worked without fuss and reception was never a problem. It also features Bluetooth, but I have no devices to test it with.
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The battery life is basically unchanged from the last refresh in which HP claims that the laptop will achieve up to 4 hours of life when unplugged. During our timed tests, the laptop was set up for the ‘Power Saver’ profile, screen brightness at about 60%, WiFi on, and I also had WMP playing a list of songs throughout the test in order to force Vista to not enter standby. Also, some of this review was typed up on that battery test and general internet browsing was done as well. The laptop shut down exactly at the 3 hours and 15 minutes mark with 3% of the battery left, which is reasonable for a laptop with so much power. Battery life can also be extended via a secondary 8-Cell or 12-Cell battery which can more than double the battery life according to HP.
Operating System and Software
The 8510w comes equipped with Vista Business Edition as the OS of choice, with no known options for XP.
There was almost no bloatware, and what was there consisted of Norton (installed by default) and HP ProtectTools Suite (installed by default and required to use the finger print reader or smart cards). Additionally, other useful applications like PDFComplete, WinDVD with BluRay support, and Sonic MyDVD were either installed by default or you could install them yourself by browsing the C:\SwSetup directory.
The notebook also comes equipped with an HP Backup and Recovery Utility that allows you to create your own backup discs and do regular backups of your OS and data.
The HP 8510w is one of the lightest and thinnest 15.4” notebooks out there, and with this much power in such a thin case (and only one fan!) it is surprising that the laptop can keep itself cool. But it does, and this laptop definitely does any job asked of it. It laughs at current games and processor intensive applications, and as long as you aren't a hardcore gamer you will be fine.
While the laptop does have its flaws, this is indeed a business class machine with a business class build. However, laptops equipped with a workstation class graphics card are always more expensive (due to required certifications for industrial applications) and unless you need the workstation card I would recommend the similarly built and similarly equipped 8510p with the ATI 2600 GPU, which will be released soon and with (hopefully) a more attractive price for consumers. If you need the workstation card though, this laptop must be one on the short list of choices.
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