by Jerry Jackson
The HP EliteBook 8730w is the largest workstation in HP's current lineup of business notebooks. Featuring the latest Intel processors and Nvidia Quadro graphics and available with HP's exclusive 17-inch "DreamColor" display, the EliteBook 8730w might be a graphics artist's best friend. We took a closer look at this desktop replacement mobile workstation to see if the system performance and color quality of the screen are as good as HP wants you to believe. Read on to find out if the EliteBook 8730w deserves a place in your office.
Our review unit of the EliteBook 8730w features the following configuration:
The 8730w starts out at $1,699 but more powerful configurations top out at $4,879.00 after instant discount.
Build and Design
The HP EliteBook 8730w is a business workstation notebook, which means the 8730w has to meet very specific requirements for performance, durability, power consumption and a host of other features. In every case the EliteBook line meets or exceeds those standards, so you can rest easy that the price you pay for this notebook is money well spent.
The main body of the laptop is covered in the "HP DuraCase" and "HP DuraFinish" which is essentially a hard plastic and strong magnesium alloy inner shell much like its predecessor strengthened by a brushed aluminum outer shell that is scratch resistant (but not scratch proof). The entire chassis from the base to the screen lid feels exceptionally strong and resistant to flex when heavy pressure is applied. The keyboard is almost completely rock solid except for some minor flex on the dedicated number pad directly above the optical drive. Although I never recommend doing this, you could throw this notebook across the room and it would likely survive unharmed.
The outer shell of the screen casing is made of metal, but the inner screen bezel is plastic. HP says that this mobile workstation "has been tested and meets the military standard MIL-STD 810F tests" so this notebook is built to last.
Additionally, the 8730w also features hard drive shock protection in the form of the new HP 3D DriveGuard which will help to protect your hard drive in the event the laptop gets dropped or violently bumped ... or smacks into a desk because an editor wasn't paying enough attention. You can also configure the 8730w with a solid state drive (SSD) if you need extreme speed and resistance to vibration.
Despite the rugged durability built into the design the weight of the 8730w is perfectly reasonable compared to other 17-inch workstations. If you didn't already notice, the EliteBook 8730w tips the scales at seven and a half pounds but a similarly equipped workstation such as the Lenovo ThinkPad W700 weighs in at more than eight pounds. In any case, this is clearly a desktop replacement system so most people won't be too concerned about the weight of this notebook.
Finally, in the same way that the gray and black exterior and smooth design suits a professional environment, so do the internals. The EliteBook 8730w uses two simple plastic covers on the bottom of the notebook (each held in place with standard Phillips head screws) so that the user or your IT department can easily access the hard drive, Wireless Cards or RAM for fast upgrades. The optical drive can also be removed and replaced with a second hard drive or SSD if you need more storage. The bottom of the notebook also features a dedicated docking station port, external battery port, and a convenient place to store your business card.
Screen and Speakers
The 8730w comes equipped with your choice of a standard 17.0" anti-glare widescreen display or a "DreamColor" RGBLED backlit screen with an 8-bit panel that can display 16.7 million colors ... quite a bit different than the desktop DreamColor displays that support over one billion active colors—64 times the colors supported by traditional LCDs. The screen brightness is rated at 300 nits and the contrast ratio of 800:1 make this screen extremely viewable under direct sunlight. At 1920 x 1200 resolution, this high-definition display is capable of displaying the finest details in workstation applications like Maya, CAD, 3dsMax, and more. Or course, you can also enjoy this extra resolution for 1080p movies when you use the Blu-ray optical drive.
When viewing the screen from straight ahead, colors are rich and the contrast is excellent. High-definition movies (compliments of the Blu-ray drive) are absolutely stunning. Horizontal viewing angles are almost as impressive, and the vertical viewing angle from above is likewise impressive. The only time the screen starts to disappoint is when you view it from below ... but the overwhelming majority of users will never view the screen in this way.
The speakers on the 8730w are pretty impressive for a business notebook, but consumer-oriented 17-inch notebooks with dedicated subwoofers produce better sound quality that what comes out of the speakers in this mobile workstation. Since the speakers are located on the front edge of the notebook the sound isn't being directed up and toward the user when the EliteBook is used as a laptop. In fact, our staff usually refers to laptop speakers with this type of placement as "crotch speakers" because the speakers are directing sound to your waist rather than your ears. If you're using the 8730w on your desk this isn't a problem, but if you've got this massive notebook on your lap then the audio will be muffled because of poor speaker placement. The headphone jack on the 8730w works well with the two different brands of earphones I used during the test. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself.
The speakers on the 8730w are pretty impressive for a business notebook, but consumer-oriented 17-inch notebooks with dedicated subwoofers produce better sound quality that what comes out of the speakers in this mobile workstation. Since the speakers are located on the front edge of the notebook the sound isn't being directed up and toward the user when the EliteBook is used as a laptop. In fact, our staff usually refers to laptop speakers with this type of placement as "crotch speakers" because the speakers are directing sound to your waist rather than your ears. If you're using the 8730w on your desk this isn't a problem, but if you've got this massive notebook on your lap then the audio will be muffled because of poor speaker placement.
The headphone jack on the 8730w works well with the two different brands of earphones I used during the test. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard on the 8730w is nice and large and features the new "HP DuraKeys" which is a highly durable textured finish applied to each key have a nice matte appearance and prevents the "shine" that appears on old keyboards after the buildup of dirt and oils from your fingertips.
The layout of the keyboard is just slightly different than what you might find on the HP consumer notebooks. The individual key presses are quiet without loud clicking sounds as you type. Keys are flatter and have less space in between them. Overall the keyboard layout is extremely nice for a 17-inch desktop replacement.
Above the keyboard also rests a series of touch-sensitive media buttons similar to what you find on HP consumer notebooks. There is an Info, Wi-Fi 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 also features the DuraFinish so that oils from your fingertip don't build up on the surface and make the touchpad look weathered after just a few months. The Synaptics touchpad 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 pointstick that comes with all 8730w's. The pointstick is amazingly accurate and comfortable to use.
The only negative we experienced with the touchpad interface on our review unit is that the arrangement of the rubber touchpad buttons made it easy for me to press the wrong buttons. Since there is a third touchpad button I often found myself pressing the middle button rather than the left or right buttons I was trying to press. This isn't a major problem, but it was frustrating enough to make me use an external mouse while I was finishing this review.
Speaking of which, I would have also liked to see a dedicated touchpad disable button (like the ones HP uses on their consumer notebooks) so that you can disable the touchpad if you're using the pointstick or an external mouse.
Ports and Features
The 8730w features a good number of ports on all sides, so let us take a brief tour ...
Also, on the underside there is a docking connector and the second battery port. Both RAM slots are accessible from the bottom under the RAM access cover.
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