- Editor's Rating
- Great build quality
- Good looks
- Excellent keyboard
- Very costly to customize
- Slow 1.8-inch hard drive
One of the best 12-inch business notebooks on the market, but expensive to customize.
The EliteBook 2540p is the latest road-warrior ultraportable notebook from HP. The 2540p offers a 12.1-inch WXGA screen, Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors, built-in optical drive with select configurations, and a plethora of storage options. In our review, we put the new EliteBook through its paces to see how it stacks up against the competition.
The 2540p starts at $1,099, though with our configurations, it tops out at $1,629.
Our HP EliteBook 2540p review unit features the following configuration:
- Intel Core i7-640LM 2.13GHz Dual-Core Processor (4MB Cache)
- Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
- 12.1-inch WXGA anti-glare (1280 x 800)
- Intel GMA HD integrated graphics
- 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM (2GB x 2GB)
- 250GB 5400rpm 1.8-inch SATA II
- DVD+/-RW optical drive
- Intel 6200AGN Wifi, gigabit Ethernet, modem and Bluetooth connectivity
- 6-Cell 62WHr battery
- Three-year warranty
- Dimensions: 11.1 x 8.4 x 1.10 inches (with 6-cell battery)
- Weight: 3.97 pounds with 6-cell battery
Build and Design
The HP EliteBook 2540p is billed as an ultraportable business notebook, therefore corporations – and many consumers – expect a high quality of materials, excellent features and an innovative design. HP’s other EliteBook notebooks meet or exceed those expectations, but what about the smallest member of the EliteBook family?
The main body of the EliteBook 2540p is covered in the new “HP DuraCase” and “HP DuraFinish,” which is essentially a hard plastic and strong magnesium alloy inner shell – similar its predecessor – and strengthened by a brushed aluminum outer shell that even resists scratching from steel wool. The base of the laptop feels very strong and would definitely survive bumps and bruises that other laptops might not. There is absolutely no flex in the solid keyboard. The underside of the notebook is also similarly rigid and strong with just a tiny amount of flex in the area immediately under the notebook’s optical drive.
The outer shell of the screen casing is metal, but the inner screen bezel is plastic. Unlike the 15-inch EliteBook 8540p we previously reviewed, the display lid flexes slightly when significant pressure is applied to the center of the lid. But it’s still much stronger than what we typically see on other high quality 12-inch business notebooks.
When HP says that the EliteBook 2540p was designed “to meet the military standards (MIL-STD 810F) for high/low temperatures and dust,” they mean the notebook is built to withstand years of use and abuse.
With all this rugged durability built into the design, you have to expect a trade-off, which in this case is weight. Some 12-inch business class notebooks tip the scale at 3 pounds or less. The EliteBook 2540p has a starting weight of 3.38 pounds with a 6-cell battery, but the added durability more than makes up for a minor weight increase.
Finally, in the same way that the gray and black exterior and smooth design suits a professional environment, so do the internals. The EliteBook 2540p uses three simple plastic covers on the bottom of the notebook (each held in place with Phillips head screws) so the hard drive, wireless cards and RAM are easily accessible for fast upgrades. There is a fourth tiny expansion slot cover on the bottom of the notebook, which is for the dedicated Bluetooth card. The rest of the notebook interior is protected by Torx screws that should deter employees from messing around inside their work-issued notebooks.
Screen and Audio
The 2540p comes equipped with a 12.1-inch anti-glare widescreen with a typical WXGA resolution. At 1280 x 800 pixels, the display displays fine details without making things too small to work comfortably while on the move. Of course, the resolution might be limiting if you use the notebook as a mobile video and photo editing platform, but most people interested in a 12-inch notebook aren’t editing high-resolution photos on the road.
When viewing the screen from straight ahead, colors are rich and contrast is excellent. Full-screen movies look quite good, with deep blacks and good viewing angles. Horizontal viewing angles are particularly impressive so you shouldn’t have trouble showing a presentation to multiple people sitting at a desk. The vertical viewing angle from above starts to wash out at extreme angles and colors begin to invert from below, but most users won’t view the screen from high above or far below.
The built-in speaker is above average with a good range of highs, middles and acceptable lows that don’t sound “tinny” like most mono speakers. High volume settings are more than loud enough to fill a small office with sound for a presentation, but are still clear and not horribly distorted. The only negative about the speaker is its location.
The speaker is located on the bottom front edge of the notebook, so the sound isn’t projected upward at 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 lap and waist rather than your ears. If you’re using the 2540p on your desk, this isn’t much of a problem, but if you’re a road warrior constantly working from your lap then you might be annoyed by the speaker placement.
The headphone jack on the 2540p works well with 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 keyboard’s layout is slightly different than what you might find on other HP consumer notebooks. The individual key presses are quiet without loud clicking sounds as you type. Keys are flatter and have a little less space in between them. The key spacing had to make room for the addition of the pointstick.
The EliteBook 2540p also includes the same keyboard light as the larger EliteBook notebooks. Press the tiny light bulb button above the screen and a small LED pops out and shines down on the keyboard. The light isn’t very bright, but it’s bright enough so that if you’re on an airplane for example, you can still see the keyboard in the dark without annoying the person next to you.
Above the keyboard rests a series of touch-sensitive media buttons similar to other HP consumer notebooks. There is an Info, Wi-Fi Toggle, Presentation Mode and Mute touch buttons on the glossy strip. Additionally, next to the Mute button is a volume control slider that can be used by sliding your finger across that area. One nice addition on the 2540p is a touchpad disable button that allows you to turn it off and just use the pointstick for moving the mouse cursor.
The touchpad also features 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 was very responsive to my touch, and the two 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 2540p notebooks. The pointstick is amazingly accurate and comfortable to use.
Ports and Features
The EliteBook 2540p offers an excellent port selection, but depending on the model configuration, your options can change. For example the model without a built-in optical drive has a 2.5-inch hard drive and an extra USB port.
Performance and Benchmarks
System performance was very good and above what you might expect to see compared to thin and light notebooks on the market right now. The HP EliteBook 2540p and Lenovo ThinkPad X201 are the smallest powerhouse notebooks available today. We used the ThinkPad X201s for comparison because it has the same Core i7-640LM processor. The faster X201 would be equivalent to the base model 2540p, which has the faster Core i5-540m processor and a 7200RPM 2.5-inch hard drive. Both models excel at offering desktop-level performance in every way except 3-D performance. The Intel GMA HD graphics is better than previous generations but still lags behind a dedicated graphics card.
The Core i7-640LM can easily decode 720P or 1080P video, play HD Flash and even encoded movies in iTunes. The only system performance complaint that we found was the rather slow 1.8-inch hard drive in configurations that come with an optical drive. The model we were sent for review used a Toshiba drive that peaked at just under 50MB/s. Users looking for higher levels of performance should probably go with the non-optical drive setup that lets you install a standard 2.5-inch drive or configure the system with a SSD.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
Under normal and even stressful operating conditions, the EliteBook 2540p kept cool and didn’t become uncomfortably warm. The palmrest and most of the keyboard stayed just above room temperature, even under a stressful load, which is what we like to see on small notebooks. The bottom half of the notebook formed some hot spots near the exhaust vent, but only when the system was under stress.
Noise under a full processor load – heard only while running benchmarks – was just above what you might consider a whisper. Under normal activity, the system fan either turned off completely or stayed at a very slow speed.
The HP EliteBook 2540p offers very good battery life, but still fell short of what the Lenovo ThinkPad X201s offered with its 6-cell battery. In our battery test with the screen brightness reduced to 70%, Wi-Fi active and Windows 7 set to the balanced profile, the system stayed on for 6 hours and 1 minute. The ThinkPad X201s managed 7 hours and 13 minutes in the same test, and the primary difference is the lack of an onboard optical drive.
Battery life can also be extended using the “power saver” power profile in Windows 7 or with a 9-Cell (93WHr) battery.
The HP EliteBook 2540p easily ranks among the better 12-inch ultraportable business notebooks we’ve seen. It offers exceptional build quality and a well-crafted design on par with its main competitor, the ThinkPad X201, and offers a very similar parts configuration. In terms of beating the competition, the 2540p offers a built-in optical drive whereas the ThinkPad X201 doesn’t. For some users this isn’t generally a problem and the X201 managed to get higher battery life figures from the same hardware configuration sans optical drive even with a higher resolution screen.
When it comes down to which company makes a better business notebook, I think HP and Lenovo both offer exceptional products. Although in the end, it’s about the look and feel you prefer. The HP EliteBook series offers a more refined brushed-metal appearance, while the ThinkPad line has a more rugged rubberized-paint old school-look. Overall, both notebooks deserve equal consideration if you’re looking to buy a 12-inch business notebook.
- Great build quality
- Good looks
- Excellent keyboard
- Very costly to customize
- Slow 1.8-inch hard drive