HP EliteBook 8530w Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (274,233)

by Jerry Jackson

The HP EliteBook 8530w is the latest 15.4″ workstation featuring the latest Intel processors and Nvidia Quadro FX 770M wrapped inside an impressively durable shell.  The Elitebook 8530w and 8530p (non-workstation version) replace the 8510w and 8510p, respectively.  Is it time for an upgrade at your office? Take a look and see what we have to say about this powerful workhorse!

The 8530w starts out at $1,499 but more powerful configurations top out at $3,549.

Our pre-production review unit as configured:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 Processor (2.53GHz, 6MB L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • Microsoft Genuine Windows Vista Business
  • 15.4-inch WUXGA+ anti-glare (1920 x 1200)
  • 512MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 770M Workstation GPU
  • 4GB DDR2 800MHz RAM (2 x 2GB Configuration)
  • 160GB 7200RPM Toshiba 2.5″ HDD
  • Blu-Ray and DVD+/-RW Optical Drive
  • WiFi, Ethernet, Modem, and Bluetooth Connectivity
  • 8-Cell 73WHr Battery
  • 3-Year on-site Warranty
  • Dimensions: 1.1″ x 14.0″ x 10.4″
  • Weight: 6.5lbs without power adapter, 8lbs with power adapter

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 a similar configuration with 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM and a 250GB hard drive would cost $2,549 if ordered via the HP website.

Build and Design

The HP EliteBook 8530w is a business workstation notebook, and as such consumers and corporations expect the highest quality of materials and the best features and designs for their money.  Does HP deliver? Oh yeah.

The main body of the laptop is covered in the new “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 so scratch resistant you can’t even scratch it with steel wool.  The base of the laptop feels very strong and would definitely survive many bumps and bruises that other laptops might not.  There is no flex in the keyboard, except for a very minor amount of flex around the enter key directly above the optical drive.  The underside of the notebook is also similarly rigid and strong with the exception of the area immediately underneath the notebook’s optical drive.  Although we don’t recommend it, you can stand on this notebook and you’ll barely notice any flex beneath your feet.

The outer shell of the screen casing is made of metal, but the inner screen bezel is plastic.  You’ll also find a convenient keyboard light located at the top of the screen bezel. Just push the button on the top of the screen and a small LED pops out shining a light on your keyboard. This is perfect for typing while traveling in a car or airplane without turning on an overhead light to bother people sitting next to you. The laptop screen housing is also extremely solid and can barely be twisted even when significant force is applied.

On that note, I accidentally discovered how durable the “DuraCase” and “DuraFinish” are during our testing. I was checking something on the bottom of the notebook with the screen open and when I flipped the EliteBook 8530w over it slipped out of my hands and the back of the screen hit my desk with a solid “WACK!” Just so you understand how hard this notebook hit the desk, the impact was loud enough to make all my coworkers stop what they were doing and look to see if I was okay. The back of the LCD lid hit the desk with enough force that if the lid had been made of cheap plastic it would have snapped in half like a dead twig.

The 8530w survived without a scratch and everything continued to work perfectly.

When HP says that this mobile workstation “has been tested and meets the military standard
MIL-STD 810F tests” they mean this notebook is built to last. The HP engineers responsible for the 8530w certainly impressed the team here at NotebookReview.com.

Additionally, the 8530w 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.

Of course, with all this rugged durability built into the deisgn you have to expect a trade off, and the trade off in this case is weight. If you didn’t already notice, the EliteBook 8530w tips the scales at six and a half pounds! If you add the power adapter your travel weight then becomes a full eight pounds. While this isn’t horrible for a desktop replacement, if you plan to travel with the 8530w you need to be prepared for how massive this mobile workstation really is. Start lifting weights at the gym after you order your EliteBook to prepare yourself.

Finally, in the same way that the gray and black exterior and smooth design suits a professional environment, so do the internals. The EliteBook 8530w uses two simple plastic covers on the bottom of the notebook (each held in place with two 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 rest of the notebook interior is protected by Torx screws which help deter unqualified employees from messing around inside their work-issued notebook. 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 8530w comes equipped with a 15.4″ anti-glare widescreen 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 Maya, CAD, 3dsMax, and more.  Or course, you can also enjoy this extra resolution for 1080p movies when you use the BluRay optical drive.

When viewing the screen from straight ahead, colors are rich and the contrast is excellent. High-definition movies (compliments of the BluRay 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.

 

HP generally impresses our editorial staff with the quality of the speakers used in their notebooks, and the speakers in the 8530w were no exception. The built-in speakers are above average with a good range of highs. middles, and acceptable lows and do not sound tinny at all.  The highest volume settings are more than loud enough to fill an office with sound for a presentation, but are still clear and not distorted. The only negative about the speakers is their location on the front edge of the notebook.

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 8530w on your desk this isn’t 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 8530w works well with the three 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.

Performance and Benchmarks

Our pre-production EliteBook 8530w came with the Intel T9400 processor, clocking in at 2.53GHz, and jammed packed with 6MB of cache. For graphics, HP included an Nvidia Quadro 770M series video card with 512MB of GDDR3 memory. A fast 160GB 7200 RPM hard drive was also included, which helped applications load without much lag. This workstation consistently exceeded our expectations, thanks in large part to the workstation-class GPU. Serious users will find this machine packs plenty of power for even the most demanding tasks, and “normal” users who are only concerned with working in Microsoft Office and encoding the occassional video for work will have more power than they know what to do with it.

In a day and age when more and more notebooks are offering hybrid graphics (a combination of both integrated and dedicated graphics that allow you to reduce power consumption when you don’t need extreme graphics performance) we would have liked to see a hybrid graphics solution inside the Elitebook 8530w. As it stands, this isn’t a deal killer because most people interested in this notebook are concerned about performance … not getting every possible minute of battery life.

With that said, let’s jump into the performance benchmarks.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
HP EliteBook 8530w (Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz) 30.919s
Lenovo T400 (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 27.410s
Lenovo T500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 27.471s
Lenovo T61 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.025s
Dell Vostro 1500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5470 @ 1.6GHz) 53.827s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Systemax Assault Ruggedized (Core 2 Duo T7200 @2.0GHz) 41.982s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s

PCMark05 comparison results:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB) 6,287 PCMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3470 256MB GDDR3)   6,589 PCMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)    N/A
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)   7,050 PCMarks
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)  5,689 PCMarks
Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB) 4,839 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 3,585 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,925 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,377 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB) 5,230 3DMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3470 256MB GDDR3)   2,575 3DMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)   809 3DMarks
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)   4,371 3DMarks
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500) 809 3DMarks
Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB) 1,441 3DMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 1,269 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 794 3DMarks

 

As an added bonus, we also tested the EliteBook 8530w with the new PCMark Vantage benchmark, and notebook returned a score of 3,944.

HDTune storage drive performance test:

 


Keyboard and Touchpad

The full-size keyboard on the 8530w 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 a little less space in between them. The key spacing had to make room for the addition of the pointstick and you might also notice the longer backspace, backslash, enter, and shift keys which also force a minor relocation of the arrow keys. This takes a little bit to get used to, but overall the keyboard layout is extremely nice for a 15-inch laptop.

 

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, 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 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 8530w’s.  The pointstick is amazingly accurate and comfortable to use.

The only negative we experienced with the touchpad interface on our pre-production unit is that the rubber touchpad buttons didn’t always register a click when you press them. This is because the rubber surface of each button “bends” around the actual button that triggers the click. If you don’t press just the right spot at the exact center of each button then the button won’t register that you pressed it. The secondary buttons located above the touchpad (the ones used for the pointstick) didn’t have this problem, so we’re not sure if it’s a design issue or just a problem with this particular pre-production unit.

We 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 8530w features a good number of ports on all sides, so let us take a brief tour …

Left side:

Here we see the stwo USB ports, GigE Ethernet, HDMI-out, eSATA port, Firewire 400, an ExpressCard/54 slot, smart card slot, and a multi-card reaader.

Right side:

Audio-out jack, microphone/line-in jack, two USB ports, BluRay optical drive, modem port and security lock slot.

Rear side:

The battery, AC power jack, and the VGA out jack.

Front side:

There are no ports on the front, just indicator lights and the speakers.

Bottom side:

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.

The 8530w features an 802.11 a/b/g/draft-n WiFi card and Bluetooth 2.0, both of which always worked without any dropped signals.

Heat and Noise

During normal use (browsing the web or working on a text document) the EliteBook 8530w remained nice and quiet. However, after watching some streaming video online and after stressing the graphics the cooling fan inside the laptop gets quite loud.  When doing tasks that stress the processor and graphics card, the laptop’s fan works hard to keep this laptop cool.  This is something of a mixed blessing in that while noisy, it helps to lower the internal temperatures and helps extend the life of your notebook components.

Finally, we recorded the following external temperatures using an IR thermometer after running two consecutive PCMark05 benchmarks. This should serve as an indicator of how hot the notebook will get after about 30 minutes of serious use. All temperatures are listed in degrees Fahrenheit. While the 8530w isn’t the coldest notebook we’ve reviewed, it does stay amazing cool considering the powerful processor and graphics.

Battery

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 ‘High Performance’ profile, screen brightness at about 60%, WiFi on, and accessing the hard drive while listening to music files and editing documents in Microsoft Office.  The laptop shut down after exactly 3 hours and 38 minutes with 3% of the battery left, which is reasonable for a laptop with so much power running in “high performance” mode.  Battery life can also be extended via using the “power saver” power profile in Vista, or with a secondary 8-Cell or 12-Cell battery which can more than double the battery life according to HP.

Conclusion

The HP EliteBook 8530w is one of the most impressive workstation-class 15.4″ notebooks we’ve seen.  Whether you’re a small business owner looking for a durable notebook with plenty of performance or a large business looking to outfit a large staff of creative professionals with mobile workstations, the EliteBook 8530w makes a smart choice. However, there’s no such thing as a perfect notebook and our pre-production unit of the 8530w was not without its flaws.

While there are a few things we can criticize about the 8530w, it’s hard to be too critical of a pre-production unit because there is always a “possibility” that a minor issue (such as touchpad buttons or cooling fan volume) could be resolved with the final versions that ship to customers. Still, based on the review unit we have on hand we feel our relatively minor criticism is warranted.

Bottom line, there are many reasons why professionals need to buy the HP EliteBook 8530w and very few reasons not to.

Pros

  • One of the most full-featured and rugged 15.4″ workstation notebooks.
  • Extreme graphics power, top notch overall horsepower.
  • High-resolution screen with good viewing angles and excellent brightness.
  • Available BluRay drive.
  • Extended battery life available via a second battery port.
  • Attractive and sleek design.

Cons

  • Pricey because of the workstation GPU and rugged build quality.
  • Heavy … very heavy with the power adapter.
  • Rubber touchpad buttons don’t always register a click when you press them.
  • Less than ideal location for speakers.
  • Fan can run loud and push out a lot of hot air.

 




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