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HP EliteBook 8440w Core i7 Notebook Review
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Date: Jun 21, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction and Specifications
Splitting the difference. Satisfying the niche. Exploiting an opportunity. All of those phrases could be used to accurately describe what HP has done here with the new EliteBook 8440w. It's one of the smaller options in the expanding EliteBook family, yet also one of the most powerful. That's not a combination you hear of very often. In most circumstances, you'll need a larger machine in order to accommodate more powerful components within, mostly because the more powerful components emit more heat than the lower-end components. Hewlett-Packard, however, has managed to get a Core i7 Mobile processor within the frame of a 14" notebook and still keep the heat under control. What we're left with is an extremely unique machine that has fewer competitive alternatives.


In general, 14" notebooks are harder to find than 13" ultraportables and 15" mainstream options. The 14" machine is still a great size in our eyes for those who want the power of a mainstream machine with added portability. But what's even less common is a 14" mobile workstation, which has workstation-level graphics, a cutting-edge CPU and a rugged enclosure. It's definitely a unique combination, and HP's EliteBook 8440w marries all of those. The company is clearly aiming at mobile professionals with this machine, particularly ones who appreciate style, build quality and sturdiness, not to mention cutting-edge technology notebook technology.


The 14" machine is equipped with a "gunmetal" finish that's frankly one of the most attractive we've seen, particularly for a business-class notebook. It doesn't attract fingerprints, and it's pure class inside and out. There are also a great deal of ports, and our review unit ships with an extended battery that protrudes from the rear but provides much-needed extra life considering just how much power a Core i7 Mobile and NVIDIA Quadro FX 380M will draw. There's also an option for integrated WWAN (mobile broadband), which is a must for most mobile professionals. Toss in an enclosure built to meet military standards (MIL-STD 810G) and a spill-resistant keyboard with drain vents, and you've got one well-rounded workhorse of a noteobok.

HP 14" EliteBook 8440w Notebook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Core i7-620  @ 2.67GHz, 1066MHz FSB; 3MB L3 Cache
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM (1333MHz; 2x2GB)
  • 14.0" LCD (1366x768 or 1600x900); LED backlght, matte
  • NVIDIA Quadro FX 380M (512MB) graphics
  • 320GB (7200RPM) Seagate Momentus 7200.4 ST9320423AS
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • DVD R/W dual-layer LightScribe Optical Drive
  • 2.0 megapixel webcam
  • VGA and DisplayPort outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 3; eSATA x 1
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / SDHC Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Multi-Gesture Trackpad
  • Starting at 4.9 Pounds
  • Removable 55WHr 6-Cell  or 9-cell 100WHr Li-ion Battery
  • 13.21" x 9.30" x 1.23" (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
  • Price (as tested): $1649
  • Price (starting): $1425 MSRP
  • 1/3-Year Warranty


You can tell immediately from the $1649 price tag here that this machine isn't meant for bargain shoppers. In fact, we think that HP really isn't aiming to compete on price at all. This rig is built for professionals who are looking for the components and size they need regardless of price, and are willing to pay just about anything in order to get that perfect combination. On paper alone, there's not a whole lot of value when you consider the near-$1700 price. That's a lot of cash, and it can buy you quite a few impressive machines. But HP is banking on the fact that people will be willing to pay a premium for a rugged, small, lightweight and powerful workstation. Alternatively, you could also consider HP's Core i5-based Elitebook 8440P, for under $1K.  That said, join us on the pages to come to find out if we think it's higher-end brethren is worth its price tag.

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Design and Build Quality


To put it bluntly, the HP EliteBook 8440w is meticulously constructed. The $1700 MSRP set our expectations extremely high; for that much money, we expected nothing short of world-class when it came to build quality, and that's exactly what we found after unpacking the machine. It's one thing to hear that this machine is built to military standards (MIL-STD 810G), but it's another to actually feel it.


There's no mistaking the rigidity as soon as you touch the 8440w. The top lid is extremely solid, the bottom chassis is built like a tank and there's no perceivable flex anywhere in the machine. What's crazy is that the starting weight is under 5lbs., yet somehow HP has managed to make the most of every ounce. It's the sturdiest 14" notebook we've ever touched, and we're really impressed that HP didn't have to make it 7+ pounds in order to accomplish that.


The LCD hinge was super solid, with the glide being ultra-smooth. It also lays completely flat for odd viewing in the field, but the viewing angles od the LCD left something to be desired (more on that later). The keyboard was also amongst the most solid that we've ever touched. You're probably tired of hearing "solid" at this point, but there's hardly more to say. HP took every possible component on the exterior and toughened it up. Even the lid latch is a solid piece of metal that depresses with a nice "click" to let you know the LCD is ready to be lifted.


HP calls the chassis a "DuraCase," and it's designed to withstand temperatures as high as 140 degrees F and as low as -20 degrees F. On top of all of that, HP has included a spill-resistant keyboard with drains (those two dimples beside the trackpad), and while we wouldn't recommend dropping a full pot of water on there, it should withstand the occasional coffee dump or condensation drip.


The 14" form factor is great; it's small enough to be highly mobile, but large enough to get a full-size keyboard in there. HP has included a larger-than-usual bezel, and while it's not the most stylish thing, we understand the reasoning for extra protection around the LCD given the nature of this machine.


Around the front, there's a Secure Digital card reader, integrated speakers and the lid latch (along with a few status LED lights), and around the sides you'll find a LightScribe-capable DVD burner, an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, Ethernet jack and 56k modem.


Along the rear is a power input, VGA and DisplayPort output, and on the other side you'll find three USB 2.0 ports, audio in/out ports, an ExpressCard slot and a mini-FireWire socket. HP also included a tracking pointer in the middle of the keyboard just like you'll find on ThinkPad notebooks, so business users who have remained loyal to Lenovo won't have to give that up if switching to HP here.

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Software and Accessories


As has become the norm, there's not much included in the box here aside from the HP EliteBook 8440w itself. The box is rather compact, and that's primarily because HP included nothing aside from the notebook, an AC power adapter, an AC power cord and a few inserts to keep things from getting too banged up during transit. No cleaning cloth, no sleeve, no case, no extra accessories.


Not that this is unusual, but with a $1700 machine that's designed for the professional, any extras at all would've been much appreciated. At any rate, HP has also done us all a favor by going easy on the bloatware. Again, this is sort of expected given that this machine is designed for use by business-people who generally have a very specific set of applications that they use, but it's still great to not have too many pop-ups and icons in the taskbar upon bootup.


One thing that could grow annoying is HP's own system analysis center, which tends to pop-up and check for updates during inopportune times. It can be disabled, thankfully, as can most any other program that loads up when you start the machine. Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) was included on our test machine, but a whole slew of operating system options are available from HP's website. No Office suite is pre-installed (not even a trial), but here's a look at a few programs that were: Windows DVD Maker, XPS Viewer, and a slew of HP-specific apps. Those include: HP Business Card Reader, HP Power Assistant, HP QuickLook, HP Update, HP Webcam, HP Wireless Assistant and HP Skyroom.


Skyroom in particular is something you don't find loaded onto your average notebook; it's basically a souped-up version of Google Wave, but with webcam and HD video support. This is HP's own integrated solution for video-conferencing; you just load up your profile, enable your webcam and join a meeting. We did some limited testing with it, and it worked well. Of course, we don't have 20 other office mates nearby to really put a strain on it, but it's a nice addition to an otherwise plain software suite, and it's proof that this machine was built for the workplace first and foremost. The ability to easily video conference is nice when collaborating with others that are far away, but this is nothing that couldn't already be accomplished via Skype, Google Wave and/or an array of other widely used apps. Integration is great, though, don't get us wrong.

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User Experience


So, here's what's most interesting about this EliteBook. From the moment you open it, you know you're playing with a professional machine, but it never really makes you feel as if you're using a "workstation." That word has a certain connotation to it, and most people in the consumer realm view it negatively. They generally assume that it's less stylish and more expensive that it should be. After all, companies can charge corporations loads for a "workstation" and they'll never feel the pinch, right?


HP has done an excellent job of disguising the "workstation" feel, yet still keeping the internals robust. There's no question that this machine is more than capable of handling typical workstation duties, but it's also well equipped to handle off-the-job tasks as well thanks to the Core i7 processor. That CPU, however, leads to the machine getting quite warm underneath after around a half-hour of "normal" use, including just Web browsing and listening to music. Not too shocking given the power within, but we figured that you would want to know.


We've already discussed our appreciation of the lightweight build, and the fact that it's rugged as well is just icing on the cake. But actually using the EliteBook 8440w is supremely satisfying. Bootup speeds are quick, applications launch in a flash, and overall, the machine handled regular chores like surfing the Web, watching 1080p video and even some light duty gaming very well.


In other words, you're free to use the 8440w as both your personal machine and your work machine, which cannot be said for every mobile workstation. We also found the spill-resistant keyboard to be extremely consumer friendly, and it's actually one of our favorite keyboards to date. There's no "chicklet" layout, but the traditional design coupled with the high-travel keys really impressed us. The full-size nature means that we were never cramped, and the assuring travel helped us to type away without having to worry over typographical errors or missed keys.


The trackpad was also a joy to use. The texture was perfect, and the response was also seamless. Our only complaint is this: the trackpad surface should be larger given the ample space available on the palm rest. We also think that the multi-touch gestures, which are supported via a software toggle, should be on by default. We overlooked them initially because they're flipped off from the factory. Once we did toggle them on, they worked well, and we were able to navigate easily around the screen by just gesturing with our hands instead of having to use a click button + trackpad.


We can't help but mention that the left/right trackpad buttons below the trackpad were the best we've ever used on a notebook, hands-down. Both have an extreme amount of travel, and while some will surely feel they depress too far, we loved it. There's no cheap "click," just a long, satisfying "thud" when your key hits the bottom. It's hard to explain, and even harder to compare, since we've never seen a trackpad button configuration like this before.


So, it's almost all positives, but one thing did let us down: the display. The 1600x900 resolution was perfect for the 14" panel, and the matte finish was a very welcome change from the glossy finish that we see on most notebooks. But the viewing angles were just terrible, and overall color sharpness/brightness weren't up to par. It also had a surprising amount of ghosting, due to subpar response times. Now, this machine isn't exactly built for multi-media playback, so we can't come down too hard on this one point, but it's the one primary problem that keeps this from being the ultimate "crossover" machine (workstation/consumer). You won't want to watch a DVD on this thing from an angle, that's for sure, but it's more than capable of displaying your latest CAD project to you and you alone.
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Test Setup and Futuremark PCMark Vantage



 Performance Comparisons with Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmarkvantage/introduction/

We ran the HP EliteBook 8440w through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.



Didn't think a highly mobile workstation could hang with the big boys? Think again. HP's EliteBook 8440w managed to outdo a number of the more potent consumer notebooks that have come our way, with only the absurdly powerful (and thick!) Clevo X8100 clearly beating it. For a mobile workstation in this class to put up these kinds of figures, we're pretty impressed.


Click to Enlarge
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Cinebench R11.5 & SPECviewperf 10: Maya/3D Studio Max

Cinebench R11.5 64bit
Synthetic OpenGL Rendering Performance
Cinebench R11.5 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. The benchmark goes through a series of tests that measures the performance of the graphics card under real world circumstances. Within Cinebench, graphics card testing makes use of a complex 3D scene depicting a car chase which measures the performance in OpenGL mode. Results are given in frames per second; the higher the number, the faster the graphics card. 



Ouch. Compared to even a low-end desktop FirePro GPU, the Quadro FX 380M doesn't really stack up. But it's not intended to. The core within this GPU is over a year old, and it has simply been tweaked for workstation use.

SPECviewperf 10
Multi-threaded 64-bit Rendering







Here, the 380M holds up a bit better. It lagged behind the ATI FirePro V3800 by ab out ~30% which is actually impressive when you consider that the ATI card is a desktop unit with little to no energy restrictions. Real world performance during these tests felt suitable enough, but we're sure you'd long for something more powerful if you end up doing extremely long and complex tasks. Then again, even having the ability to accomplish them on the go is a real boon.

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SiSoftware Sandra & Multimedia Benchmarks



Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).

 
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge

You'll notice that this mobile Core i7 can't hold a candle to desktop Core i7 chips, but simply being able to be in the same ballpark is really saying something. The 7200rpm drive also performed very well, and the memory bandwidth was also way up there.



To test multimedia capabilities, we attempted to play back a 1080p movie trailer. The I Am Legend trailer played back without a hitch, even with multiple applications running in the background. There's not a Full HD screen here, but even at 1600x900 it looked great and had no jitter to speak of. The low CPU utilization shown below is evidence of just how well it handled the stress of this complex scene.


Click To Enlarge; 1080p

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Gaming Benchmarks



 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800 or 1366x768 (on our newer machines). The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below, and for comparison with machines that are able to play at higher resolutions with larger screens, we'll provide you with a link to our chart from the Asus G51J review.




Neither of these titles are particularly new, but both showcase how well a machine can handle what we'd describe as "light-duty" to "medium-duty" gaming. Obviously, a workstation GPU won't handle the latest and greatest first-person shooters on the market, but it managed to play both of these classics at a very smooth clip, even at native resolution (1600x900). While not shown on this chart due to our previous machines not supporting 1600x900 resolution, both titles completed the scenes with average FPS rates between 32 and 36, so both were perfectly playable even at the native resolution. Some of the newer titles, however, would probably put the 380M in a real bind, but you really shouldn't be considering a mobile workstation is gaming is your top priority, anyway.

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Power Consumption and Battery Life


We used BatterEaterPro's "Real World" option to test the HP EliteBook 8440w's battery life. We didn't expect long of a life from a mobile workstation (particularly with a Core i7 and discrete Quadro GPU under the hood), but the 100WHr 9-cell battery gave us hope that it would at least last through a business meeting or video encode before demanding that we attach it to a wall socket.


Turns out, we were only able to squeeze out 2 hours and 10 minutes from the battery, and remember, this is the 9 cell battery. This was with the display on the entire time at 50% brightness, Wi-Fi on and a 3D graphic model spinning the entire time, exercising the GPU somewhat. That's not terrible for a Core i7-powered workstation, but it's not great, either. It's a little less than we expected, but it's clear that this machine isn't meant to be used for too long away from the power socket.


Click To Enlarge

If you're interested in a machine like this, with a need to compute on the go, we'd recommend buying a spare battery.  That said, for the average business meeting, where GPU-intensive tasks are generally non-existent, battery life should be considerably better than we've measured here.
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Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary:  In our SiSoftware SANDRA tests, the EliteBook 8440w stood up well against the competition, thanks in large part to its relatively powerful Core i7-620 processor. In the real world benchmarks, the Elitebook's 7200rpm hard drive was extremely responsive, and we had no major gripes when it came to multi-media playback (even at 1080p) or light duty gaming. But the NVIDIA Quadro FX 380M GPU isn't terribly powerful with only 16 shader cores, so there's definitely some performance issues when compared to higher-end, discrete GPUs found in desktops and more expensive mobile workstations. In the PCMark Vantage benchmark, the Elitebook managed to hold its own despite having a GPU that's designed less for gaming and multi-media and more for professional workloads. Of course, having a Core i7 CPU at its heart helped things immensely. In the Cinebench and SPECviewperf 10 tests, the system performed consistently lower than even the lowest-end desktop workstation cards available now, as seen in our recent FirePro GPU tests, but again, the GPU in the Elitebook is far less powerful than any of those products. This is the price you pay for having a crossover machine; you'd expect some compromises, but hardcore workstation addicts will likely demand more from their machine's GPU.



HP has a real winner on its hands here, by most accounts. We are not certain if the company intentionally designed this machine to be a killer crossover between consumer notebooks and mobile workstations, but that's exactly what was delivered. The 14" form factor is extremely mobile, and the sub-5lb. weight makes it easy to toss in a backpack and forget about it. But the rugged DuraCase protects it from shock, vibration and even light water splashes very well, which is all the better for those who prefer to use their notebook outside rather than in the safety of an office. The gunmetal finish is also quite attractive, so even though the construction is professional grade, the average consumer can certainly appreciate the style. We can't help but note, however, that the bottom of the machine got quite warm after around 30 minutes of normal use, and that's just with basic Web browsing, no hard number crunching.


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The 14" LCD wasn't tailored for movie watching; it washed out easily and the viewing angles were nothing to write home about. Outside of that complaint though, most everything else was at or above satisfactory. The spill-resistant keyboard was one of our favorites on any laptop, and the trackpad buttons had a good amount of travel. There's even a tracking pointer in the middle of the keys for professionals who are used to their ThinkPad setup. The Core i7 (consumer chip) + Quadro FX 380M (professional GPU) combination makes for a real winner; it's speedy enough to handle everyday tasks when you leave the office, yet it's specialized enough to crunch those pro applications when you're on the clock. It's important to note, however, that this configuration will not provide the best of either world. The Quadro FX 380M has a core that's well over a year old, and it's basically like having a tweaked Ion (just 16 CUDA cores) on tap. Plenty for multi-media, and it's fine for occasional pro use, but it won't provide the kind of insane performance found in pure server-class notebooks that are far uglier, far heavier and far less useful outside of the office.


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The average user will find everything they need here: a DVD burner, plenty of RAM, a powerful CPU, a GPU that'll handle light duty gaming and 1080p multi-media, a portable chassis and plenty of outputs. The mobile professional will appreciate those aspects too, and the addition of a "pro" NVIDIA GPU is just icing on the cake. But the $1700 price tag places it out of reach for most average consumers who won't be taking advantage of the specialized GPU, and despite the fact that we love most everything about this machine, it's hard to recommend for those who have no use for a professional GPU. You've got other 14" options out there, and while they may not be as rugged, stylish or flexible, they'll probably be quite a bit more affordable. For the mobile pro, on the other hand, it's hard not to recommend the EliteBook 8440w. It's a great size with a great screen resolution, and HP has managed to craft a machine that you'll be happy to take home after a long day at the office, instead of one that you'll be happy to leave behind. We just wish the GPU was more powerful, and it ran a bit cooler.


     
  • Great overall performance
  • Gorgeous Gunmetal  Design
  • Great Keyboard
  • Stellar Multimedia Playback
  • Rugged + Lightweight
  • Pricey at around $1700
  • So-so Battery Life
  • Lackluster LCD
  • Runs Very Warm



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