HP EliteBook 2540p Review

HP EliteBook 2540p

“The smallest business laptop HP offers, the EliteBook 2540p is light on the scales but heavy on performance and build quality.”
  • Powerful selection of Core i5 and i7 CPUs
  • Top-notch build quality
  • Extremely effective anti-glare screen
  • Durable, comfortable keyboard and touchpad
  • Competitive weight and size
  • Optional optical drive, pointing nub
  • Well short of rated battery life
  • Ho-hum LCD display
  • Business-class price
  • No optional 3D graphics

hp elitebook 2540p reviewIntroduction

After wading through netbook after anemic netbook over the past two years, you could be forgiven for dismissing HP’s diminutive EliteBook 2540p as yet another underperforming compact notebook at first glance. But give it a closer look. This is no mere netbook. While its 12.1-inch screen makes it the smallest of HP’s EliteBook business notebooks, it lacks little of their workhorse character, making it an ideal travel mate for the productivity crowd.

Features

As the EliteBook designation suggests, HP’s 2540p caters to business users looking for serious computational horsepower packaged neatly into a road-ready design. To that end, you can order one with any of Intel’s latest high-end processors, up to 8GB of RAM, hard drives up to 500GB, and even an optical drive, which many competitors in this class have yanked in favor of ever-slimmer designs (Lenovo’s otherwise trusty ThinkPad X201 comes to mind).

Although HP offers a choice of standard-voltage Core i5 and Core i7 processors, buyers who want the optical drive will need to opt for the low-voltage i7, clocked at 2.1GHz. The same choice also confines users to only 1.8-inch hard drives, which cap out at 320GB.

Our review notebook came equipped with a 2.1GHz Core i7 processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a standard six-cell battery, and a 250GB 5400RPM SATA II hard drive.

hp elitebook 2540p reviewDesign

Like the EliteBook 8440p we looked at back in April, the 2540p adopts a look somewhere between boardroom and livingroom – a working man’s laptop that’s not afraid to show some class. All the functional parts including the keyboard, base and bezel get a rubbery matte black dressing that makes them disappear, but brushed aluminum plates on the palm rest and lid supply a literal dose of cool (as in, chilly wrists in the winter cool).

All the controls have been built into a slender strip above the keyboard, which looks black when powered off but lights up with a number of touch-sensitive controls after being powered on, including shortcuts for e-mail and the Web, a Wi-Fi indicator, volume mute and adjust buttons, and a switch to turn the touchpad off. A pop-out LED in the top of the screen bezel lights up the keyboard, which can come in handy for late-night computing or just to keep typing when the lights go down for a presentation.

While it’s more common sense than engineering miracle, we have to give HP credit for the business card sleeve on the bottom of the 4540p. Sure, you could accomplish the same thing with packaging tape on any notebook, but this one lets you do it while maintaining some professional composure. Nobody wants to look like an overzealous mom in the boardroom.

Unfortunately, even the most basic six-cell battery protrudes from the back of the notebook, which ruins some of its sleekness. The only other nuisance seems to be a DVD-ROM eject button located right where you’ll reach to pick the notebook up by its sides, leading us to pop the tray out over and over again by accident.

hp elitebook 2540p reviewBuild Quality

A magnesium skeleton keeps the EliteBook’s little 12.1-inch frame stiff as a board, and all the moving parts share the same rigid sensibility. The lid swings open with the sturdy feel of a Jaguar door and clicks shut with the precision of jewelry box.

The sturdiness carries over to more than just feel, too. All of HP’s EliteBooks meet MIL-STD 810G specs for resistance to vibration, dust, humidity, altitude and extreme temperatures. They also come with DuraKeys, which basically ensures you can type out this nation’s entire federal tax codes before the letters will wear off the keys. A spill-resistant keyboard that actually drains out the bottom of the notebook in the event an errant elbow knocks your Kool-Aid cooler face-down into the computer. Like most business notebooks, the 2540p also uses accelerometers to detect falls and shut down your hard drive before impact, lessening the chances of scrambling it.

Portability

It may not be as impossibly slender as a netbook or Apple’s new MacBook Air, but the EliteBook 2540p comes surprisingly close to those comparatively performance-hobbled ultra-lights when it comes to portability. It weighs just 3.38 pounds in its base configuration, and measures 11 inches wide, 8.4 inches deep, and 1.1 inches tall. A standard sheet of paper nearly perfectly matches its footprint, which can be handy if it’s going to share a briefcase or backpack with documents.

hp elitebook 2540p reviewDisplay

The 12.1-inch, LED-backlit display on the EliteBook 2540p suits the notebook’s purpose well – it works just about anywhere, but you’re not going to woo anyone with it. Even at full brightness it fails to really draw the eye, and a limited color palette seems to produce some banding in gradients, but its anti-glare coating is one of the more effective we’ve seen. Even near windows and under harsh fluorescent lighting, we had no problems squinting through glare to see the screen. Gorgeous? Not really, but it works where you need to work, and for a business notebook, that’s counts more than a little extra pop and sizzle. The 1280 x 800 resolution proves to be quite adequate for unitasking and movies, but you’ll need more horizontal pixels before you have enough room to really cram two documents side by side.

Ports and Connections

If you want more connectivity than the 2540p provides, you’re going to need to get a bigger laptop, because HP has carved out a port in every available square inch of the notebook’s chassis.You’ll find three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and DisplayPort video outputs, Firewire, an ExpressCard 34 slot, Smart Card slot, SD card slot, Ethernet jack, docking connector, an RJ-11 jack if you get it with a modem, AC power, a combined headphone-and-microphone jack, and of course, that all-important optical drive.

There’s not much to complain about here, but if we had to nitpick, we’d question putting all three USB ports in the same back left corner – righties use corded mice sometimes, too. And what’s with DisplayPort instead of HDMI? As with MacBooks, you’ll need to grab the right cable to make sure it converts to the standard HDMI cable your TV or projector accepts.

HP EliteBook 2540p

Sound

As we’ve come to expect from notebook in this size class, sound quality is really nothing to brag about, but it works. A single forward-firing speaker below the touchpad pumps out bassless, sometimes shrill audio with just enough volume to listen to a television show or movie when you forget headphones, but not nearly enough fidelity to make most music worth listening to.

hp elitebook 2540p reviewKeyboard and touchpad

When you’re not doing business face-to-face, you’re doing it with a keyboard, and HP took that need for a solid keyboard seriously with the 2540p. Although it’s only 11 inches wide, the keyboard nearly fills the whole width of the notebook from edge-to-edge, and most of the letter keys remain full size. The shrinkage comes around the edges, where keys like tab and backspace get cut off, and in the top row of F-keys, which have been shrunken to baby size. Although every key has a Chiclet-style flat top, they click down with the depth and feel of a more traditional keyboard.

Unlike most similar notebooks in this size class, including Lenovo’s X201 and Dell’s Latitude E4200, the 2540p offers both a pointing nub and a traditional touchpad, both of which are superb. While small, the touchpad has a smooth matte surface that makes it easy to track with and soft-touch buttons that don’t require much effort. The nub – dimpled grey and less distinctive than Lenovo’s iconic red eraser head – has a firm, precise feel.

Performance

While it’s no MacBook, the 2540p boots to the desktop in 48 seconds and opens a browser window in another 11 seconds, keeping the time from cold-in-a-briefcase to ready-to-work under a minute.

Once up and running, the EliteBook earns its stripes with all the grunt you could ask for from business notebook, even in the low-voltage configuration we got. Applications fly open and shut as fast on demand, browser windows pile up without any noticeable impact on performance, and no form of video could slow it to a chug – including the dreaded 1080p YouTube test.

Unfortunately, with only Intel HD graphics, you’re not going to be pushing the likes of Crysis any time soon, but it’s a business machine, remember? To the little Intel’s credit, though, we were able to get BioShock to play at its native 1280 x 800 resolution with settings to low, and acceptable framerates in all but the most visually intense scenes, like the fire-on-water opening.

Our EliteBook 2540p scored an impressive PCMark score of 5,923 in PCMark Vantage, outranking the EliteBook 8440p we tested, which scored 5783 PCMarks, and was equipped with a 2.4GHz Core i5 instead.

Software

HP takes perhaps the most balanced approach to software that we’ve seen on new notebooks – sprinkle on the essentials and not much else. Lightweight apps like HP Webcam let you use the notebooks built-in features without sifting around for third-party software, while HP Power Assistant makes it easy to switch between different wireless profiles and will even tell you how many minutes you’ll gain by clicking individual features on or off. Best of all, they’re all neatly bundled under an HP folder on the Start menu, and there’s not a sponsored link in site. A single application called HP Software Setup makes it a breeze to browse what came pre-installed, remove the pieces you don’t want, and add new ones.

hp elitebook 2540p reviewBattery life

Our review notebook came equipped with a 6-cell battery HP rated for 8.5 hours of continuous use, but you can plan on getting more like half of that – quite literally. Ours delivered an honest four hours of battery life with power-saving settings engaged but screen brightness set to max and fairly brisk Web browsing – which we consider a pretty realistic use scenario. Obviously, turning off both will deliver substantially more life, more in the neighborhood of 6.5 hours, but we’re not sure what mind-bending tricks HP had to pull to arrive at 8.5, and realistically, we can confidently say no real consumer will ever reach it on here. However, HP does offer a nine-cell extended battery that should push users closer to that territory if they need it.

Conclusion

For weeks where airports turn into offices, coffee is more like water, and every night ends in a different hotel room, it’s not hard to see why a notebook like the EliteBook 2540p can become a workaholic’s best friend. Durable, capable and small enough to always keep on hand, the EliteBook earns its business-grade price tag with features business-savvy owners want. The rather dull display and lack of 3D graphics card will limit its capabilities as an entertainment machine, but otherwise HP’s wide range of custom configurations will tailor it to just about anything your budget can accommodate. Just beware: True road warriors will want to shell out for a nine-cell battery to coax a real full day’s work out of the beast when away from wall outlets.

Highs:

  • Powerful selection of Core i5 and i7 CPUs
  • Top-notch build quality
  • Extremely effective anti-glare screen
  • Durable, comfortable keyboard and touchpad
  • Competitive weight and size
  • Optional optical drive, pointing nub

Lows:

  • Well short of rated battery life
  • Ho-hum LCD display
  • Business-class price
  • No optional 3D graphics

Editors' Recommendations