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.
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.
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.
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.
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.