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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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