HP’s EliteBooks have always been the unsung heroes of the business notebook world. While not as visible as the ubiquitous MacBook Pro or as prestigious as the ThinkPad, the sturdy business notebooks have soldiered on in relative obscurity, relied upon by businesses but unseen but the public at large.
With a redesign this spring, that may change. A complete refresh brings the design of HP’s workhorse into the 21st century, while additional rugged features and practical updates like a supersized glass trackpad make it more practical than ever, too.
The HP EliteBook 8560p looks like a notebook Jason Bourne would carry. A rather flattering analogy, perhaps, but an apt one that seemed to be the consensus around Digital Trends’ offices thanks to an angular profile, muted brushed-metal finish, and a downright industrial-quality hinge and screen lock that wouldn’t seem out of place on the briefcase for a collapsible sniper rifle.
HP has kept the austere, down-to-business look of previous EliteBooks with its latest industrial design, but dressed it up a bead-blasted platinum finish, chemically strengthened glass trackpad, brushed-aluminum keyboard deck, and aluminum alloy hinges. Even the little details received attention. The janky capacitive touch buttons above the keyboard that were in vogue a few years back have reverted to hard buttons you can actually click. The bottom – normally a No Man’s Land of vents, labels, logos doors and slots, has been stripped, sculpted and styled into a relatively smooth plane of black plastic with a single access door. In a nod to the MacBook’s microscopic LEDs, the front has laser-cut indicators for Wi-Fi, power, charging and disk drive activity. This is a clean-looking notebook.
At 6.01 pounds, the EliteBook falls at the heavier end of the spectrum for 15-inch notebooks. A budget box like Gateway’s EV Series can easily hit 5.3 pounds, and even the comparably tough MacBook Pro 15 weighs 5.6 pounds. The extra weight makes the EliteBook a bit of a bear to handle with one hand, but it doesn’t quite reach the oppressive weight of a true desktop replacement. Depth of 1.34 inches is also nothing to brag about, but it comes with the territory in the “business rugged” class. A fully rugged notebook like Panasonic’s ToughBook 52, for by comparison, spans a porky two inches.
Not all of the HP’s upgrades have been aesthetic. Like most full-size notebooks launching these days, the EliteBook 8560p rides on Intel’s second-generation Core platform, also known as Sandy Bridge. You can pick an i5 clocked as slow as 2.3GHz or a an i7 clocked as high as 2.7GHz, with both dual- and quad-core variants, with available vPro for security. Our review unit came equipped with the aforementioned Core i7 at 2.7GHz.
Though HP markets the EliteBook 8560p to businesses, gamers will be happy to know it draws its graphics firepower from the consumer side of the market in the form of an AMD Radeon HD 6470M, a high-end card with 1GB of dedicated GDDR3 graphics memory. As we’ll see in the performance section, that gives business users some considerable leeway with gaming when they’re not jockeying spreadsheets and PowerPoints.
The 8560p offers a 15.6-inch LED-backlit screen, which comes in both 1366 x 768 and 1600 x 900 resolutions. For an extra $75 at the order screen, we highly recommend going with the latter, which ours came with.
Ports and connectivity
Like its predecessors in the EliteBook line, the 8560p has no lack of ports for connecting up to everything from projectors to portable hard drives. The right side of the notebook houses headphone and microphone jacks, two USB ports, a slim tray-loading DVD drive, and an Ethernet port towards the very rear. On the left, you’ll find an ExpressCard/54 slot, VGA connector, eSATA connector, FireWire (1394a) connector, and two more USB ports above an almost-too-hard-to-find SD card reader. Though the most recent crop of notebooks consumer notebooks typically eschew rear ports, HP has relocated some of its quirkier interfaces there, including the modem, DisplayPort, and oddly enough, a serial port. Unfortunately, the AC power connector has been banished to the rear as well, making it less convenient to connect and more prone to levering into tables when you lift the EliteBook from the front while it’s still plugged in. On the bottom, the EliteBook has a docking connector, and smartly enough, an entire panel that lifts away to give major easy access to the RAM and hard drive for upgrades.
HP’s business notebooks bear little likeness to its junk-filled consumer notebooks out of the box, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely clean slates. The EliteBook has shortcuts for a trial of Microsoft Office 2010, Norton Internet Security and HP Virtual Rooms waiting on the desktops. We were quick to trash all three, but we did dig up some useful preinstalled software waiting in the wings.
HP Power Assistant, which was one of our favorite utilities from previous EliteBooks, reappears better than ever, with new features including a history of power consumption and scheduling to let you taper down energy use at different times of day. You might, for instant, enforce conservative power settings in morning when you have an entire work day ahead of you, but flick energy savings off entirely entirely at 8 p.m. to watch movies.
For this year, HP has wrapped the sometimes daunting security features within ProtectTools in a new wizard, which makes it easier to setup enterprise features like data encryption, password managers, biometrics and smart card authentication. We were able to lock the notebook down with Fort Knox level security — fingerprints, face recognition, PIN codes and passwords — with about 10 minutes of setup, no IT degree necessary.
HP QuickLook is essentially a lightweight version of Linux that boots up in seconds and delivers instant access to the Web. It’s not new for 2011, but the latest version includes widgets like weather, stocks, and even Skype to flesh out a mini desktop, and the company promises more will be on the way. The Linux platform hiding beneath HP’s branding can sometimes make QuickLook feel less than intuitive, especially when connecting to the Web, but the lack of polish makes it surprisingly spry, fulfilling its promise as a go-to tool for Web use.
With a full-power Core i7 inside and AMD Radeon HD 6470M inside, it takes a lot to really present a problem for the EliteBook 8560p, which will churn through the majority of computing tasks without batting an eye. Boatloads of tabs in a browser window? Absolutely. Fluid 1080p video playback? For sure. Image and video editing? Not a problem.
We put the EliteBook 8560p to the test with PCMark 7, which tests its capability across a range of desktop tasks including Web browsing, photo editing, and word processing. The EliteBook scored a clean 2,200. Because the benchmarking suite just launched in May, that doesn’t leave much room for comparison, so we used PCMark Vantage as well, where it scored 7,628 PCMarks. That leaves the previous EliteBooks we tested, which scored in the 5,000 range, in the dust.
We largely credit the addition of AMD’s Radeon HD 6470M for the boost in score, which shows up most notably when tossing around video and 3D graphics. Even the most steadfast office drone needs a break now and then, so we also took the liberty of testing some games. Even if you don’t plan on doing much gaming with the EliteBook 8560p, the 3D effects represent an excellent benchmark for comparing the EliteBook to other systems, and give some idea how it will perform in 3D work environments like CAD and CAM as well.
In Mafia II, a demanding 2010 release that taxes even respectable gaming systems, the EliteBook 8560p was just able to keep up at its native 1600 x 900 resolution and low settings for shadows, ambient occlusion and other details. Gameplay clipped along at an acceptable — but not totally fluid — 20 to 30 frames per second. Crysis initially chugged along even worse at 1600 x 900 resolution and all settings to high, but dropping things to low were able to induce playability. Bottom line: The EliteBook has some gaming prowess, but don’t confuse it with a brute like the $5,000 Maingear eX-L 17. For designing threaded fasteners in Autodesk Inventor, it should be more than enough GPU.
Keyboard and trackpad
Solid metal chassis or not, most users will spend most of their time banging away at keys at swiping away at a touchpad below it, two points that have proven susceptible to long-term wear in budget notebooks. HP addressed the first with its DuraKeys in previous generations, which still appear here, but the trackpad is all new.
Like Apple’s MacBook trackpads, the EliteBook 8560p trackpad now uses chemically strengthened glass rather than plastic to resist wear, and it has also been supersized to fill almost all of the available palmrest room. The pad now spans a rough 2.25 inches by 4.25 inches, giving plenty of room for carefree multitouch mousing. For users who prefer the ease of a pointer nub in the keyboard, the EliteBook still has one, though the supersized touchpad buttons make it hard to find a place to rest your hand as you use it. Oddly enough, the trackpad performed extremely well on the desktop, but had trouble registering all of our swipes in both the games we tested with. Since it’s a business notebook anyway, we can’t hold it against it, but take note.
HP’s island-style keyboard offers a surprising amount of resistance with every keypress, which speaks to its durability but can cause temporary pause to users used to more dainty keys. A full numpad makes a useful addition for number crunchers used to dialing in digits at light speed with one hand.
If there’s any drawback to this otherwise clean package, it must be the catches for HP’s industrial-strength display latches. The die-cut holes have surprisingly sharp edges that can drag on your wrists as you shift them around to type. No blood drawn, but still a surprising oversight from such an otherwise thoughtfully engineered device.
Both the high-res and low-res screens come with an anti-glare coating, which allows the LED-backlit screen to shrug off sunlight and fluorescents to remain usable in just about any environment. Unfortunately, it also costs the EliteBook some of the vibrancy seen in glossy screens like the MacBook Pro’s — it just doesn’t have the “pop” and contrast that make the screens on entertainment notebooks woo viewers. It also tends toward the cool side of the color spectrum, and at full brightness it tends to look slightly washed out. Up-and-down and side-to-side viewing angles are about average.
The aluminum-alloy hinges on the EliteBook span the entire length of the chassis and feel like some of the most solid we’ve ever tested — you might actually want to use two hands to position the screen before it breaks in a little. They allow the display to recline far back to about 10 degrees from horizontal. That doesn’t quite match the gymnastic flexibility of many ThinkPads, but it’s a moot point unless you plan to engage in Quasimodo-style hunchback computing.
A Core i7 processor and discrete graphics card plugging away inside manage to make relatively short work of the EliteBook’s standard six-cell, 55-watt-hour battery. You can plan on about four hours of operation under normal use like reading and Web browsing with 75-percent brightness, and less if you want to play video or other high-intensity activities. HP does offer 62- and 100-watt-hour batteries, that latter of which is rated for nine hours of battery life. Not bad, but remember that they’ll add to the already significant weight of the machine. While shorts stints away from the wall won’t challenge the 8560p, road warriors may want to think twice before leaving behind the wall adapter for the day.
The EliteBook 8560p uses two forward-firing speakers that you can clearly spot when you remove the one-piece bottom — they’re about the size and shape of horse pills, and just about as potent. At full volume, the EliteBook 8560p will easily fill a room with music, although, like any laptop, it gets progressively harsher after the 75 percent level. Even so, the notebook’s surprising voice should come in handy for sharing video and other audible forms of media with large groups of people.
Any number of notebooks come configured cheaper or lighter, but for brute processing power, comfortable, hard-wearing controls and durability, it would be hard to do better than HP’s industrial-strength EliteBook 8560p. With a starting price of $1,099, you’ll pay for all three luxuries, but together they represent a sound investment that should keep ticking well after competitors have fried hard drives, broken keys and hinges that will barely keep the screen up anymore (we’ve certainly encountered all three).
- Industrial-strength chassis and hinges
- Large, high-res display with effective anti-glare coating
- Potent processors and discrete Radeon HD graphics
- Comfortable keyboard and supersized glass trackpad
- Incredibly complete array of ports
- Attractive, professional looking design
- Shockingly loud stereo speakers
- Useful preinstalled utilities
- Not as light or thing as competitors
- Only four hours runtime with stock battery
- Matte display lacks “pop” of glossy screens