Top all-purpose laptops

These midsize laptops are affordable and offer more options for hardware and features than smaller laptops, yet are more portable than desktop replacement models

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Rating:

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Pros:
Good control over security and power
Matte LCD screen is pleasing

Cons:
Industrial design is a little clunky
Speaker quality is terrible

Bottom Line: HP's latest EliteBook 8460p won't win any awards for looks, but it does come with a good display and keyboard for road warriors.

REVIEW:
HP's new EliteBook line looks much like models in the older EliteBook line, such as the EliteBook 8440w we reviewed 15 months ago. Yes, the external skin offers a more pleasing brushed aluminum aesthetic, but it's still a little clunky looking. You could call it the gray flannel suit of laptop computing.

The latest EliteBook 8460p is the smallest model in the EliteBook lineup, with a 14-inch screen and a weight of about 5.5 pounds. The new model is equipped with one of the latest-generation Intel Core CPUs. Our review unit carried a 2.5GHz Core i5 2520M with a maximum turbo boost speed of 3.2GHz. HP's configuration also included 4GB of RAM, Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, and a Radeon HD 6470M mobile GPU.

The Radeon HD 6470M is fully DirectX 11-compliant, but it's unlikely to give you much of a performance boost in current-generation DX11 games: Its 3DMark 2011 performance score is a modest 598. T play hardcore games, you'll have to dial down the resolution and detail settings substantially.

But the EliteBook 8460p is all about business, not play, and HP includes a robust package of software that caters to business users. HP ProtectTools, for example, gives end users and IT managers fine-grain control over security features, such as drive encryption and user login control. ProtectTools includes facial-recognition software that can work in concert with your Bluetooth-enabled phone to verify that the person logging in is really you.

HP Power Assistant is a reskinning of the Windows Power Management controls, but it isn't deeply buried and it's substantially more user-friendly than its predecessor. Like ProtectTools, Power Assistant supports remote management by IT system administrators, if the right HP management suite is running on the server.

The laptop's overall performance was about average for a system of its class, with a PC WorldBench 6 score of 124. Battery life is quite good, at well over 5 hours in the PCWorld Labs' battery life test.

The keyboard's feel is excellent, with good tactile feedback during touch-typing sessions. HP supplies both a pointing stick and a trackpad, plus two sets of buttons located to provide optimal support for each pointing device. Even though I'm a trackpad user, I liked having both sets of buttons at hand, since I could easily reach one button or another with different fingers while touch-typing. The trackpad is well-designed, too--not too sensitive and offering good support for multitouch-gesture recognition.

Another plus is the matte-finish LCD panel in place of a glossy glass display. Matte finishes sometimes yield somewhat muted color saturation, but the resulting display is much more usable because it minimizes reflections and glare. Video playback quality was excellent: DVD upscaling showed only a little edge enhancement, and we noted good detail levels on the native 1366-by-768-pixel screen. (HP also offers 1600 by 900 resolution as an option.) High-definition playback scaled down to native resolution looked very nice.

On the other hand, the overall audio quality through the built-in speakers was abysmal. Without the SRS audio enhancement software activated, maximum perceived sound levels were very low, and music had a tinny, grating quality. With SRS switched on, the speakers' perceived loudness went up, but the sound stage seemed muddy and treble was completely lost in the midrange. I played around with different settings, but ultimately I couldn't improve the music-listening experience. Surprisingly, movie audio quality was somewhat better, though still muddy sounding. I strongly recommend that you use headphones or external speakers if you plan on listening to a lot of music.

The EliteBook 8460p we tested shipped with a 320GB Hitachi hard drive and a DVD-recordable optical drive. The hard drive seemed a bit sluggish, and the system took several minutes to boot. HP does offer larger-capacity hard-disk drives as well as several solid-state drive options. On the optical front, you can add Blu-ray as an option.

The system comes with plenty of connections, including a USB 2.0 port on the right side that's designed to make charging USB-connected mobile devices easier. The other USB 2.0 port on the right is a combo eSATA port. Two SuperSpeed (USB 3.0) ports are on the left side.

The left side also houses an ExpressCard slot, a four-pin FireWire connector, and the optical drive. A VGA connector, ethernet, and an actual V.92 modem connector is built into the back. A full-size DisplayPort connector is available on the right side, as are a pair of audio mini-jacks--one input and one output. Our unit shipped with 802.11n, Bluetooth, and gigabit ethernet. Cell-phone-style mobile broadband cards are available as an extra-cost add-on.

The preconfigured model of the 8460p delivered to PCWorld is priced at $1199--a touch high for a midrange business class laptop with its configuration and performance. However, it's price is considerably lower than that of any custom-configured unit.

Overall, the HP EliteBook 8460p offers decent performance, a good display, and a great keyboard in an unassuming exterior design. The price for preconfigured models is reasonable, given some of the system management features built into the EliteBook. So if you're looking for a fairly light business-class all-purpose laptop that gets the job done without being flashy, the 8460p deserves closer inspection. Just remember to bring your own headphones.

HP Pavilion dv6
HP Pavilion dv6 Review, by Loyd Case July 18, 2011

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