Top 10 ultraportable laptops

Ideal for the mobile professional, these notebooks stand out for their low weight and small footprint

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HP EliteBook 2530p
EliteBook 2530p Review, by Carla Thornton, PC World December 24, 2008

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Rating:

CPU: Core 2 Duo SL9400; CPU speed: 1860MHz; Display size: 12.1 inches; Hard drive size: 80GB; WorldBench 6 rating: Very Good

Pros:
Dual pointing devices
Great, big battery with an external gage

Cons:
Stubborn volume controls

Bottom Line: Pricey but worth it, the HP EliteBook 2530P lives up to its name with extras not ordinarily found on an ultraportable.

REVIEW:
Bundled software information updated 1/15, 12:00 p.m. PDT

There's so much to like about the HP EliteBook 2530P that it's hard to know where to start genuflecting. This little black and silver beauty meets all the basic expectations--great performance, full set of connections--and then piles on nifty extras such as two sets of pointing devices and a keyboard light. It's by no means cheap at $2499, but if you want your laptop to mean business (in this case Windows Vista Business), HP has a fairly desirable ultraportable for you.

Equipped with a 1.86-GHz Core 2 Duo SL9400 CPU and 3GB of RAM, the EliteBook notched a reasonably speedy WorldBench 6 score of 89. And don't forget the 80GB solid-state drive--it's skimpy capacity-wise and it's the main contributor to the machine's high price, but it also deserves some of the credit for the laptop's speed. (Want to save some bucks? 120GB and 160GB SATA hard drives are also options.)

The standard ultraportable disclaimer also applies here: This system can't play 3D games, because the video memory is integrated and the squeaky speakers sound pretty awful. Also, the EliteBook carries a standard DVD writer, not a Blu-ray high-definition drive. Otherwise, however, this little laptop should be able to handle just about any type of business or entertainment application. How does it compare with other ultraportables currently on the scene? Well, it outperforms and outspecs the HP Voodoo Envy 133 in just about every way except sex appeal. It solidly outperforms the Samsung X360 (an SSD-based notebook that scored a 64 in WorldBench 6) and lags a little behind Sony's pricey VAIO VGN-Z598U (which earned a 96).

The EliteBook comes with a big power pack that extends the back of the unit by about half an inch. The design isn't overly clunky, however, and the battery lasted a good, long time in our tests: 12 minutes shy of 7 hours. Most impressive, it outlasted most other laptops, save for the Samsung X360 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X200.

It even has an external power gauge, especially convenient for checking battery life when the unit is turned off. Just 3.8 pounds, the EliteBook would be perfect for stuffing in a briefcase or backpack and then working offsite all day, without needing to lug along the power adapter. And the 12.1-inch, 1280-by-800-pixel, wide-aspect screen is glossy and bright but not annoyingly reflective--one of the benefits of using a backlit LED panel.

The keyboard is a cut above. The stroke is short and hard, but the layout is elegant and includes two pointing devices, not only a touchpad but an eraserhead embedded among the keys. The eraserhead tip is wide and concave, with tactile nubs that make getting the hang of maneuvering the pointer easy. Each pointing device has its own dedicated set of mouse buttons, both exceptionally comfortable thanks to a soft rubberized finish. Need to get work done in a dark room or on a plane? Pressing a small black button at the top of the screen pops out a nearby keyboard light, an LED mounted in a tiny hood that shines a pale white glow on the keys.

The standard laptop connections are well covered. The EliteBook has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless capabilities, gigabit ethernet, an ExpressCard/54 slot, a separate SD Card slot, and a Firewire port, not to mention both modem and network jacks. Hate remembering a bunch of passwords? A fingerprint reader is provided in the lower-right quadrant of the wrist rest. You can communicate face-to-face with the built-in 2-megapixel Webcam, too. Though the machine has only two USB ports, one is powered. (If you need more, HP's $109 docking station for the EliteBook provides four USB ports.) The unit even has a plastic sheath on the bottom for slipping in a business card to quickly identify you as the owner.

One thing that isn't standard: This corporate raider can take a beating. While we can't vouch for dunking it in a fish tank or dropping it in the desert, it does look like it can handle a desk-to-floor drop--and maybe a splash from a small latte.

And on the software front, it comes with a bunch of business-minded appliclations. You'll find security management tools, including a drive encryption option that seems pretty useful. I also really liked the HP Webcam software. It's a colorful, attractive and easy-to-use interface with lots of options, including taking stills, video with audio, or audio alone. In short, the software does a good job of answering (but not quite matching) Lenovo's ThinkVantage software suite that you'll find on ThinkPads.

We do have one design complaint worth mentioning, however. The futuristic touch-sensitive membranes that a lot of laptops now incorporate as quick-launch panels have been a mixed bag, and the EliteBook's is no exception. It was responsive to taps and included an on/off for the touchpad, which is always nice, but the volume gauge needed recalibrating. It didn't always respond, even to repeated swipes.

But, really, the lack of an easy way to control volume is not much of a drawback on an ultraportable. In all other ways the EliteBook lives up to its name. If you have the money, it has all the panache you could want in a light, fast, and easy-to-use portable.

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