Review HP Elitebook 8540w Notebook
CAD Expert + X. Primarily created for professional work, the technical data and configuration details also catch the attention of occasional gamers and ambitioned home users. We looked at what this workstation is capable of in detail.
HP's Elitebook series represents the pinnacle of HP's business devices and offers quite a few unique features that allow a clear delimitation to the ProBooks positioned below them. Quad core CPUs, a FullHD display, USB 3.0 + eSATA, up to 4 RAM slots and a 3 year warranty, among other things, are available for the HP 8540w. The starting price is currently accordingly high with 1700.00 euro, and with a FullHD display not quite 1900.00 euro. The most expensive alternative with UMTS is available starting at 2300.00 euro. The top model in terms of performance, with a Core i7-720QM and Nvidia Quadro FX1800M, is listed for about 100.00 euro less (all street prices). Additionally, Intel's Core i7-820QM CPU and 160GB/256GB SSDs are listed on the data sheet, but aren't found in any available alternative yet. Our test model (WH130AW) for about 2250.00 euro has the Intel Core i7-620M, the Nvidia Quadro FX880M graphics, a BluRay combo drive, a FullHD display and a 500GB hard disk.
Looked at superficially, the HP Elitebook 8540w's case has similarities to the ProBook range with its silvery, matt black appearance. But then, it differs significantly when looked at closer. The materials are overall high-end and very firm. In comparison to the good ProBooks, a further enhancement has been achieved. The display lid is made of a brushed aluminum surface and has a high torsional stiffness. There isn't a chance to force reaction on the display surface through pressure. The display hinges are very handy and even allow a 180° opening angle, but also always keep the display in position. It can also be opened single-handedly, as the base unit has enough counterweight. The EliteBook 8540w weighs almost 3 kg and thus belongs to the heavy-weights in the 15.6" category. The difference isn't quite as big, in comparison to Dell's and Lenovo's workstations (both ca. 2.8 kg), especially if you include HP's higher capacity battery.
The well responding function bar above the keyboard is completely enclosed in aluminum. The keyboard is identical to that of the ProBook 6540B, but also has a trackpoint and correlating keys. Especially striking is that no bending can be provoked. The subconstruction is perfect. The solid as a rock wrist-rest, also in brushed aluminum, has circular openings for both latches, which can be unlocked by pressing the opener on the front. The base tray is made of black plastic and no weaknesses whatsoever can be evoked. The battery fits tight and can be removed for stationary use without hesitation. The EliteBook stands as always.
Not so great: the optical drive's eject button can't be felt well and is a bit tricky to use. A slot-in drive as an alternative could definitely have scored here. In terms of workmanship, there is only one unsightly spot in the hinge area where various components are shifted and joined with gaps.
Generally, HP impressively proves that it's possible to build a strong notebook even with a conventional construction method. The level is very well comparable to Apple's Unibody MacBook Pro. However, Apple has the advantage of having only a fraction of interfaces and also considerably fewer powerful components to accommodate, which is especially beneficial for a slim appearance. The Elitebook looks almost clunky in comparison, but complies with the military standard, MIL-STD 810G, which puts a high demand on resistance against vibrations, dust, moisture and temperature.
Configuration and Supplies
The standard supplies included by HP for the Elitebook are remarkable. Everything else available beyond that is simply the dream of many users. With 3 USB 2.0s and 2 USB 3.0s you have enough USB ports for connecting the usual peripherals, such as a printer, sticks, digital cameras, etc., but you also have the possibility to connect fast external hard disks and, above all, to exhaust them. Including power supply. We determined a max. of 29.4 MB/s for the USB 2.0 and a max. of 109 MB/s for the USB 3.0. eSATA bids a further possibility for fast connections (102.6 MB/s) and Firewire particularly satisfies video fans and Mac-migrants (FW400 4-pin / 34.5 MB/s). If that isn't enough, you have an upgrade option with ExpressCard54, which can be equipped with numerous additional functions.
Gigabit LAN, WLAN 802.11 abgn, Bluetooth, a 6-in-1 cardreader (SD 1.7 MB/s, SD-HC 1.5 MB/s, XD 1.7 MB/s), a SmardCard reader, a fingerprint reader, a Trusted Platform module, a keyboard light and webcam complete the array. The cardreader's rates are extremely disappointing. We already determined this problem in a HP 2710p convertible a while ago. Even a driver update couldn't remedy this.
External displays can be connected both via VGA as well as digitally via display port. The analog alternative's signal quality is good in the resolutions of 1280x1034 and 1680x1050. Thus, you can continue using older or low cost displays without a digital out.
The port distribution is inevitably predetermined by the battery accommodated in the rear and the not very interface suitable front. The VGA port and power socket is found on the rear, and the cardreader on the front. The sides are accordingly crowded. You have to take more care than usual to really nab the right port. It's an advantage for righties that all ports are on the far right back and thus shouldn't cause any restrictions when working with a mouse in stationary use. Due to the vent, the majority of ports are in the front half of the left side. The interfaces can be easily accessed, but it could lead to territorial conflicts with a mouse and connected peripherals for lefties. The two USB 2.0 ports in the far back should bring some relief for this case. They have been placed too close to each other and make the utilization of extensions necessary when oversized USB expansions are used.
Basically, a HSPA modem with GPS is available, but is reserved for certain configurations. Our model hasn't been equipped with this. The port, already equipped with antennas, is unfettered. The correlating SIM card slot is found in the battery compartment. Therefore, it isn't a problem to upgrade it yourself.
The docking station interface on the bottom is compatible with the HP Docking Station (VB043AA) and the HP Advanced Docking Station (NZ223AA). Since HP's Elitebook has been given a very good supply of interfaces by the manufacturer, the comfortable connecting of stationary peripherals will mainly be focused on. The Advanced Docking even has a SATA expansion slot and provides 2 display ports and 2 DVIs.
The optical drive, fastened with a screw, can be exchanged via HP's upgrade bay AU097AA, which is equipped with a 500GB hard disk (7200 rpm). Price: around 200.00 euro. Inconceivably, HP doesn't offer the upgrade bay without hard disk. We, however, at newmodeus in the USA you can obtain a suitable bay without a hard disk (not original HP accessories) for about 55.00 USD (including shipping to Germany).
Supplies / Support
HP's accessories options are generally non-transparent and only comprehensible with great effort. The product descriptions are often incomplete, ambiguous and imprecise. This is especially noticed during the search for docking stations, batteries, the upgrade bay and the warranty extensions. Here, you won't usually be able to avoid contacting a retailer or the HP support, or do an intensive research in case of interest. We needed 4 tries before we reached the support and were connected to an employee via telephone. So, don't be surprised if you are frequently disconnected after being on hold. Email support isn't offered for the Elitebooks and the principally available live chat with a support employee isn't provided for the HP 8540w.
The test device's keyboard is identical to that of the HP ProBook 6540b. It has 102 keys, including a separate number pad and almost uses the complete case width. The firmness is extremely good and can't be dented even in the number pad area over the optical drive. The keyboard has very good frequent typist qualities with a medium stroke length, distinct pressure point and pleasant stroke. The clear standard layout with 19mm wide keys also contributes to this (key center to key center). The keyboard lettering has a high contrast, but could be a bit bolder for unfavorable light conditions. However, the keyboard light in the display bezel, which illuminates the right area a bit better than the left, is of assistance here.
The not particularly large touchpad has a good quality, bids good gliding traits and input response. HP doesn't provide any multi-touch functions, but they can be installed retroactively with an alternative driver from Synaptics. The touchpad keys are slightly rubberized and thus have a pleasant grip, smooth and well useable. A third button is available in the center, which has special functions in a few applications, or can be mapped individually.
The third input option (Synaptics Touchstyk) isn't as precise as the trackpoint of the very good ThinkPad or HP 2710p, but is a good alternative to the touchpad after a short period of accommodation. The three keys are also slightly rubberized and well useable.
Currently, HP offers the workstation, Elitebook 8540w, with 2 different displays. Both have an AR-coated surface, LED backlight and have the latest 16:9 format. The WVA HD+ display with 1600x900 pixels has a dot density of 118 dpi and the FullHD display with 1920x1080 pixels has 141 dpi. Both have an ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness to the surrounding conditions accordingly.
Whilst the HD+ display offers a good compromise of resolution and screen surface, the FullHD display, which we also find in our test device (AU Optronics) provides a lot of room on the desktop. You will, however, also need quite good eyes because of the minute resolution. This drawback can partly be compensated by adjusting symbols and document size. The system's size representation was already set to 125% in our device.
We assess the brightness at 9 measuring points, in a range from 188 cd/m2 up to 225 cd/m2, and calculated an average of 210 cd/m2. The illumination is 83.5%, haze development or brightness differences are only visible on monochrome backgrounds and very close inspection.
The good brightness rates and the matt display surface provide a good outdoor suitability. Reflections are omitted and the backlight can't cope with direct sunlight.
We measured a contrast rate of 666:1 and it provides for a saturated black. The even for notebook conditions above average, wide color space that covers 89% or the sRGB color gamut has a significant share in the rich colors, beside the good contrast ratio.
The viewing angles are basically more stable visibly than known from standard displays. Nevertheless, you have to count with color deviations on the vertical plane sooner than on the horizontal plane. Additionally, the content inverts and fades vertically at extreme viewing angles.
All HP 8740w's are based on Intel's Mobile QM57 Express chipset. There are various dual core i5/i7 CPUs from the Arrandale family, as well as quad core i7 CPUs from the somewhat older Clarksfield series to chose from. The quad core alternatives can use 4 RAM slots and host up to 16 GB DD3 1333 MHz RAM. The dual core models have to be satisfied with 2 slots and currently a maximum of 8 GB RAM.
Our test model has one of the strongest currently available dual core CPUs in form of an Intel Core i7-620M. Turbo Boost (up to 3.33 GHz clock increase), hyperthreading (two additional virtual cores make 4 threads at the same time possible) and a 4 MB L3 cache assist the processor to a very good performance. The RAM configuration is already completely exhausted with up to 8 GB (2x 4 GB modules). The basically available virtualization technology is disabled in the BIOS ex-factory, but can be enabled if desired.
As the configuration already suggests, the CPU benchmark rates are very good. The SuperPi 32M calculation needs 779 s and wPrime 1024m 560s. Cinebench R10 64bit scores 4242 (single core) and 9399 (multi core) points. The latest Cinebench R11.5, 2.46 Bps. Thus, the CPU performance is befittingly in the top 15 of our CPU benchmark list at the moment. The system finished the already often executed iTunes MP3 to AAC converting very fast with a 38.6-fold speed.
You can outsource computing work to the graphic chip with video converters like Badaboom (Nvidia) and Cyberlink Mediashow Espresso (Nvidia CUDA / ATI Stream) to first unload the processor and second to benefit from a significant performance advantage. We have already converted a video DVD into an iPhone compatible H.264 format (427x320) with Badaboom and can therefore make comparisons to previous tests. You can see what potential CUDA has here. The Nvidia Quadro FX 880M runs away in a hurry from the previous test systems in this regard. However, the fastest system ever tested with this procedure was a MacMini with GF9400 until now. HP includes Intervideo's WinDVD 8 for the BluRay combo drive. WinDVD 2010 would be the latest (Corel in the meantime). Although a bit older, the software is fully sufficient for sole playing of BluRays, though. BluRays are rendered smoothly, but suffer under the loud drive noises.
We checked the system for possible synchronization errors with the DPC Latency Checker tool. They can lead to erroneous processing of real time streams when external devices, like audio and video cards are used. This could result in interruptions and sound crackling. All rates were definitely in a critical field in the first run through. The overall picture improved after deactivating the usual suspects (LAN, WLAN, modem), but you'll have to count with synchronization errors anyway. You won't be able to avoid an extensive debugging in the USB extensions.
|PCMark Vantage Result||7519 points|
The benchmark, PCMark Vantage, covers a variety of office and multimedia programs and reveals details about performance in applications. The HP 8540w supplies very good rates with over 7500 points. As already presumed, the mass memory's performance in a few application situations is the bottleneck in comparison to the system's other performance. Photoshop, office and co. seemed more than smooth in the practical test anyway and don't give any reason for complaint.
|3DMark 06 Standard||6412 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||2633 points|
Until now, only alternatives with conventional hard disks are listed, although solid state drives with 160 GB and 256 GB are listed in HP's quick specs. The mass memory units are built-in model-specific from 320 GB to 500 GB and work with 7200 rpm. They are, according to the quick specs, categorized by HP as "customer removable", thus the user can replace these and are designed appropriately robust. As already mentioned, the memory capacity can be upgraded by a second hard disk drive instead of the optical drive via expansion bay. Hot swap didn't work for us, a fast exchange isn't really supported anyway, because of the provided fixation with a screw on the bottom.
Because the expansion bay also can accommodate 12.5mm high hard disks and the standard bay seems to have enough room (wasn't tested due to the lack of a 12.5 mm hard disk), the HP 8540w can be equipped with a mass memory of up to 2 TB (2x 1 TB 2.5" from Toshiba or Western Digital). According to the documentation, RAID 1 (mirroring) and RAID 0 (performance) are possible. The RAID mode can be selected in the BIOS.
The Seagate achieved a maximum of 102 MB/s and an average of 80 MB/s in the HDTune benchmark. These are basically good rates, in comparison to the system's other performance, the mass memory performance partly appears to be a bottleneck. If you need special performance in this point, you won't be able to avoid one of the aforementioned alternatives (RAID / SSD).
A graphic card developed specifically for mobile workstations is used in the HP 8740w. It doesn't belong to one of the currently strongest models, but it has a good and balanced performance that is sufficient for many applications. In opposition to the consumer alternative, Nvidia GT240M, the Quadro FX 880M has the same graphics chip (n10p), but is equipped with a special BIOS and works with modified Quadro drivers. This combination provides for an above average performance and stability, especially in professional applications.The Elitebook 8740w is certified for mainstream products and covers the areas of construction software (CAD), digital content creation (DCC), geographic information systems (GIS) and infrastructure / supply software.
The Nvidia Quadro FX880M is equipped with 1GB GDDR3 graphic memory, which runs with a velocity of 790 MHz and can draw on a 128 bit broad memory bus. The chip's rate achieves 550 MHz and is thus in comparison to the GT240M on the same level.
Consistently good results are achieved in the benchmarks, whereas especially Cinebench R10 and R11.5 in OpenGL Shading (4626 / 16.14) and the CAD benchmark SPECViewPerf supply 10 appealing rates (see chart). (Note: A few test parts were aborted in the SPEC test and didn't supply a result. This however doesn't mean that these programs don't work).
Otherwise, you can find the stronger Nvidia Quadro FX1800 in other configurations beside the Nvidia Quadro FX1800M in the Elitebook 8540w. ATI's FirePro M5800 (OpenGL 3.2), which is also basically intended, isn't yet found on any retailer list. If you need a lot more performance, you'll have to turn to one of the 17" workstations with stronger graphic cards a la FX2800M and FX3800M (both e.g. Lenovo W700). The good performance of already tested ATI cards with Maya and Solid Works is striking. Potential buyers who frequently work with these programs should therefore rather turn to a solution with FirePro. Alternatives from ATI would currently be the FirePro M5800 (HP 8540w) and FirePro M7740 (Dell Precision M6500).
Not really intended for gaming, we looked at a few tracks anyway. The results are quite good and are in the range of the conventional sister model, Nvidia GT240M. Even the results of 3DMark06 and Vantage are on par with a GT240M and GT330M with a few marginal differences. We didn't notice any compatibility problems due to the special driver. Verdict: You can play with it, too.
|Racedriver: GRID (2008)||48.7||28.9||fps|
|Anno 1404 (2009)||131||20.5||fps|
The system noise that we assessed ranged, depending on the load, from 32.8 dB(A) to 45.2 dB(A). That is quite acceptable for a workstation. The little intrusive and sonorous fan noise is especially pleasing. The fan is always audible, but it only gets unpleasant during high loads. However, it is striking that the fan doesn't always throttle its activity after the load phases. Not even resetting the energy profile changes that. The fan reduces its cooling activity to the lower rotation speed again after you pull the device's plug.
The function "FAN always on" was preset in the BIOS (with connected AC), but the above mentioned problem also turns up when this option is disabled. The hard disk is hardly audible and is drowned out by the other noises. The BluRay drive roars constantly during movie rendering and is with 43.6 dB(A) considerably louder than when it's playing DVD media (33.6 dB(A)).
32.8 / 32.8 / 37.6 dB(A)
||33.6 / dB(A)|
||37.4 / 45.2 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
If the HP 8740w isn't put under much load, it stays very cool with a maximum of 32°C. But when it's put under load for a longer period and charged with demanding conversion and rendering tasks, temperatures of up to 52.7°C are recorded on its bottom. This may be a very unpleasant value when it's used on the lap, but still quite acceptable for a normal workstation's compliant positioning on the desk. Additionally, you there must be a few tasks worked on to achieve this state during normal use.
The loudspeakers placed on the front emit a standard notebook sound, which is not very multimedia suitable. They are sufficient for many basic tasks, treble-prone without bass and little mid ranges. You'll only get a better quality by using external loudspeakers or headphones.
HP optionally offers a further 8 cell battery with 73 Wh (KU533AA, ca. 80.00 euro), which is included in only few configurations, an 8 cell travel battery with 52 Wh (AJ359ET, ca. 120.00 euro, 455g) and a 12 cell high capacity battery with 95 Wh (AT486AA, ca. 130.00 euro, 800g), beside the usually standard long life 8 cell lithium ion battery with a capacity of 68 Wh. Both the travel battery and high capacity battery are placed on the bottom and linked to the 2nd battery connector.
In the end, the power consumption is also crucial for the runtimes, aside from the battery capacity. This has a minimum of 12.9 watts measured at the mains, which can increase up to 84.9 watts under full load.
|Off / Standby||0.1 / 0.6 Watt|
|Idle|| 12.9 / 18.2 / 20 Watt|
66.3 / 84.9 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max:
The runtimes ranged from 262 min in the Battery Eater Reader's test (longest battery life) up to 90 min in the Battery Eater Classic test (shortest battery life). Both rates are to be taken with a pinch of salt because, for one thing, considerably shorter runtimes are possible under full load in this case and for another, our battery was indicated with a wear rate of already / still 5% (which could be because the full capacity is first reached after several complete charging cycles).
The battery lasted for 208 min in WLAN surfing, for 151 min DVD rendering and 128 min with BluRay in the practical test.
An Intervideo WinDVD energy savings profile was added during the installation of WinDVD 8 software. This didn't have any effect in our tests, in comparison to the energy savings mode (with the same display brightness).
HP's workstation, Elitebook 8540w, is impressive. Very good manufacturing quality meets a very generous configuration, it's complemented with good graphics and very good CPU performance data, equipped with a very good display and convinces with acceptable emission rates, depending on the demand.
Because of this and in view of the device's category, it's easy to accept the limited mobility due to the comparatively high weight and the comparatively average battery life. At least you can increase the battery capacity considerably with the optionally available supplementary batteries, naturally with a notable weight gain.
There's not much reason for complaint. Even the high price seems, reduced to the scope of delivery, very justified in view of the competitors, Lenovo (Thinkpad W510) and Dell (Precision M4500) and has a small price advantage depending on the configuration.
Only the hard to find, full product specifications (especially accessories), the avoidable inaccuracies in detail and the hard to reach support is a small fly in the ointment. The category standard warranty of 3 years and the very extensive accessory portfolio helps getting over that.