Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

HP Elitebook 8440p – mini review

HP Elitebook 8440p – mini review

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image As is tradition on this blog, I like to write about my first impressions with new hardware.  Yesterday at about 8am I received the HP Elitebook 8440p.  This machine is HP’s high end professional 14” laptop and I was eager to tear into it and see how it handles the duties of my normal mix of operating systems and applications.  Unfortunately, I have a day job so the “24 hour” report is a little late.  About the only time that is going to ever really happen is when I get a delivery on Friday afternoon.

Brushed Metal

When I unpacked the HP 8440p, I instantly recalled the cold steel feel of my MacBook Pro.  Sleek and cool to the touch.  I really like the chassis.  It feels like it’s made for business and will hold up well.  Slightly heavy but solid.

The top LCD panel is brushed metal and looks very professional. The bottom of the machine is a combination of plastic and metal and feels very solid.  I haven’t yet cracked open the case to see the innards, but I expect to see a solid frame on the inside because the machine feels very rigid.

I will take pictures of the machine later, but for now you should know the 8440p has a DVD drive, eSATA/USB combo port, RJ-11 and RJ-45 ports, and a smartcard reader on the right side.  The back has power, DisplayPort and VGA.  The left side has 3xUSB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394 4 pin, mic, audio out and 54mm ExpressCard slot.  The front has a Ricoh multi card memory stick reader slot and speakers.  I must say I like the layout all the way around the machine.  The bottom includes access to the primary hard drive bay, one of two SoDIMM slots, and access to slots for wireless modules.

False Start

You know that saying, know your audience?  I roared with laughter when I hit the power button and the top-of-the-line HP Elitebook 8440p started booting through the Windows XP setup process.  Where’s my magnet?  I played along and let the machine do it’s thing because I was busy on conference calls anyway.  About halfway through the process I decided to check the box and see if a disk set was there.  Sure enough, there was a disk set for Windows XP and Windows 7 Pro.  Both 32 bit.  I knew I wasn’t going to create a x86 disk set to I let the install complete.  I sniffed it and it smelled like a 32 bit OS so I hit the power button and grabbed my Windows 7 Enterprise x64 DVD.

When the going gets tough, the tough head to the downloads area for the OEM.  Fortunately HP has been doing a great job for years in this department.  Better than most OEMs in fact.  The HP 8440p drivers and software area is well organized and easily understood.  I downloaded all of the Windows 7 x64 drivers in anticipation of the install for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

The BIOS and Windows 7 x64 Clean Install

As you might have guessed, I wasted no time in throwing in the Windows 7 DVD and nuking the factory installed WinXP x86 image.  Before installing Windows, I took some time reviewing the BIOS settings to confirm they were set the way I prefer.  I made subtle changes.  I enabled the TPM chip, RAID controller, and tweaked a few more settings like boot order.

Windows 7 installed without issue although I made one change after the fact.  I decided to shrink the Win7 partition and create a 40GB partition for a Windows Server install.  I didn’t get the HP Upgrade Bay hard drive adaptor so I wanted to checkout R2 in the meantime.

As expected, Windows 7 installed without issue but the ethernet and wireless card devices weren’t working using the Windows 7 DVD inbox drivers.  The downloaded drivers resolved that issue.  This is beginning to become a familiar theme with the machines that came out six months after Windows 7 released.  Keep in mind that the image you receive from HP works, and the drivers for custom images are on hp.com so there’s no real problem here.

I did hit a couple of issues with Windows Server 2008 R2.  First, you must manually install the ethernet driver using the .inf file that was unpacked.  This is the same process I documented with the ThinkPad W500 and T400 Windows Server instructions on my blog.  Nearly Identical.  Hint hint.

Second, don’t bother trying the NVIDIA video drivers with Windows Server.  The will install but they don’t work on my machine.  I have reported it to HP and will update this post, or my final post if I get a resolution.  This has important implications.  Windows Server video support is really required for the Microsoft field employees so we have control over multimon and projector scenarios. I’m sure it will get resolved, but I don’t know if it will happen before i return the machine.

Likes and Dislikes

I’ll document the specs of the HP Elitebook 8440p eval unit in a minute, but I am going to deviate from my normal modus operandi for a bit.  The reason is simple.  I have some pretty well defined notions of what I like in a machine.  The 8440p has some.  It’s missing others.  And considering my wife took a place to Florida and back today and left her ThinkPad T400, you can imagine I am doing a side-by-side comparison while I backup her machine.

The machine I received has the Intel® Core™ i7-620M Processor (2.66 GHz, 4 MB L3 cache) CPU, the Intel Mobile Intel® QM57 Express chipset, I assume 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM although the score didn’t seem like 1333MHz memory, 320 GB 7200 rpm SATA II hard drive, 14.0-inch diagonal LED-backlit HD+ anti-glare screen, NVIDIA NVS 3100 graphics with 512 MB dedicated gDDR3 video memory, 6 cell battery and weighing in at about 6 pounds.

First up, the keyboard.  I could get used to the 8440p keyboard, but the trackpad is offset too far to the left.  It throws me and everything else off.  I also want a backlit keyboard.  Or at least the ability to light the keyboard without a USB accessory.  If you live on the laptop keyboard, this is a serious consideration.  The key placements around the keyboard are very foreign to me right now.  I am having a hard time finding the END, DEL, FN and other keys.

8440pWEI I’m pretty spoiled with the ThinkPad keyboards I’ve been using for the past five years.  Evaluate this aspect of your purchases carefully.  If you plan to use the keyboard a lot, choose carefully.  If you plan to use the machine in a docking station with an external keyboard, this may not be a big deal.

Next is the screen.  I really dig the 1600x900 resolution on the 14” widescreen.  However, the HP screen isn’t bright or clear enough.  That needs to be resolved with a better LCD panel in my opinion.

By comparison, the ThinkPad T400 1440x900 screen is awesome. Super bright (250 nits) and clear.  HP should improve the screen to that level.  At the current screen brightness and quality, it’s too grainy and I’m not sure I would be happy long term.  Reminds me of the 1920x1200 T61p screen I have.  I have never been satisfied with that screen either.

Performance

The Calpella based laptops are knocking down some pretty good performance numbers.  The 8440p is no exception but you can see, a couple of areas could use improvement.

First, the memory score at right isn’t that good.  A DDR3 machine should be scoring in the upper sixes or lower 7’s range if you are using good memory.  See my W510 score for an example.  I had the W510 loaded with Kingston memory when I ran that test to get that WEI score.

Second, notice the GPU scores.  They aren’t exactly stellar. I don’t know if this is the hardware or the driver but either way it’s a little disappointing to see a score lower than my ThinkPad T61p from two chipset generations ago.  This might have been a conscience decision to reduce heat and battery consumption.  I’ll know more when I test the 8540w.  It was certainly the case for the ThinkPad W510.  Lower than expected GPU scoring.

The hard drive score is very normal for a 320GB 7200rpm rotational disk.  The HP Elitebook 8440p model I received included a Seagate Momentus 320GB drive.  The SATA controller in the 8440p is a Intel SATA RAID controller with support for RAID 0 or RAID 1. When I receive the upgrade bay hard drive adaptor, I will tear the machine down and drop two 500GB drives in the machine and see what it can really do.  If you don’t want to go the RAID route, plan on using a good SSD drive for improved I/O performance.

Power and Sound

Power management and fan noise is becoming increasingly important.  The HP Elitebook 8440p lasted for 3.5 hours last night on the balanced Windows 7 power plan.  I didn’t tweak the plan at all.  I didn’t use the LCD panel on full brightness.  I had it knocked down a couple of notches from the top brightness setting.

The fan noise throughout the day yesterday was more than acceptable.  It’s nowhere near silent, but it isn’t loud either.  You should get used to having fan noise on a Quad core laptop. I haven’t performed any seriously taxing chores like encoding HD video, but even when the fan did spin up to higher levels it wasn’t obnoxious.

That’s it for now.  I’ll test more stuff as long as I have the machine, but at soon as the 15.6” 8540w shows up, I’ll probably shift to it for longer term testing.  Whenever that happens I’ll write a closing post on this machine and include some pics.

[Update for 3/11] I discovered the keyboard light at the top of the LCD panel.  Very similar to the ThinkPad lights that shine down on the keyboard.  I would prefer backlit keyboard keys.

[Update for 3/15] I decided the likelihood of me keeping this machine for 30 days is slim to none.  I am supposed to receive the HP Elitebook 8540w this week so if that happens, I am going to return the 8440p and let someone else play with it. There hasn’t been any changes in my opinion of the machine.  The keyboard is too foreign to me and I really don’t want to get used to it unless I decide to have Microsoft buy me one for my refresh in July. 

This evening I was playing around with my new Canon G11 and I decided to take some pictures of the HP Elitebook 8440p.  The pics started out as large widescreen RAW pictures.  I then converted, cropped and compressed them.  Hope you like the result.  Someday I’ll buy some lighting systems and drapes so the hardware porn is better.  In the meantime, these will have to do.  Like I did for the Lenovo ThinkPad W510, there’s some commentary to go with each pic.  As before, your browser will likely give you a scaled view of the pic.  Click the picture to zoom in for the actual detail and dust particles.

  • Front – nothing much interesting in the front.  A few little indicator lights, memory card slot, a big button for lid release and some decent speakers.  That button sticks out a little more than is needed in my opinion.
  • Right – the right side starts with an integrated smartcard reader (thanks HP!), DVD drive also called the upgrade bay, combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port, RJ-45 Ethernet port, and RJ-11 modem jack.  eSATA on this machine is fast and stable.
  • Back – on the left side of the back is a little slot for your lock. On the right side you can see the power plug, DisplayPort and VGA connector.  I tested using both the VGA port and DisplayPort at the same time to run two monitors and like the ThinkPad W510, it worked great with the help of the DP –> DVI cable I have.
  • Left – the left side is nicely arranged with a fat vent for the cooling system, three horizontal USB 2.0 ports, 4 pin IEEE 1394 Firewire port, mic and audio out jacks, and a 54mm ExpressCard slot.  That surprised me.  I expected it to be a 34mm Express card slot.
  • Top – the picture of the top doesn’t really offer anything useful to comment on but I thought I would include it because it’s really the first thing you notice when you pull the machine from the packaging.  It’s so nice in fact, that you probably aren’t going to be sticking any stickers on it for some time.  Might even want to put a clear shield on it.
  • Bottom – The bottom is pretty uneventful but you can see the access panels for the hard drive, SoDIMM slot, etc.  You can also clearly see how flush the battery is for this machine. Pay particular not to the front button in the picture. See what I mean?
  • Open – In this picture you can see the keyboard in all it’s glory.  Notice the trackpad is not centered as I commented about earlier.  I wish it was further to the right. The trackpoint is fine as are the buttons around it and the trackpad. Not a big fan of the keyboard. Reminds me some of the netbooks and their chicklet style keys.

If you look closely at the top of the LCD bezel, you can see the webcam, the little square light button and two shiny things.  Those shiny things are protrusions that are used by the lid fastening and clamping mechanics. They go down into the gray round slots just to the left and right of the trackpad bottom.

That’s it for now.  Thought you might enjoy the photo tour of the device since it seems the hardware vendors never seem to provide good hardware porn these days.

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  • I just acquired the Asus G73. It's rather bulky (17.3"), but it's raw power and I am having fun lugging it around (good for the lungs).

    The Win7 perf score is 5.9 (it's above 7 on all counts except for the HDD rate).

    So hopefully later this year I will get a SSD and upgrade it to 7 perf notebook.

    I was going to buy an elitebook too, but my experience with HP service was so awful that I balk at HP's name now.

  • Cyril, what are you talking about?  Your comments had nothing to do with this review.  The closest you got to relevance was saying that you hate HP.  Go to your room.

  • The i7-620M is NOT a quad core.

    "You should get used to having fan noise on a Quad core laptop."

    (sigh)

  • Thanks Intel Rep. You're right, the 620m is a dual core but with hyperthreading turned on looks like a quad in task manager.  My bad. I actually thought hyperthreading was turned off in the BIOS and it was in fact a quad.  I removed the erroneous sentence above.

  • Some of the dudes at http://forum.notebookreview.com/showthread.php?t=460072 think I'm a retard because I made a mistake.

    Pretty minor mistakes.  Let's see, I didn't know the little square thingy at the top of the LCD bezel was actually something you press to flip a little light out and display the nightlight on the keyboard. RTFM I guess.

    And I didn't know the specs of every CPU in Intel's arsenal and didn't check my facts around the specs of the i7 620 before calling it a quad.  Guilty.  I'm a retard.  Definitely going to read the fabulous manual first next time.  Lesson learned.

    But as to the comments about dismissing my imresssions about the screen because of the above, hmmm, not sure I buy that one so let me clarify a couple of things.

    First, I don't work in a lab with scientific measuring devices for brightness, color, contrast, screen angles, etc. So you should absolutely keep that in mind when I comment. For all I know, the screen on the unit I have isn't at the standard HP expects.  Who knows, I have no idea. I would not place it at the top of the list of favorite screens. That honor still belongs to the W700 I tested long ago.

    Could I live with the 8440p if I had no choice? Absolutely.  It's a nice little machine and reminds me in some ways to the 6910p I had a couple of years ago.  The big plus for the 8440p screen is the 1600x900 resolution.  That rocks.

    So here's to hoping you dig yours and live happily ever after.  It's now officially the weekend.  Peace.

  • Thank you for this review. I'm considering to buy a 8440p to replace my Macbook. I'm very interested in the battery duration: do you confirm an average of 3.5 hours?

    This is very low considering the 11 hours declared by Hp, I thought it could run for 5 hours at least :)

  • Where do they declare 11 hours of battery life?  I have to see this for myself.

  • I just started using my HP Elitebook 8440p yesterday with Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit installed.  I cannot get the audio/headset port to work and cannot find drivers for 64 bit printers (namely HP printers).  Can anyone help???  The 11 hours is possible and verified by me last night but I have the additional battery pack that attaches to the bottom of the unit.

  • Keith, based on your impressions of the 8440p's performance, do you believe the so-called workstation version (i.e. the 8440W) with the alternative "serious" Nvidia graphics card would improve some of the good-but-not great performance issues you identified.

    Yes, that's a speculative question, I realize, but, hey you're a MSFT guy. Anybody who knows why manhole covers are round is probably a lot smarter than thr average bear, I'm thinking. ;^/ Thanks.

  • Bweery, I think the 11 hours is only possible with a different battery than what I have.  The small flush battery on the machine I have only gets about 3.5 hours.  You are going to need one of the extended batteries to approach 10-11 hours.

    Planetrussell, I would expect to see some improvement of the graphics.  See http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-Quadro-NVS-3100M.24738.0.html for some information on the mobile GPU in the 8440p.  See http://www.nvidia.com/object/IO_11761.html for information on the GPU in the 8440w (FX 380M).

  • Thank you for this very helpful review!

    Can you confirm the unit tested was a WH257UT#ABA model?

    There seems to be contradicting info on the HP website whether it supports Bluetooth or not. Can you confirm it has Bluetooth integrated?

    Thanks!

  • Hi, nice review, could you pls find out the exact weight?Thx

  • Tomas, sorry, no.  You will have to get specifications from HP.

  • Keith, I can explain the low RAM score:

    the W510 you reviewed was equipped with a Q820 processor while your 8440p has a M620. The mobile i7 quadcores (Q720, Q820 and Q920) can handle up to 1333 MHz RAM. The cheaper dualcores (like the M620) only handle 1066 MHz. This would explain your results.

  • Thanks for your helpful comments, especially regarding the touch and the brightness of the screen! And also the alien keyboard layout.