Update: This laptop is still outstanding, but HP has a new model with latest Sandy Bridge CPUs, so you want to look for 2560p instead. Below is the review of the older model which shouldn’t differ much except for the shorter battery life and slower processors.
In my book HP finally caught up with other laptop manufacturers with their last year’s (2009) models. We have been using their laptops at work for more than a decade and their problem was never the performance or quality, but the final finish and attention to details, as instead of having some “sexy” top models for high end executives, even their top laptops used to look like good performing bricks.
Last year their EliteBook models finally hit the spot, offering an amazing combination of performance, features and good looks at a very good price for the bundle, even when compared with niche players like the super-expensive $3,000+ Sony VAIO Z series and Apple MacBooks. The last year’s 2530p Core 2 Duo and this year’s Core i 2540p models are absolutely the best laptops I ever had. They meet the military specs for dust, vibration and heat resistance, have a very sturdy magnesium case and a very good full size keyboard. They are ultraportables with an impressive battery life, but lack no horsepower and on a docking station they act almost the same as most bigger laptops, so if you don’t intend to play resource-hungry demanding video games you can ditch your old desktop and a laptop for a portable unit like this with a docking station. They have a bit lower GPU capabilities and thus are not the best for gaming as they use Intel’s on-board graphics chip, but they were made as business machines and as such, they rock.
Oh the sweet surprise last year when I received the fastest Core 2 Duo 2530p with an SSD (solid state drive) and a DVD/CD burner. That thing was so fast that its results were off the charts when I ran benchmarks on it. Its initial bootup time in Windows XP before it got a lot of software installed was so short that it amazed the technicians who worked on its initial image. When I ran some benchmarks on it, the SSD drive was not only showing the incredibly fast disk reads and writes, but also somehow caused much higher performance scores in other areas when compared to the benchmarks of a very similar model with a HDD (hard disk drive) and a bit slower CPU. The latter, although still fast and above average, was much slower and not off the charts any more. My experience with battery life of the standard 6 cell unit was 5-7 hours or more on the balanced level, which meant I didn’t have to carry the charger or deprive myself of processing power with a reduced power plan to stretch the laptop’s battery life through several meetings. We ordered a few spare 9 cell batteries, but that was an overkill and only useful when traveling on a long 8+ hours overseas flights or when you needed to make sure your system will last through quite a long workday without a charger.
This year I gave away my 2530p to a new top level executive who needed a good loaner immediately (custom builds with an SSD take a few weeks to deliver), and soon after that I got to use the new Core i7 2540p (standard build). Although it didn’t have an SSD, its performance was great as well. It seems that HP wisely decided not to change the winning team and just to upgrade the internal CPU/chipset on the new models, keeping the same look and feel.
This machine is such a great match for my needs and preferences that I want one for my personal use at home, however, all the custom build options with an SSD would cost me quite a nice chunk of change, so it’s awaiting better times. Our main home laptop Toshiba Portege R705-P25 with Core i3, although with an HDMI port, a 13.3″ screen, lighter and far more affordable, has a glossy screen and is a bit slower than this mini powerhouse. The EliteBook 2540p has a price that looks high but when you look at everything included, such as the fast low voltage CPU, anti-glare screen, pop-up keyboard light, an excellent 2 Mp webcam, 3-year warranty including battery, the docking station capability, the military specs compliance, sturdiness and design, a/b/g/n wireless card with Bluetooth, Gb NIC, amazing full size spill-resistant keyboard, and so on, the whole bundle from another manufacturer would cost me well over $2,000. Again, I’m not rich enough to buy cheap things. With a cheaper model I’d spend more in the long run on its upgrades, while a “super-bundle” at a seemingly high cost provides a lot of high level options with price lower than the sum of all the individual components.
The screen is perfect – all the models I’ve used, ordered and seen have the anti-glare screen, which is a big deal especially for the office users who tend to use their machines in well lit environments. An option like this on some other laptops will cost you extra $50-150. It’s worth it. It saves your eyes. The entire machine is so tiny that many people think it’s a netbook and only I and a few others seemed to know the secret of the amazing amount of power pumped into something “street-legal” like this. This is just a bit bigger than the usual 10.1″ netbook, but due to the powerful CPU, bigger screen and full size keyboard, usable for everyday work, gigantic spreadsheets and gigantic visio diagrams aside (all you need for these is a big external monitor). I have an 11.6″ netbook with higher 1366×768 screen resolution and I have to admit that HP wisely chose the best 1280×800 resolution for the 12″ screen, as a higher resolution on such a small screen makes most people get closer to the screen and frown into it, trying to read microscopic letters. Although it doesn’t have an HDMI port, when I connected it to my HD LCD TV via the VGA port and the 3.5 mm audio jack, it seems to run the native 1080p resolution without any problems. Too bad it doesn’t have a Blu-ray option yet.
- Very light (3.4 lbs)
- Excellent performance – virtually as fast as much bigger laptops
- Great battery life (up to 7 hours per my experience)
- Extra sturdy finish and feel, meets dust, vibration and heat military specs
- Excellent 2 MP webcam – the best built-in one I encountered
- Pop-up keyboard light great for work in total darkness
- If enabled, environment light sensor automatically adjusts screen brightness
- Sometimes gets warm (not hot)
- Fan somewhat audible during high processing tasks in a quiet place
- No 3 cell battery option (super small and light config sufficient for 3-4 hour meetings without the charger)
- Speaker volume is barely sufficient and much lower then on my $400 netbook with much louder stereo speakers)
- No HDMI port
- No Blu-ray drive option
HP offers a variety of disk options on this model. Models with 2.5″ 5,000 rpm and 7200 rpm have no optical bay (no DVD/CD drive). Models with optical drive included have the physically smaller 1.8″ HDD which I believe is a bit slower. However, if you go for the best (and more expensive) combo with the 1.8″ SSD storage option, you get the best of the two worlds, with superfast performance and a CD/DVD burner.
All in all, I’ve grown so accustomed to this powerful and sturdy ultraportable for professionals that I believe this is THE laptop to have. My absolute favorite.