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Review: HP EliteBook is Upwardly Mobile

By David Cohn

HP has a long history of building powerful mobile workstations, so we were excited when the company’s latest offering arrived. The HP EliteBook 8560w is the newest in a line of successful mobile workstations. And while last year’s 8540w was impressive (see DE, April 2011), its successor surpasses it in virtually all aspects.

The HP EliteBook 8560w mobile workstation.

The HP EliteBook 8560w is housed in a gunmetal gray HP DuraCase, a brushed anodized aluminum exterior bonded to a magnesium-alloy chassis. But the case has been redesigned and now features precision aluminum-alloy hinges, cast titanium-alloy display latches, and a radial-spun display cover with a backlit HP logo. The system is essentially the same size as the 8540w, measuring 14.7x 9.9x 1.7 in., but at 7.9 lbs., it’s nearly 1 lb. heavier than its predecessor. The large (6.7x 3.2x 1.6-in.), 200-watt AC adapter required by the HP DreamColor display adds nearly 2 lbs. more to the total package.

Raising the lid reveals a 101-key keyboard that includes a separate numeric keypad. All of the keys are full-size, with the exception of the function keys along the top row and the cursor keys just to the left of the numeric keypad. HP notes that the keyboard is spill-resistant, thanks to a thin layer of Mylar film under the keyboard and a drain in the bottom of the notebook, but we decided not to test this feature.

Our evaluation unit came with a backlit keyboard (a $65 option). There’s also an orange point stick nestled above the B-key, along with its own complement of three buttons just below the spacebar. A fingerprint reader is below the right corner of the keyboard. Indicator lights for wireless, power, battery and hard drive activity are on the front-left edge of the case.

A small power button is located above the keyboard in the upper left, while four similar buttons in the upper right let you toggle the wireless functions and speakers on and off, access your web browser or start the Windows calculator application. When the system is powered off, you can press the web browser button to start up the HP QuickWeb application without actually booting the operating system. We were surfing the web using QuickWeb in about 15 seconds.

The 8560w also includes a large (4.25x 2-in.) touchpad centered below the keyboard, with its own dedicated buttons. New this year is gesture support. You can use one finger to point and click, two fingers to scroll up/down and left/right, and a two-finger spread or pinch gesture to zoom in or out. A double-tap in the upper-left corner turns the touchpad on and off. Although these gestures are similar to what Apple has offered for a while now on its devices, the HP workstation was much less responsive than what we’ve come to expect on Apple devices.

Powerful Graphics
The DreamColor display remains unsurpassed in terms of image quality. HP’s DreamColor technology, developed in conjunction with DreamWorks Animation SKG, uses a RGB LED backlight and 10-bit graphics card to produce 30-bit color accuracy. The 15.6-in. diagonal UWVA anti-glare display in our evaluation unit produced gorgeous images at 1920×1080 resolution, with more than 1 billion colors. The DreamColor display is a $425 option, but also requires the larger 200-watt power supply. HP also offers the 8560w with a 1600×900 display or a 1920×1080 panel without the DreamColor technology.

HP EliteBook

Download the benchmark results.

An optional 720p webcam is centered above the display, flanked by a webcam light on the left and an ambient light sensor to the right. There’s also a dual microphone array and wireless antennas along the top edge.

Our EliteBook’s display was powered by an NVIDIA Quadro 2000M with 2GB of dedicated DDR3 video memory and 192 compute unified device architecture (CUDA) cores. Other GPU options include the NVIDIA 1000M and a choice of AMD ATI FirePro graphics boards. The FirePro boards incorporate AMD Eyefinity Technology, which supports up to five independent displays when using the HP Advanced Docking Station. Otherwise, in addition to the system’s built-in display, the EliteBook 8560w can power an external monitor at up to 2048×1536 via its VGA port, or at up to 2560×1600 using the built-in DisplayPort. DVI is only available using a docking station.

A Fast CPU and Lots of Memory
At the heart of our HP EliteBook 8560w was a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-2820QM processor, based on Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor architecture. This CPU has a maximum turbo frequency of 3.4GHz, an 8MB L3 Smart Cache, and integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, yet has a thermal design power (TDP) rating of just 45 watts. HP has since replaced that CPU with the faster Core i7-2860QM, a 2.5GHz quad-core processor, at the same price. Other CPU choices include second-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core processors at 2 and 2.2GHz, the 2.7GHz dual-core i7-2620M processor, and Core i5 dual-core processors at either 2.5 or 2.6GHz.

The quad-core i7 CPUs support up to 32GB of memory, and our evaluation unit came equipped with 16GB of RAM, installed as four 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 small outline dual in-line memory module (SO-DIMM) modules. Customers who opt for lesser processors should note that the Core i5 processors support a maximum of 16GB, and the dual-core i7 CPU supports just 8GB of system memory. The dual-core versions of the 8560w come with just two DIMM sockets.

Our evaluation unit also came with a 500GB, 7,200 rpm Smart SATA II drive. HP offers other drives ranging from 320 to 750GB, as well as solid-state drives of 128 or 256GB capacity. HP also included a Blu-ray Disc DVD+/-RW SuperMulti dual-layer drive. Other upgrade bay options include a DVD+/-RW drive, a DVD-ROM drive, or a second 500GB 7,200 rpm SATA hard drive.

Our evaluation unit came with an 8-cell, 83 watt-hour lithium-ion battery for which HP claims up to 6 hours and 30 minutes of life. But in our battery run-down test, which keeps the DVD drive spinning continuously, our system shut down after 2 hours and 37 minutes in spite of turning off all wireless features and cutting the display’s backlighting to its lowest setting. HP offers a long-life 75WHr battery, as well as an optional secondary extended life battery that the company claims can power the system for up to nearly 15 hours.

Very Good Performance
On the SPECviewperf test, which looks solely at graphics performance, the HP EliteBook 8560 definitely surpassed the 8540w—as well as any other system we’ve tested to date, with the exception of the mobile workstations from Eurocom, which used some distinctly non-mobile components.

For our SolidWorks tests, we switched to the newer SPECapc SW 2007 benchmark, which runs properly under Windows 7 64-bit. Because it’s a different version of the benchmark than we’ve used in the past, however, the numbers are not directly comparable. We will eventually shift all results to the newer benchmark.

When we ran our AutoCAD rendering test, the HP EliteBook clearly showed what it’s capable of, completing the finished scene in less than 90 seconds. Again, only the Xeon-equipped Eurocom mobile workstations were faster.

HP EliteBook 8560w prices start at $1,334 for dual-core systems or $1,549 for a quad-core. As configured, our evaluation unit priced out at $4,063. Regardless of how you configure your EliteBook 8560w, though, the end result will be a high-quality mobile workstation—fully capable of bringing your professional applications with you wherever you go.

David Cohn is the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies. He also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA, and has been benchmarking PCs since 1984. He’s a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering and the author of more than a dozen books. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at DSCohn.com.

More Info
HP EliteBook 8560w

  • Price: $4,063 as tested ($1,549 base price)
  • Size: 14.7×9.9×1.7-in. (WxDxH) notebook
  • Weight: starting at 6.69 lbs., 7.9 lbs. as tested, plus power supply 
  • CPU: 2.30GHz Intel Core i7-2820QM quad-core with 8MB
    L3 cache
  • Memory: 16GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM (32GB max)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro 2000M with 2GB memory
  • LCD: 15.6-in. diagonal 16:9 LED-backlit FHD anti-glare DreamColor (1920×1200)
  • Hard disk: 500GB, 7,200 rpm 2.5-in. Smart SATA II
  • Optical: Blu-ray Disc ROM DVD+/-RW SuperMulti DL
  • Audio: microphone and headphone jacks, built-in microphone and speakers
  • Network: integrated Intel Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000 NIC); Intel 802.11 wireless LAN; optional integrated Bluetooth 2.1; optional Mobile Broadband (requires separate mobile service)
  • Modem: 56K V.92 modem
  • Other: two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, one eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, one IEEE 1394a Firewire, media card reader (SC, SD, MMC, MS/Pro, XD), one Express Card/54 slot, one Smart Card reader, DisplayPort, 15-pin VGA, 720p HD webcam
  • Keyboard: integrated 101-key keyboard with numeric keypad
  • Pointing device: integrated three-button touchpad and pointing stick, fingerprint reader

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Digital Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.