Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

Summary: Has the day of the mobile workstation finally come? Maybe...Chromebooks and MacBook Airs aren't for everyone.


My computer of choice recently is my MacBook Air. It rides in my bag with either my Motorola Xoom or my iPad, depending on what happens to be charged or what I might be testing or demonstrating on any given day. But I'm a tech writer and marketer who tends to be really mobile, really busy, and I like to be able to pull out something light and quick even if I happen to be sitting still for five minutes. Invariably, if I happen to not bring a laptop or tablet with me, I suddenly have half an hour free that I could be working on my book, writing an article, or at least responding to emails faster than I can on my phone. So, it's a rare day that the Air isn't at my side.

But for students and educators, most don't have the luxury of highly specialized tech toys...errr, I mean, personal computing tools. They don't have a speedy PC for digital content creation at home or in a dorm, a lightweight laptop to carry around, a tablet or two for content consumption and basic communications, and whatever other piece of kit an OEM sends them that week to test and review. A PC and possibly a tablet or smartphone are about it. So whatever that one device is, it needs to be a fairly robust jack of all trades. For many, it can be an inexpensive laptop. If all you need is basic productivity and Internet access, $500 at or will get you there.

However, what about engineering students? Math and science? Courseware designers? That rare video or graphics arts student who dares not to use a Mac? Researchers running SPSS or SAS code to crunch data? Chances are, a bargain basement PC is not going to do the trick. At the same time, very capable laptops with discrete graphics and speedy dual- and quad-core processors can be had from major OEMs for fairly aggressive prices. However, these generally hit such low price points by sacrificing durability, expandability, and high-end LCDs needed for digital content creation.

What all of this is leading up to is my take on HP's EliteBook 8460w mobile workstation. Mobile workstations used to be incredibly expensive bricks, suitable only for engineers and designers who had to have incredibly powerful computers at a job site. While the 8460w is neither the cheapest nor the lightest laptop you'll find, it just may represent the ideal machine for students, instructors, and researchers whose higher education tuitions, budgets, and/or salaries allow for a single, good PC. If that one PC could benefit from fast processors, needs to be mobile, needs more than 8GB of RAM, and will be running applications like CAD or Adobe's Creative Suite, then the EliteBook should be on their short list.

Weighing in around 5 pounds with the extended life battery (which, by the way, is giving me around 8 hours of battery life under normal use), the 8460w has a bright, clear screen with an antiglare finish running at 1600x900. My test model topped out at about $2700, which isn't cheap by any means, but is actually right in line with a comparably equipped MacBook Pro. In fact, the price of the HP could be shaved to $2450 by just removing the Blu-Ray burner. It would still include a 2.3GHz second-gen Core i7 quad core processor, AMD FirePro graphics (with support for up to 4 monitors), 3 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB power/2.0 port, and a USB/eSATA port.

The case is magnesium alloy and is incredibly rigid and the workstation has all of the other bells and whistles you would expect at this price (pointing stick, fingerprint recognition, large glass touchpad, etc.). It lacks a backlit keyboard, but has a small LED mounted under the webcam which works almost as well. It's incredibly fast, although I would forgo the optical drive, replace it with a large hard drive for storage, and configure it with a solid state drive for applications and the OS (all possible through HP's online configuration tools). Any way it goes, it screams, eating CS 5.5 for lunch. While my test machine came with only 6GB of RAM (it was a pre-production model; prices above reflect 8GB), it can be configured with up to 16GB.

Being a workstation, it also features various ISV certifications and HP has added a variety of security and power management software that are remarkably easy to use (so easy, in fact, that I actually enrolled my fingerprints, face, and Bluetooth phone for multi-factor authentication).

Not everyone needs a workstation in their messenger bags. For those who do, though, prices, performance, weight, and battery life have finally come to a point where such a thing is not only practical but downright pleasurable.

Thanks, I have another one of your workstation test units I'm loathe to send back.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Apple, CXO, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Wi-Fi

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Orign PC > HP

    While admittedly it's impressive that HP got all that power into a 5 pound case, I'm an extremely satisified Origin PC customer that feels shamelessly compulsed to shill for the company a bit =).

    I can sum it up with this: While I fully admit that my laptop had a few issues in its early days, Origin never stopped helping me until the issue was resolved. While the issue was ultimately a bad internal WiFi adapter, they had no reservations about shipping me a new hard disk, motherboard, RAM, and processor before we ultimately determined the culprit. On top of that, they shipped me individual parts at my discretion, instead of having to ship my laptop in its entirety to Florida, so that I didn't experience any time without my machine over the course of resolving the problem. And I have never once had to read them a serial number or service tag off the bottom of my laptop - my first and last name was all they ever wanted from me.

    The machines might not have the super duper metal frame, but they do hold between two and three hard disks, up to two GPUs (including Quadro and FirePro options), and the option between Core i7 and Xeon based units (which is extremely helpful for those of us who cringe at the thought of paying for 12GBytes of ECC Laptop RAM).

    Mine was worth every cent, and it cost roughly 330 thousand of them =).

  • Too bad

    Sounds nice. Too bad HP's tech support is so lousy. I would not risk that kind of money with HP.
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    Now only Price: $1,599.00*
  • Are they still selling PCs?

    Are they still selling PCs? With the sort of conflicting messages they've been sending out no one knows how long they will support PCs.
  • Not a rhetorical question

    After HP's disasters this summer, would you <i>really</i> want to buy a computer from them?
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    Printer, maybe but not a computer. The printers I have from them are really great, but, alas, the computers-not so much.
  • Power adapter is huge

    I have a 8540W and the power adapter is ridiculously large and heavy (well, another 2lbs). It has to be: with all of those ports and a large screen it needs to supply 150W.

    Nice computer to use, but I've had a new mother board, CPU, heat sink, hard disk and screen in the past year. Besides that it is fine.
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    Yes, these workstations do represent quality and reliability reference and bring delight to users.
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    As I had recommeded in the Larry-and-the-other-guy-debate-about-HP-and-CEO's merry-go-round, HP needs to turn around, make a public statement COMMITTING to the pc business (including laptops, and TOUCHPADS, MEG!) so customers are not timid about spending some money. And yep, HP has to support those in something better than a touchtone phone menu with no human to answer it. And, yeah, I do happen to work for the company in case that matters. In this case I do not think it does matter.
  • 1600*900?

    " the 8460w has a bright, clear screen with an antiglare finish running at 1600??900"

    FAIL. For a "mobile workstation", I wouldn't recommend anything less than 1920x1080. C'mon - my daughter's Dell XPS laptop came with that resolution screen, and I purchased almost a year ago...
    • Not everyone probably has your eyesight

      @brian@... 1920x1080! on a 14 inch screen! You must have good eyesight. I would never be able to deal with it.
    • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

      "I wouldn't recommend anything less than 1920x1080"
      The 8460w is a has a 14" screen. Don't you think that 1920x1080 is too high for such small screen?
  • HP 8510w

    I've been using HP's 8510w mobile workstation for a couple of years now (looking to upgrade next year). It's the perfect solution for me since I do a lot of software development and have to run Apache, PHP and CAD software. Lesser laptops don't have the screen resolution (1680x1050) that I need. HP is really and excellent choice if you're doing real development.
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    I (consultant engineer) really like my Lenovo T400S - fairly fast, light and powerful with a great dock running two big digital monitors on my desk at home; power adapter is a reasonable size: doesn't feel like a compromise on the road or at my desk. I want to upgrade to the T410S but can't justify it to myself!
  • &quot;The only computer you'll every need&quot;?

    Oxymoron, methinks - way too many variations in "needs", whether perceived or real.
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    I've had an older Elitebook model (8530w) and it's still going strong, a superb work machine.

    I was tempted to get an Elitebook for my daughter going off to college, but for a good bit cheaper got a nicely configured HP dm4 with a second gen core i5, discrete graphics, and 8GB of RAM, and it's a lot lighter and more portable. She loves having it and having the extra portability.
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    Until (unless) HP proves it's going to stay in the PC business, buying any HP or Compaq PC is taking a big risk unless one can afford to consider the device a throw-away.
  • RE: Could an HP mobile workstation be the only computer you'll ever need?

    Why do media types keep bringing up this totally inane question?<br><br>Laptops will always be both less capable and more expensive than desktops. While there are professions and even individuals that do not need nor want desktops. But for the great majority desktops are "the" choice. Perhaps fifty or a hundred years from now that might not be the case but for the foreseeable future desktops will dominant the computer market.
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  • sucker born every minute

    if you buy gear from a company that hasn't even decided yet whether or not it's going to keep making that gear, well, PT Barnum has some circus tickets for you at the will call box...