HP's 17in. Workstation-class EliteBook 8730w is about as far from a netbook as an Aston Martin is from a Ford Fiesta. That's not to belittle netbooks or Fiestas, but when you want to get somewhere fast, and in comfort, you need the appropriate tool for the job. The job in question here is anything that requires an excellent graphics subsystem and a degree of portability. Photo and video editors, engineers and financial analysts would be typical users of this class of notebook.
The standout feature on our review sample, the FU471ET model, is its gorgeous 1,920-by-1,200 DreamColor display, which is the clearest, sharpest and most colour-rich we've seen on any notebook. The display and other high-end features make this a premium-priced product at £2,152 (ex. VAT), but there are plenty of models in the 8730w family, ranging in price from a reasonable £1,309 to a princely £3,775.
With its 17in. screen, the EliteBook 8730w is never going to be a lightweight, but it's actually quite svelte-looking — apart from the footprint — and weighs a luggable 3.4kg. The dimensions are 39.3cm wide by 28.2cm deep by 3.2cm (at the front). The finish is largely brushed aluminium, with black surrounds to the screen and keyboard.
HP's workstation-class EliteBook 8730w has a 17in. DreamColor screen, weighs 3.4kg and costs £2,152 (ex. VAT) for the FU471ET model reviewed here.
A notebook aimed at graphics professionals is going to need a high-quality screen, and here the EliteBook 8730w — specifically, models (like the FU471ET reviewed here) with the DreamColor display technology — delivers big-time. What hits you when you put a high-quality test image on-screen (like those available on HP's Graphic Arts Image Bank) is the sheer depth and vibrancy of colour — no illusion, as this screen can display 16.7 million colours (24-bit colour) rather than the 262,144 (18-bit colour) of regular notebook LCDs.
Almost everything else about the screen is excellent too: native resolution (1,920 by 1,200 pixels), backlighting (RGB LED, with ambient light sensor), viewing angles (especially in the horizontal plane) and matte rather than reflective finish. HP supplies a Mobile Display Assistant that helps you select preset colour spaces such as sRGB, Adobe RGB, Native/Full (the default) or set a specific white point. However, some graphics professionals may require more adjustability than HP provides out of the box: Lenovo, by contrast, supplies a Pantone colour calibrator with its workstation-class ThinkPad W series notebooks.
HP's Mobile Display Assistant lets you select preset colour spaces, or set your own white point.
The keyboard area is large enough to accommodate a 102-key keyboard with a separate number pad on the right-hand side. All the keys are full size except for the row of half-height function keys at the top. The action is positive, with an audible 'click', and there's no flex in the keyboard at all. There are dual options for moving the cursor around, each with their own set of three mouse buttons: a pointing stick between the G, B and H keys and a touchpad with a vertical scroll zone on the right-hand side. As well as the touchpad, the wrist-rest area carries a fingerprint reader in the bottom right-hand corner. The notebook's otherwise classy looks are spoiled slightly by the all-too-common cluster of vendor stickers, just above the fingerprint reader.
The EliteBook 8730w has impressively solid 102-key keyboard with a separate number pad and dual cursor-navigation devices (pointing stick and touchpad).
Between the keyboard and the screen is a strip containing the power button and a number of touch-sensitive LED-illuminated controls. From the left, these perform the following functions: bring up the HP Info Center dialogue box; turn the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios on and off; bring up the Presentation Settings dialogue box; mute the audio; adjust the volume (using a slider); and bring up the Calculator.
Not only does the EliteBook 8730w look smart, but the build quality is also very good. The brushed aluminium finish is scratch-resistant, the screen hinges feel reassuringly solid, as does the keyboard. The screen section does flex a bit, but it's a good centimetre thick and should withstand all but the most determined ill-treatment. Finally, there's a sturdy mechanism to keep the lid firmly attached to the system unit when the clamshell is closed up.
As befits a workstation-class system, the EliteBook 8730w has a top-notch set of components inside. The processor in our review model (FU471ET) was a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600, which has 6MB of Level 2 cache and a 1,066MHz frontside bus. The chipset is Intel's PM45 Express and although HP's web site lists the FU471ET as coming with 4GB of RAM as standard (expandable to 8GB in total), our review sample had 3GB. Our review unit also came with Windows XP Professional installed, although the standard OS is Vista Business (with an XP downgrade option). You can also specify SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 if required.
The graphics processor, naturally, is a discrete affair in the shape of Nvidia's Quadro FX 2700M. This has 512MB of dedicated video memory and comes with a fully featured control panel that includes a drop-down menu of 3D settings for a wide range of certified third-party applications. Other models in the 8730w range step the GPU up to the Quadro FX 3700M with 1GB of video RAM.
For storage there's a fast (7,200rpm) 320GB Seagate Momentus hard drive, protected against bumps and shocks by HP's 3D DriveGuard system. If you need more capacity, you can replace the optical drive — a LightScribe double-layer multi-format DVD rewriter — with another hard drive: HP sells a 5,400rpm 250GB drive for £179 (ex. VAT).
Intel's WiFi Link 5300, which supports 802.11a/b/g and Draft-N Wi-Fi, looks after wireless networking, and Bluetooth 2.0 is also present for short-range wireless conenctivity. Wired networking is handled by Intel's Gigabit Ethernet module, and there's even a 56Kbps modem — although it's unlikely to see much use these days.
There's plenty of room on this system for ports and connectors, and HP doesn't stint. There are four USB ports, for example, plus a combined USB/eSATA port. The USB/eSATA port and three of the USB ports are on the right-hand side, along with the optical drive and the RJ-45 (Ethernet) and RJ-11 (modem) ports. The left-hand side has a combined ExpressCard/54 and SmartCard slot at the front, followed by a USB port, a 4-pin FireWire port, VGA and HDMI ports and the power input. The fascia carries the audio jacks and a multi-format flash card reader. The lack of dual-link DVI-out is the only possible niggle: if you need this, you'll have to invest in one of HP's optional docking stations.
The Li-ion battery, which occupies most of the back, is an hefty 8-cell 73Wh unit. Additional battery options for those who need to maximise mains-free uptime include a 52Wh extended-life battery (£76 ex. VAT) and a 95Wh ultra-capacity battery (£139 ex. VAT). The power brick, incidentally, is a distinctly hefty 150W unit.
Performance & battery life
It should be no surprise to hear that the EliteBook 8730w is a nippy notebook, given its 2.8GHz dual-core CPU, 3GB of RAM, discrete Quadro FX 2700M graphics and fast 7,200rpm hard disk. We ran Passmark Software's Performance Test 7.0 and got an overall score of 913.8. By way of comparison, a Lenovo ThinkPad W500 (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB of RAM, Vista) in Passmark's comparison database scored 879.6.
HP claims battery life of up to 4.25 hours with the supplied 8-cell, 73Wh battery. We tested this by measuring the system's power consumption using a Voltcraft VC940 digital multimeter under a variety of conditions. With the system idling, Wi-Fi off and the screen set to 50 percent brightness the average power draw was 24.1W, giving a battery life estimate of 3 hours (73W/24.1W). Turning the screen brightness up to 100 percent, activating Wi-Fi and giving the notebook a decent workload (running Performance Test 7.0 and playing a web-based flash video over Wi-Fi) boosted the average power consumption to 65.1W and reduced the estimated battery life to just 1.1h.
Although the EliteBook 8730w isn't anyone's idea of a 'portable' computer, it may on occasion need to run on battery power. If you're likely to need much more than an hour, we'd suggest investing in one of the extended battery options.
The workstation-class HP EliteBook 8730's performance, superb DreamColor screen and excellent build quality make it a pleasure to use. It would suit any power user requiring a top-notch graphics subsystem.