You don't buy the HP EliteBook 8560w for its slightly pyramidal profile. You buy it for its workstation performance. Not that the 8560w is unattractive, but its looks fade into the background when you consider our £2,414 (US$3,839) test configuration's WorldBench 6 score of 156 - faster than most of the mainstream desktop replacement laptops we've seen.

The prime movers behind the EliteBook 8560w's scintillating performance are a Core i7-2820QM, a whopping 16GB of memory, and a 7200-rpm, 500GB hard drive. The GPU is an Nvidia Quadro 2000M, which has about half the bandwidth of the 4000M found in our top-rated Dell Precision M6600 but is still extremely competent. The 8560w turned in a frame rate of 37.5 frames per second on Cinebench 11.5 with a 5.67 CPU rating. Those numbers are only slightly less than the ones the Dell M6600 racked up.

The 8560w is a very good gaming machine, too, unless you try to run games at 1920 by 1080 resolution, where its frame rate drops to near or below 30 fps - the Mendoza line for passable game play. Lower the detail settings, and gaming at 1080p is doable. Video playback is exceptionally smooth even at 1080p; but at low and high frequencies, audio from the speakers sounds a bit muddy and lacks oomph, despite the SRS Premium Sound software. Through capable headphones, the audio is excellent and can deliver of ear-damaging volume.

The EliteBook 8560w's 1920 by 1080 display is great for games, photos, CAD, and video, but the byproduct of such a high resolution on a 15.6-inch screen is very small text and icons. Otherwise, the display is nicely backlit and colorfully renders the efforts of the GPU with the aid of HP's DreamColor technology. The display is an IPS (In-Plane Switching) type with truer 8-bit per component color reproduction and wider viewing angles than the common TN (Twisted Nematic) type offers.

Input ergonomics on the 8560w are above-average. You get a full-size keyboard with numeric keypad, and both offer a tight, responsive feel. The touchpad is nicely responsive, too, and HP even throws in a PointStick ("eraser head") pointing device. Alas, the PointStick is too slippery for actual use, so consider it a splash of orange color in the otherwise all-gray keyboard deck. Dual sets of buttons appear, below and above the touchpad, for easy clicking as you type or move the cursor. The touchpad is recessed rather deeply, with vertical walls which makes it difficult to brush away detritus such as tortilla crumbs.

The 8560w's ports are state of the art. One of the two USB 2.0 ports features eSATA, and HP provides two USB 3.0 ports as well. VGA, DisplayPort, audio-in and out, plus both SDHC/MMC and Expresscard/54 slots are on board. Connectivity is top-notch with 802.11a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz), and gigabit ethernet. Our test unit came with the optional EvDO broadband modem as well.

The 8560w comes with 64-bit Windows 7 Professional plus HP's ProtectTools for hard drive encryption, control of the unit's biometric finger scanner, and password management. In addition, Intel's AT anti-theft technology harnesses the broadband chip for disabling and enabling the laptop via SMS messages. Intel's AT can also track your laptop's location using the un2430's GPS capabilities.

The EliteBook 8560w's a weak spot is battery life. The measured lifespan of 2 hours, 57 minutes is too brief to keep you working on a cross-country flight. On the other hand, at 4.9 pounds the unit travels relatively light given its power. Our review 8560w had a very beefy configuration, but models with a host of CPU, memory, hard-drive, and GPU options start at $1349.

OUR VERDICT

Though the display is a bit small for the chores users normally perform at a workstation, the 8560w is otherwise a very capable unit, and it's affordably priced for its ilk.