A refresh based on second generation Intel Core processors, the 2560p is a decent performer with some nice ergonomic and design flourishes. It's a bit stodgy-looking and heavy for an ultraportable, but that's an understandable trade-off for the ruggedness.

Built largely from aluminum and magnesium, the 2560p completes its macho metal trilogy with supersturdy titanium hinges. The 2560p passes the US military's MIL-STD-810G drop test, which few laptops even attempt.

Another outstanding feature of the 2560p, one that every vendor should consider duplicating, is the extremely easy access to components. Slide a latch back, and the single panel that covers the entire bottom of the laptop slides away (it can be locked with a screw) to reveal all the major components inside. The unit is slightly heavy for an ultraportable at nearly 4 pounds, but the extra heft lends to the system's solid feel.

Though not the fastest ultraportable we've tested, our EliteBook 2560p test configuration proved more than competent. Carrying a Core i5-2410M CPU, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 7200-rpm, 320GB Toshiba hard drive, the laptop delivered a score of 114 in WorldBench 6. That mark is a little below average for the category and configuration, but subjectively the 2560p is pretty responsive.

In our tests, gaming frame rates from the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics were playable only at the very lowest resolutions and detail settings. Battery life using the 62 watt-hour battery included with our test unit was 6 hours, 45 minutes. A good result, but well shy of the 8 hours or more we've seen from some other ultraportables.

The EliteBook is available in a variety of flavours, ranging from the no-optical-drive budget configuration we tested to a version with a DVD burner and a 128GB solid state drive. No Blu-Ray drive is available. A 1366-by-768-pixel, 12.5-inch display is standard on all models and offers a crisp picture with extremely even backlighting. Video playback is as smooth as can be, and the speaker sound is actually decent for an ultraportable, though it has little in the way of bass response.

Ports and connectivity are largely up to snuff, although USB 3.0 is absent. The company's reps explained to me that USB 2.0 was all that was required. They're probably correct, at least for the next six months. The 2560p has four USB 2.0 ports (one of which is always powered as long as the laptop is plugged in), as well as another of the dual eSATA/USB type, mitigating slightly the lack of USB 3.0.

Another deliberate omission is an audio input jack. For audio input, the laptop relies on the dual microphones bracketing the HD webcam on the screen bezel. The Ethernet connection is gigabit, the built-in Wi-Fi supports both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and Bluetooth is included.

The 2560p's input ergonomics are very good. The keyboard is recessed into the deck far enough that you achieve a comfortable wrist angle with your palms resting on the front part of said deck. The response is relatively crisp, and unlike many Chiclet-style designs, the keyboard has slightly concave keys to promote confident finger placement. The touchpad, with its two sets of buttons (above for use when typing, and below for two-handed cursoring), offers great response. Being able to double-tap in the upper-left corner to enable or disable it is a neat touch, too.

HP's pre-installed applets are surprisingly useful, though anyone familiar with Windows can skip several of them. HP's ProtectTools now has a cleaner interface and offers drive encryption, finger-swipe biometrics and facial recognition with Bluetooth confirmation. You'll also find a nice power utility that will even control some external monitors, if they happen to be HP models.

OUR VERDICT

If you need an ultraportable laptop that you can be confident will stand up to a few years of heavy use, the HP EliteBook 2560p deserves a look. A three year warranty and on-site service are available to provide additional peace of mind.