The HP EliteBook 8440w won't win awards for ultrathin design elements or elegant looks, but underneath the almost military-style exterior is a quad-core Intel CPU coupled with an nVidia Quadro FX 380M professional-grade graphics processor.
When you first unpack the laptop, the muted magnesium-clad system impresses with its solid feel. While the body of the unit is mostly plastic, it's a dense, unyielding plastic that exudes ruggedness without seeming overbuilt. Priced at $1649 (as of February 23, 2010), the 8440w isn't the least expensive all-purpose laptop, but it delivers robust performance in a 5.3-pound package.
The 8440w, the latest update to the HP corporate workstation line, builds in capabilities beyond the average 14-inch notebook. The 1600-by-900-pixel, LED-backlit screen is a cut above most 14-inch displays, allowing more visible windows to be on tap when you're working in a multiple-application environment.
The 8440w's expansion options are more prosaic, however. You get four USB ports (three on the left, one on the right; the last doubles as an eSATA port), plus a mini-FireWire connector and the requisite audio input and output jacks. Display outputs--an analog VGA port and a DisplayPort connector - grace the rear of the unit. A two-megapixel webcam is built into the display bezel.
In our WorldBench 6 tests, the 8440w's performance scores were quite good, particularly for multithreaded applications such as Photoshop and 3ds Max. The system's overall score of 119 is among the best we've seen from a laptop of this class. Though the Intel Core i7 620M isn't the highest-performing Intel quad-core CPU, it is still a cut above typical dual-core processors.
The 8440w's gaming performance was also solid for a small laptop, as the system generated very high frame rates in Unreal Tournament 3 at 1024 by 768 resolution. On a more current game, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Skies, the 8440w's frame rates averaged less than 20 frames per second at 1280 by 720 in DirectX10 mode. You'll probably want to dial back the detail levels and run in DirectX 9 mode, even when you're playing DirectX 10-capable titles. Then again, gaming isn't this system's primary mission.
Certainly, the 8440w's performance in normal usage scenarios left nothing to be desired. We installed Microsoft Office and Firefox 3.6, opening numerous windows and tabs while working on text. The 8440w seemed responsive at all times, except when Firefox exhibited its usual quirk of locking down the system while loading a dozen tabs simultaneously (but that's true with all PCs).
The keyboard on the 8440w is one of the finest examples of a laptop keyboard we've seen. The layout is reasonable for a compact laptop, but the main typing keys are full-size and offer excellent tactile feedback while requiring relatively little pressure. Nice touches abound: The Home and End keys, for instance, are separated by the PgUp and PgDn keys--a good compromise when space constraints force laptop designers to put that group of keys in a vertical row. The cursor keys are half size, but physically separated from the main keyboard, minimizing confusion when you're using those keys to navigate documents.
The trackpad works well, and HP also supplies a pointing stick with its own set of mouse buttons. The buttons for both the trackpad and the stick offer a good feel, requiring just the right amount of pressure (preventing accidental presses). The trackpad also doesn't seem overly responsive, so you don't need to worry that hovering your palm over the pad will send your cursor gyrating wildly across the screen.
Multimedia playback on the 8440w, on the other hand, is problematic. Though our test system was supposed to arrive with a Blu-ray drive, it came with only a DVD one. We copied over a WMV HD file to check out high-definition playback. Though colors seemed a little washed out and we caught some visible noise, HD playback looked passable. DVD upscaling, however, was an unpleasant experience.
We tried DVDs of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and Raiders of the Lost Ark. In Windows Media Center, DVD playback was noisy, with way too much edge enhancement. When we installed PowerDVD Ultra 9 and tweaked the nVidia control panel's noise-reduction feature, we were able to mitigate some of the noise--but some noise remained visible, as did the horrible, excessive edge enhancement.
Audio playback wasn't much better. The integrated iDT audio control panel included an equalizer that seemed to have little effect on any of the music files we played. The speakers seemed bright and edgy. And while we expected relatively little from the bass, the overall bass performance didn't even meet those lowered expectations. Our advice: If you get the 8440w, use a good set of headphones for audio.
This is a corporate laptop, so we can forgive the audio issues to a limited extent. But there's no excuse for the terrible DVD-upscaling issues we encountered.
Our system arrived with little in the way of bundled software - which we consider a positive in a business-class laptop. Usually, IT departments have their own ideas as to what software should be supplied, so the lack of bundled applications is no big deal. The 8440w ships with Intel's Advanced Management Tool, which IT managers can customise to use internal support options.
Overall, the HP EliteBook 8440w is a relatively impressive laptop for business users, but it's marred by poor video playback quality and mediocre audio. However, its excellent keyboard and long battery life will appeal to people who would rather work on their portable system than watch movies on it.