HP Elitebook 8440w Review (Quad-core i7 model)

No this is NOT an article written from the CES floor. Not too long ago, I was kidnapped and dragged into a secret location to play with this gunmetal gray little toy. And the minute I lay my hands on the chilly cold keyboard deck and powered it up, I was in love. I confess I’ve been hugging this thing for quite a while now (and yes, its real owner wants it back!). Like many people around the world (I know because they sent in plenty of tips), I was not bound to anyone or anything, so I could’ve posted this earlier but I was in a dilemma whether to go ahead.

Now that it’s official, I’m really happy for HP and I’m now posting my review based on my time with the HP Elitebook 8440w Mobile Workstation!

Main features:

  • 2.0 GHz Intel Core i7 Extreme 920-XM quad core processor
  • 8 GB of DDR3 RAM (2 slots)
  • 512 MB Nvidia Quadro FX380M graphics (not to be confused with the high-end FX3800M)
  • 14 inch 16:9 matte widescreen, super-high res option (1600 x 900)
  • 4 USB ports, VGA out, Display Port out
  • 6 cell primary battery with HP 8 cell secondary battery

Based on emails from sources and readers I’ve been receiving since September last year, there are a variety of different configurations floating around. I believe a Core i5 option exists, along with “gaming” graphics (I think those are more recent units).

1.73 GHz Intel Core i7 820QM quad core processor – looks like majority of “closet Elitebook 8440 holders” have their Elitebook 8440w’s configured with this processor. I’ve gotten word from a few people that they’re getting similar battery life numbers to what I’m getting (about 9 hours of light use on 9 cell and 4+ hours on heavy loads).

Design

Besides offering improvements in performance, Core i7 spells out sheer power, HP also evolved the design of this year’s Elitebooks a little. The changes are subtle but well appreciated. Unless you have a keen eye or are extremely familiar with HP notebooks, you might not spot them at first. So let me point them out to you.

The fingerprint reader of the latest Elitebook 8440w is a lot more low profile than the silver colored one on previous Elitebooks. It blends in with the gray design… just like that.

Left side of the Elitebook 8440w

Over here, you can see the Elitebook 8440w’s airflow vent, three USB ports, firewire port, Express Card slot and dedicated headphone/microphone jacks. Although there’s word the larger 15 inch Elitebook 8540p and 8540w models will get USB 3.0 ports (personally I just received the latter, but have no USB 3.0 devices to test out on it), the smaller 8440w here is stuck with your everyday USB 2.0 ports as far as I can tell.

Right side of the Elitebook 8440w

On this side of the notebook, we have the optical drive (see that logo, ooh Blu-ray!), combined USB + eSATA port, LAN port and modem jack. There’s also a smartcard reader cleverly hidden between the palmrest and optical drive area (that very thin slit).

Ports on the back

The biggest surprise (or not, if you read our “Spotted: Elitebook” article in November 2009) is that HP ain’t putting HDMI ports on their latest Elitebook models. Instead, they’re jumping straight over to using Display Ports (those wanting to hook up the notebook to their TV shouldn’t fret, as there are various HDMI adapters available). HP has also included a more traditional VGA output so business users can easily connect the notebook to a projector without the hassle of an additional adapter.

Battery life: Isn’t this everyone’s concern when a Core i7 Mobile processor is used in a notebook? First off, I was amazed at the battery life of the Elitebook 8440w considering its powerful processor. Unplugged and working on documents/surfing the web, I managed to clock in 6 hours of work using the primary battery (6 cell) and another 8 hours with the secondary battery (screen at medium brightness). And using it for CAD work and gaming at maximum brightness slashes those numbers into half.

24 hour battery life: You read that right, but only the Elitebook 8440p models will manage that. The p “professional” variants run on less powerful (hence, less power consuming) processors and have other power saving measures, while the 8440w “workstation” variant here trades some battery life for power.

Fan noise: The Elitebook 8440w is almost silent when idling and doing light work. Under heavy stress (gaming and CAD), the fan spins up noticably to an audible level but as I observed, it’s still quieter than the 8530w/8730w’s respective fans at full tilt.

Display: The Elitebook 8440w I played with had a marvelous matte 1600 x 900 display. Simply put, the resolution alone makes the Elitebook 8440w’s 14 inch widescreen display feel bigger than it really is. I have more good things to say here: I love matte displays (and have an apparent dislike for glossy ones, as they’re hard to see under bright lighting) which the Elitebook 8440w has, and the LED backlit display is on the bright side. I had no problem viewing the screen indoors under living room lighting with brightness at the lowest setting.

There’s also an ambient light sensor below the display which you can opt to enable or disable by pressing Fn + F11.

HP Night Light: This is an Elitebook standard feature. The change in current generation Elitebook’s Night Lights is that the light pops out by pressing the light itself (kinda like the spare change compartment in your car), compared to the old Elitebooks which required a press of a separate button next to the Night Light. The brightness is decent – sufficient to illuminate the keyboard in low-light, but it’s certainly not blinding or overly bright to the point that it’s distracting. Despite the centralized location, the Night Light is able to provide sufficient illumination even to the edges of the keyboard. The photo above was taken in total darkness with exposure adjusted to reflect what my own eyes saw.

Touch sensitive controls: The Elitebook 8440w has a reworked set of touch sensitive controls above the keyboard. The “Info” and “Presentation” buttons of the old Elitebooks have been replaced with more useful controls to launch your favorite email application and internet browser. That’s followed by a wireless on/off control and touchpad lock button (turns red when touchpad is locked). The touchpad lock feature is new to this generation of Elitebook models: previously only the Elitebook 2530p had one. It basically disabled the touchpad itself and lower mouse buttons to prevent accidental presses. However, it does NOT lock the pointing stick and upper touchpad buttons (which is great news for pointing stick fanatics).

Keyboard: There isn’t much change in the keyboard layout of the Elitebook 8440w. In fact, the layout is exactly the same as that of the Elitebook 6930p: full-sized keys with Page Up/Page Down/Home/End buttons positioned at the very right side with a small gutter separating that row with the rest of the keyboard. The full sized right Shift key remains, as with the decently sized arrow keys. There is a change, however, to the keyboard’s design. HP has shifted from the traditional keyboards found on earlier Elitebook models to a partial-chiclet styled one (first seen here on HP’s Touchsmart all-in-one PC keyboard). I know people who own 1st generation Elitebook models of all sizes (from 12 inches to 17 inches) and some of them have been kind enough to let me use them extensively from time to time =). I didn’t find any issue with the keyboards on any of the 1st generation Elitebooks, but I must say the new keyboard here on the Elitebook 8440w is even more comfortable to type on. Keystrokes are softer (but still stiff enough to prevent accidental presses) and more responsive, but not really quieter when typing.

The keyboard is apparently spill-proof, but I was not fortunate enough (or not unfortunate enough, depending on how you see things) to spill anything on the keyboard during my time with the Elitebook 8440w. In fact, I pampered the little thing like a baby for the obvious reason it does not belong to me (see below for the paragraph about owner’s durability demonstration though)

Elitebook 8440w’s pointing stick

The Elitebook 8440w’s pointing stick is an improvement over that of previous Elitebook models. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I personally know several Elitebook owners, and some of them do complain a lot about the hassle of their pointing stick coming off after a lot of typing (especially using the G, H and B keys) and need to be plugged back in (believe me, they are indeed a small challenge to reattach firmly). The new partial-chiclet keyboard gives the pointing stick a bit of breathing room around the G, H, B keys and using the pointing stick itself is a breeze – responsive and accurate.

Elitebook 8440w’s touchpad

Gaming performance (Plugged in): I managed to play Left4Dead 2 at native 1600 x 900 resolution at 4X anti aliasing, 2X AF and all Medium settings with an average frame rate of 30-40 FPS. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 worked just as well with similar frame rates at Medium settings. The older Elitebook 8530w manages roughly the same frame rates, but with a mix of Medium/High settings at 1920 x 1200 as it has a higher end graphics card (FX770M) versus the FX380M on the 8440w.

Display lid: The Elitebook 8440w has a lid locking system which LOOKS similar to that of the old Elitebooks, but there’s yet another small improvement here. The small ejector “stubs” (see the small black circle near the touchpad in the photo above) now don’t have a catch point half-way through. Press the button on the front of the Elitebook 8440w and it instantly ejects the lid. On old Elitebooks, there was a chance the lid would not fully open if you didn’t press hard the button enough.

CAD work: It takes around 5 minutes to encode 20 minutes worth of HD video in AVI format using Adobe Media Encoder CS4. Graphics rendering using AutoCAD is faster than the last gen Elitebook 6930p/Elitebook 8530w models. The 8440w can usually do the same job in 60-70% the time it takes for a 8530w. This is due to the 8440w’s quad-core processor – it gives this machine a large advantage in many day to day tasks (and sadly, there aren’t as many GPU reliant applications versus those that rely a lot on CPU). However, in the graphics department, the older Elitebook 8530w still wins in terms of smoothness and crispiness with its older but higher end FX770M.

Speakers: There’s a SD/SDHC/MMC card slot on the front of the Elitebook 8440w. Although not 100% centralized, the Elitebook 8440w’s speakers performed well in terms of sound quality (they produce some sort of “spatial” effect with a slight bit of bass). In fact, it’s one of the better speakers I’ve heard on a business notebook (Elitebook 8730w takes 1st place in my mind). They definitely sound better than the tinny speakers on my own Pavilion dv4. Music playback was good, and they sounded just as impressive when gaming.

Size: The Elitebook 8440w is a hair wider but very slightly shorter versus the old Elitebook 6930p due to its slightly wider 16:9 display.

Durability: I was treated to a surprise, scary demonstration by -anonymous-, the owner of this Elitebook 8440w, when he first offered to let me have a go at this notebook. I won’t say names, but this dude is about 6′ 2″ and 200 lbs, powered on the notebook, closed the lid and lay it down on the carpet before proceeding to stand on top of the notebook (!!!), and he didn’t even bother to take off his shoes. Needless to say, it held up, if not I wouldn’t even have been able to test this thing out anyway. Warning: Don’t try this at home, this advice applies to both kids and adults! HP Fansite is not responsible for your actions should any mishaps occur.

I’d say build quality is right up there with the Thinkpads and more solid than the unibody MacBook Pro’s.

Final thoughts: The HP Elitebook 8440w is a nice step up from the Elitebook 6930p and definitely a worthy successor. Compared to the Elitebook 6930p, the main improvements include a far more powerful processor, much better graphics, higher resolution screen (+160 pixels to the side), slightly better keyboard, 1 additional USB port, added Display Port, touchpad lock and very good battery life (if you want to stretch things a bit, go for the dual core Core i7 or i5 processor options).

Me: I’m thinking of replacing my aging Pavilion dv4 this year, and I’m torn between this smaller Elitebook 8440w and the more powerful Elitebook 8540w. Aaargh, decisions, decisions.

Why don’t I have a similar review available for the Elitebook 8540w? One main reason: because the 8440w arrived earlier (I feel that I haven’t spent enough time with the 8540w to write a user’s perspective, in-depth review)

If there’s anything else you wanna know, drop me an email or preferably, post in the comments section below and I’ll gladly answer.

MORE PICTURES AND WRITE UP COMING UP SOON!

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58 Comments

  1. Allan January 6, 2010 Reply

    Hey Brad great review. I just read another review of the 8440w on http://forum.notebookreview.com, they had the high end Arrandale dual core Core i7-620M version. The 8440w is the first 14″ laptop that I’ve seen that has the quad core Core i7 mobile cpu, amazing (everything else is mostly giant 15.6″, 16″, 17″ and 18.4″ and higher laptops, like Asus, Toshiba, Dell, Lenovo, Alienware, etc.

  2. Chema January 6, 2010 Reply

    I have drooled with this review! 🙂

    But what about temperatures? Since this machine has the most powerful i7 mobile processor and it has a small size, this machine should run very hot with high loads…

  3. Dana January 7, 2010 Reply

    Hmm, the fact that you can lock the touchpad without locking the stick buttons, implies that they’ve put the stick buttons on the stick instead of on the touchpad. Hopefully we should be able to use stick middle button (or left+right) to scroll while keeping the pad buttons normal.

    Also, can you please check what sort of advanced features the touchpad offers? Please check the mouse control panel for fancy gestures, and press alt-shift-i in the mouse control panel and check for multiple finger reporting.

  4. Brad January 7, 2010 Reply

    @Chema Surprisingly, I didn’t find heat to be an issue, plugged in or not. I can spend a few hours doing stuff in Auto CAD and Photoshop, and then hop straight on to a session of Need For Speed Shift (or Left4Dead 2)… and I can carry the notebook from one place to another while doing this, without frying my fingers. The keyboard deck (mostly the middle/left parts) does get noticeably warm, so does the lower left part where the hard disk sits, but not to the point where it feels uncomfortable.

    I’d say heat levels are on par with last generation Elitebooks. Core Temp reports processor temperatures of 60-65 degrees Celcius when running on high load, about 40+ degrees on light load.

    @Dana Yes, activating the lock function will only disable the lower 2 buttons and touchpad. The touchstick and upper 2 buttons will still work, however. I suppose this is part of the functionality and also probably due to hardware (not that I recommend doing so, but if you remove the keyboard, you’ll find the touchstick is “linked” to the upper two buttons).

    At the moment, I can’t find any sort of multi-touch features on the Elitebook 8440’s Synaptics panel. It looks like HP recycled/reused the same single-touch trackpad as the 6930p (or at least the touchpad features remain the same). I’ll keep you posted if anything changes (though the software and drivers on the 8440 seem to be finalized already)

  5. Chema January 7, 2010 Reply

    Brad, thanks for your reply 😉

    I plan to use the laptop on my lap for some hours at night (with low illumination). So my main concern was the dissipated heat, specially on the bottom side. But my preference is the big brother :D, the much waited 8740w (can’t wait any more