HP EliteBook 8540w full review

The HP EliteBook 8540w is the flying fortress of professional notebooks, a 15in-screen design bristling with ports and performance power, and built to last

As we saw with the HP EliteBook 8440p recently, HP still knows how to make a tough high-performance laptop. The HP EliteBook 8540w is cast from a very similar mold, only this time it’s a mold large enough to create a 15in, rather than 14in-screened, notebook.

So we have an especially tough chassis again, one designed to withstand the rigours of professional and industrial work.

When closed, the lid of the HP EliteBook 8540w is securely fastened down by bolts that plunge into the main chassis; lifting the lid requires some force against the reassuringly stiff hinges. But it’s worth the effort to get inside, to enjoy the large anti-glare matt screen and the eminently tactile keyboard.

As well as a modest-sized touchpad, the HP EliteBook 8540w also provides a trackstick in the keyboard, with its click buttons immediately below. A fingerprint reader on the far right of the top deck underlines the businessness of the design.

HP offers the HP EliteBook 8540w with the same dual-core processor we saw in the 8440p, the Intel Core i7-620M. In our experience, this dual-core chip may be the finest processor for mobile computing at the moment. It runs fast enough at its nominal 2.66GHz, then overclocks to a maximum frequency of 3.33GHz given half a chance.

Yet the HP EliteBook 8540w seems to run quite cool, specified at a nominal 35W TDP, and so itself is not a complete battery hog.

Discretion and graphical valour

In contrast to the HP 8440p we tested which relied on built-in Intel graphics, the HP EliteBook 8540w takes a discrete graphics processor from nVidia. The nVidia Quadro FX 1800M is not your usual consumer GPU but one optimised for workstation use.

So where the nVidia GeForce series is all about delivering fast game action, sometimes at the expense of rendering accuracy, the Quadro line is designed for precision GPU-accelerated computer-aided design (CAD) work.

And as an nVidia product, it naturally lends itself to programs optimised for the company’s CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) system, to hardware-accelerate certain apps that can make use of a graphics card’s parallel processing capabilities..

It’s probably this graphics card – billed with a TDP of 45W, greater than the main CPU – that really undermines battery life of the HP EliteBook 8540w. Despite a quite generous 68Wh battery pack, we measured a lifespan of just 203 mins (3hrs 23mins) in MobileMark 2007 Productivity test.

Compare that to the 327 mins (nearly 5.5 hours) of the 8440p, running the same processor but with integrated Intel graphics, and you can see what’s taxing the battery. Especially when you consider that the 8440p is also fitted with a smaller 55Wh battery.

But mobile workstations like these are not really the tools of fleet-footed mains-starved road warriors; they’re designed as portable desktop replacements. More so in the case of the HP EliteBook 8540w here, whose near-3kg weight may discourage casual daily transport.

In real-world computing performance, the HP EliteBook 8540w is by no means a slouch, but with hard-disk storage rather than SSD, it scored lower than the solid-state-equipped 8440p.

That 14in machine reaped 123 points in WorldBench 6, where the HP EliteBook 8540w here was a little behind at 116 points. Which left us wondering how an HP EliteBook 8540w with SSD would really fare...

Shoulda Woulda CUDA

We didn’t have any CUDA benchmark tools to hand, so roped in the FEAR game to get an idea of graphics performance. At our usual Maximum detail settings for this test, the 8540w averaged 76 frames per second.

Aside from tank-like build and speedy computing, the HP EliteBook 8540w also offers a multiplicity of connection ports.

There’s the ubiquitous USB 2.0, three in this case, joined by two USB 3.0 ports, along with one eSATA, DisplayPort and VGA video outputs, and mini FireWire 400. There are also slots for ExpressCard 54, SmartCard, and a multi-card reader for SD, xD and Sony memory cards.

On the optical disc front, the tray-load drive can read and write dual-layer DVDs, and etch text and graphics on their obverse with LightScribe technology.

And strange as it seems to us for a laptop aimed at professionals rather than entertainment, this drive will also read Blu-ray discs – but not write to them.

Finding BD playback capability is not so strange, yet we wondered why a workstation wouldn’t let you backup data or burn HD films to BD media, even if it can let you enjoy Blu movies from its built-in BD-ROM drive.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>

See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?


HP EliteBook 8540w: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7-620M
  • 4MB L3 cache
  • 15.6in (1920 x 1080) 16:9 LED-backlit matt anti-glare display
  • Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  • 500GB 7200rpm SATA 3Gb/s HDD
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia Quadro FX 1800M with 1GB GDDR5 memory
  • DisplayPort, VGA
  • tray-load BD-ROM/DVD±RW DL with LightScribe
  • 2 x USB 3.0, 3 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x eSATA
  • 1 x mini FireWire 400
  • ExpressCard 54 slot
  • SmartCard slot
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 56k modem
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 2Mp webcam
  • SD/xD/MS card slot
  • HP Mobile Broadband with GPS
  • 68Wh removable lithium-ion battery
  • 374 x 25 x 32mm
  • 2977g