HP EliteBook 8730w Review: Not Your Grandmother's Laptop

Andrew Farago interviews the directors of the five animated shorts nominees for the 2008 Academy Awards.

The HP EliteBook 8730w laptop. All images courtesy of Bryan Hoff.

The HP EliteBook 8730w may be big and may weigh more than your average laptop, but that's the point. This is not a laptop meant for word processing, sending emails and surfing the web (that would just be plain overkill). It's a mobile workstation, equipped with an Intel Core 2 Extreme Processor Q9300 (2.5GHz, 6MB L2 cache, 1333MHz Front Side Bus), 4GB RAM, 250GB SATA 2 7200RPM hard drive and an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M video card with 1GB video memory and it's the most power-packed laptop I've ever laid my hands on.

Where Do You Get Those Wonderful Toys?

I'll be honest with you -- I'm a technology and gadget freak. So when I saw all the bells and whistles on the 8730w, I was duly impressed. The first thing I noticed was the full numeric keypad. If you work with such software as Autodesk's Toxik and spend time on location, you're going to be set. No pun intended. Of course, the DreamColor LCD and color management software are icing on the cake. However, the thing that initially caught my attention the most was the built-in fingerprint scanner. Cool little extras will do that for me. Connection-wise, the system also includes a webcam, HDMI and VGA output, a memory card reader, four USB ports, an E-SATA port, Firewire 1394a, Express Card/54 slot, Ethernet and even a modem port, in case you're working in the middle of nowhere.

As if that wasn't enough, it has a touch pad, pointing stick and two sets of mouse buttons, including middle mouse buttons for Max, Maya and other mouse-centric applications. In case you were wondering, the system is very solid and well-built, with brushed aluminum adorning the top of the case. Accents like a touch-sensitive control bar for Wi-Fi, volume and calculator are a nice finishing touch.

[Figure 1] The HP Mobile Display Assistant with Native color space. 

Color Correction

In 2006, DreamWorks Animation and HP collaborated and came up with DreamColor technology, which DreamWorks uses for color correcting its animated features. The new LCDs from HP cost a fraction of CRTs they replace. The EliteBook 8730w boasts a 17" LCD at 1920x1200 resolution. I'm used to that kind of resolution on my 24" display, not a 17" laptop display. The LCD has 30-bit color, and is capable of displaying over 1 billion colors. Right out of the box, I noticed this was no ordinary LCD. The colors were deep, rich and well-balanced, not washed out or over-bright.

The HP Mobile Display Assistant software is where you calibrate the display. With its software wizard, calibration is quick and easy. Of course, you can also load color presets to ensure color accuracy across projects. Looking at Figures 1 and 2, it's easy to see how broad the LCD's color gamut truly is.

[Figure 2] The HP Mobile Display Assistant with sRGB color space. 

In addition to Toxik, Max and Maya, the EliteBook is also perfectly suited to Adobe Photoshop, Premiere and any other program that demands processing power and color accuracy.

So, What About Performance?

Funny you should ask. As you can see in the comparisons below, the EliteBook beats the Opteron-based xw9400 hands-down. Not bad for a computer you can carry comfortably under one arm. Of course, the HP xw8400 quad had twice as many processors as the 8730w, so it's no surprise that it outperformed the laptop by a wide margin. That said, the 8400 is about as portable as Sisyphus' boulder. An acceptable trade-off if you ask me.

Displacement & DOF.max

System
Time

HP xw8400 (dual) 8:53 HP xw9400 11:27 HP xw8400 (quad) 6:01 HP 8730w 9:49 Light Gallery

System
Time

HP xw8400 (dual) 1:53 HP xw9400 2:32 HP xw8400 (quad) 1:07 HP 8730w 2:09

SpecViewPerf, Vista style

First, a couple of caveats: For the first time in any of my reviews, I'm using Vista as a benchmarking platform. I'm also using SpecViewPerf 10. With that in mind, remember that the resulting numbers may differ from previous test scores based upon those inconsistencies.

Displacement & Depth of Field render.

HP xw8400

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 29.98

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 36.45

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 21.83

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 34.42

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 24.22

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 28.59

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 36.90

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 10.86

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 6.357

HP 8730w

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 35.77

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 43.37

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 37.09

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = N/A

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 116.28

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 41.25

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 76.14

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 26.22

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 23.88

Light Gallery render. 

I've compared the xw8400 with the 8730w, since both systems have four cores. The xw8400 had a Quadro FX 3500 video card, albeit with a mere 256MB RAM. All I have to say is, Wow! Even after taking the differences between XP and Vista into account, and the presumed discrepancies between SpecViewPerf 9 and 10, the numbers are still amazing, especially where Maya performance is concerned. What a difference a couple of years make!

Conclusion

If you do the kind of work that demands color accuracy, but also mobility, the EliteBook 8730w is the perfect solution. With its amazing DreamColor LCD, powerful processor and video and full numeric keypad, it's the perfect mobile workhorse for Toxik experts. If you don't need color correction, you can get a model without the DreamColor LCD, which would work well for those in the oil and gas industry. If you want a powerful mobile workstation with all the bells and whistles of a stationary workstation, look no further than HP's EliteBook 8730w.

Bryan Hoff is a web designer, digital artist, writer and animator. His credits include movie and television effects, online games, 3D corporate animation, Flash and traditional website design. His writing credits include articles for LinuxWorld, Element K Journals and InformIT, covering such topics as Photoshop effects, Linux 3D graphics applications, web and HTML design, RSS feeds and painting with a graphics tablet. Hoff has also written e-books on blogging and website creation for beginners and co-authored the book, Moving from Windows to Linux.

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