Two laptops mean business: HP EliteBook 8460p vs. Lenovo ThinkPad L420

These new laptops offer the business traveler (and the IT staff) solid, up-to-date and durable technology

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HP EliteBook 8460p

With its slick aluminum skin, HP's EliteBook 8460p may look like the latest entertainment or gaming notebook, but its beauty is more than skin deep. It has a rugged design, superior performance and a three-year warranty. In other words, it is as corporate as a Brooks Brothers suit.

At 1.3 x 13.3 x 9.1 in., the EliteBook is thinner and narrower than the ThinkPad, although, at 5.5 lbs., it weighs 4 oz. more. When you add in a larger and heavier AC adapter, it brings the EliteBook to a travel weight of 6.5 lbs. -- three quarters of a pound more than the ThinkPad.

HP EliteBook 8460p
HP EliteBook 8460p

On top of its sturdy aluminum-magnesium internal frame and screen enclosure, the EliteBook has a solid aluminum band around its edge to protect its corners from damage if it's dropped. Like the ThinkPad, the EliteBook 8460p has been subjected to some of the 810G ruggedness tests. It survived a 30-inch drop, high and low temperature use, thermal shock, high altitude operation and operational shock, and is resistant to dust and vibration. It wasn't put through the humidity test that Lenovo performed on the ThinkPad.

In contrast to the ThinkPad's three individual compartments at the bottom of the case, the EliteBook has a single panel that provides easier access to the system's components. This can simplify diagnostics and repairs.

The review system came equipped with a dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor, but the system can be ordered with a range of chips, from slower and less expensive processors all the way up to a quad-core Core i7 chip; models start at $999. The unit I looked at came with 4GB of RAM, but it can hold up to 8GB. The system can be outfitted with hard drives that can hold between 250GB and 750GB of data; you can also opt for a 128GB or 160GB solid-state drive (SSD); my system had a 320GB hard drive.

The EliteBook's 14-in. screen shows 1366-x-768-pixel resolution. My test unit included a discrete ATI Radeon HD 6470M graphics engine; lesser configurations come with integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, the same as in the ThinkPad I tested. The EliteBook display looked bright and rich. A light sensor adjusts the display's brightness to suit where you're working, a touch I always like.

The keyboard has flat black 18.9mm keys that stand out from the silver background and includes a keyboard light for late-night work. Around the keyboard are controls for turning Wi-Fi on and off, muting the volume and opening QuickWeb, HP's instant-start environment, which gives access to email, Web browsing and Skype. Like the ThinkPad, the EliteBook has a pointing stick and a touchpad; the EliteBook's pad has a smooth finish and is one-third larger than the ThinkPad's.

When it comes to security, HP did its homework. It includes a Total Protection Module (TPM) security chip that can encrypt the drive so that any data on a lost or stolen notebook will remain hidden. Using the company's ProtectTools Security Manager, you can control just about every aspect of the computer's setup and security, including a way to wipe all data from a drive when it gets passed to a different user.

The EliteBook comes with four USB ports, two of which use the faster USB 3.0 spec (the ThinkPad offers one USB 3.0 port). One of the USB 2.0 ports is shared with an eSATA connector. The EliteBook also has a VGA port, a DisplayPort connection, headphone and microphone jacks, and a FireWire port.

For getting online, the laptop offers 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi as well as wired Ethernet and an old-school dial-up modem for communications emergencies. HP offers mobile data options for connecting with HSPA (AT&T) or EV-DO (Sprint and Verizon) 3G networks.

Performance

It all adds up to a high-performance system that led the ThinkPad in all tests. The EliteBook's score of 1,380.1 on PassMark's PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark was 9% ahead of the ThinkPad, while its score of 17.6 frames per second (fps) on the CineBench GPU test was more than double that of the ThinkPad.

While the ThinkPad ran for seven days using PassMark's BurnInTest software without a problem, the EliteBook encountered a single processor problem when a test file couldn't be opened on one occasion. The system continued and ran the test more than 1,000 times without a problem.

The EliteBook's 5,400 milliamp-hour battery pack ran for 3 hours and 42 minutes, 38 minutes short of the ThinkPad. This wasn't surprising -- the EliteBook consumes as much as 87 watts to charge the system, more than double the ThinkPad's 40 watts. HP offers several optional batteries that can double or triple the system's time between charges; they cost between $90 and $190 and can add more than a pound to the weight of the system.

A big bonus for corporate buyers is the EliteBook's three-year warranty, two years longer than the ThinkPad's coverage. At $1,199, it is about $200 more expensive than a ThinkPad L420 with a comparable warranty.

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