Road warriors expect a lot from business-class notebook computers.
They want the speed of a desktop system tucked into a relatively lightweight portable that can withstand the rigors of daily travel. IT managers also demand security, manageability and a reliable shelf life of at least three years.
Though it’s not easy to stand out among business-class notebooks, that’s what the new Hewlett-Packard EliteBook 6930p  does.
The 6930p distinguishes itself with what HP calls “business-rugged” features. Essentially, this means the notebook meets the Defense Department’s MIL-Std-810F and can survive conditions that typically send business notebooks into early retirement.
HP’s 3D DriveGuard protects internal hard drives and certain optional MultiBay II hard drives from everyday bumps. DriveGuard senses drops and parks the drives, halting input/output requests until the notebook is stable. HP reports that the 6930p will continue working after a 30-inch drop. When subjected to a series of typical abuses — static electricity hits, bumpy bus rides, winter cold and minor-league drops — the EliteBook took the beat-downs in stride.
Despite its rugged features, the 6930p weighs less than 5 pounds and sports a sleek appearance with its new DuraCase, a magnesium alloy chassis with a brushed magnesium/aluminum shell over the display panel and palm rests. According to HP, the lightweight materials are 18 times stiffer than plastic, and the difference can be felt. The display panel closes smoothly with virtually no flex and locks into multiple clasps. The metallic casing adds both a sturdy feel and a visual contrast to the black base and trim, giving the EliteBook a stylish, professional look. HP adds a DuraFinish coating to the case to enhance scratch resistance. The purchase includes a three-year warranty on parts and labor (one year on the battery).
The 6930p brings a lot more to the table than rugged good looks. Built on Intel Centrino 2, it delivers improved overall performance for the EliteBook through its faster 1,066-megahertz front-side bus. Centrino 2 also features expanded wireless connectivity and built-in remote management and security.
The 14-inch WXGA display (with 1280x800 native resolution) has a clear, nonreflective matte finish and is easy to see even from a wide angle. The optional HP Privacy Filter can narrow the view to only the person in front of the display and automatically adjusts to ambient light change.
The 6930p’s keyboard layout follows the HP standard for business-class notebooks, with both touchstick and touchpad pointing devices that performed accurately when tested. A Mylar film under the keyboard adds spill resistance. The keyboard has DuraKeys with a special clear coating to preserve the printed characters and finish, and the entire keyboard deck is coated with DuraFinish. The keyboard deck also has touch-sensitive controls.
The EliteBook comes standard with Microsoft Windows Vista Business preinstalled or an optional, customized Windows XP downgrade. Luckily, there is no shortage of security options available for the 6930p: Trusted Platform Module drive security, Kensington lock slot, support for LoJack and Computrace, and a fingerprint reader (located on the lower right of the keyboard deck). HP provides a suite of security software to manage logon credentials, encrypt hard-drive data and protect the 6930p from the BIOS load before the notebook even boots. HP’s Credential Manager offers three logon methods to strengthen user account security: use of pre-boot passwords, the fingerprint reader and an optional HP Java Card. These can be used in combination, including all three together (choosing this level of security also requires that all Windows user accounts are set up and enrolled beforehand).
Available full hard-drive encryption protects all data on the drive, with no discernible hit on performance. Setup is fast and wisely requires backup of the encryption keys to a removable drive.
The EliteBook’s connectivity options include an integrated 56K modem and Gigabit Ethernet ports, three USB 2.0 ports, one 1394a port and an external VGA port. An internal Intel WiFi Link 5300 adapter, which supports 802.11 a/b/g/n modes, and HP’s integrated Bluetooth 2.0 module handle wireless connectivity. The HP Mobile Broadband module and integrated SIMM slot provide built-in 3G connectivity to wireless providers.
Business notebooks balance performance against battery life, but it seems the designers of the 6930p were determined to avoid that compromise. The EliteBook consistently delivered overall scores above 4400 using PCMark05 benchmark tests — about 35 percent better than a beefed up and venerable nc6400 notebook.
Windows and office application performance was exceptional, and the impressive performance of the ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics seemed to have little impact on power consumption. Running a modified benchmark that kept the CPU load above 50 percent with continual hard-disk activity, the EliteBook churned on for two hours and 45 minutes.
If your company plans to refresh notebooks this year, what are the top three most important criteria, in addition to a strong price point?
2 Vista plus Windows XP downgrade
3 Long battery life
Source: CDW Poll of 299 BizTech readers
After playing a DVD movie at full volume while defragging the hard drive and then running a complete virus scan, the 6930p had the power to run a 3DMark06 benchmark (scoring 1790 overall) and still provide more than an hour of wireless web surfing — just less than three and a half hours of battery life. Using a typicalnotebook power configuration, the demands of an average workday were frequently met on a single charge.
To extend battery life further, there is an optional 95 watt-hour Ultra-Capacity battery, though at the cost of added weight. Power-saving options include the Illumi-Lite LED display panel and an Intel 80-gigabyte SSD drive, which use much less energy. Combine all three and, according to HP, the 6930p can deliver 24 hours of battery life.
Little things can mean a lot. The Upgrade Bay lets users swap out the DVD drive with an extra hard drive, which can be configured for RAID 1 for redundancy or RAID 0 for faster drive performance. Road warriors will like HP’s QuickLook 2, which provides instant access to Outlook e-mail, calendar, contact and task information while the computer is off or in hibernation. HP Night Light, an LED at the top of the display panel, illuminates the keyboard in low light without affecting the display. The internal stereo speakers are remarkably loud and clear.
Sometimes the lack of little things means a lot, too. One thing that was notably missing: a blast of heat from the barely audible cooling fan. It also was a pleasure that the occasional incidental brush across the fingerprint scanner didn’t pop a prompt window seeking renewed validation.
There are some minor knocks against the EliteBook 6930p. The 2-megapixel webcam produced acceptable but not particularly detailed video, and the internal microphone was weak, though web conferencing worked pretty well with a headset.
Though the notebook also boasts greatly improved energy efficiency, it requires third-party software to take advantage of some of these features.
These are minor quibbles. The feature set, construction, performance and security of the HP EliteBook 6930p, combined with its competitive price and promise of a long, reliable lifespan, make it a top-notch choice as a midweight business notebook.