HP EliteBook 6930p: a rugged rover

HP have positioned the EliteBook 6930p as the ultimate road warrior’s notebook claiming outstanding battery life (of up to 24 hours) business ruggedness and all the processing power a business user would need.
The EliteBook 6930p certainly looks the part with its brushed metal lid tough recessed hinges and front panel clip which stops the lid from accidentally opening. The lid folds back a full 180 degrees which butts against the base making it virtually impossible to strain the hinges. Although the base of the unit is plastic it is well built and seems to support HP’s claims that the notebook has been tested in extreme temperature environments and “meets the Military Standard 810F for vibration dust humidity altitude and high temperature.”  This is one of the few notebooks that I believe would actually survive a tumble in the clothes dryer!

The 6930p should ship with 32-bit Vista Business with an optional downgrade to Windows XP however our review unit was only supplied with XP SP2 so we could not fully test all of the Vista functionality. Based on the specifications we expect this unit would perform well with Vista having 2GB of RAM 160GB of hard disk and ATI 3450 graphics chip with 256MB of dedicated graphics RAM and a reasonably powerful T9400 Core2Duo processor. Of course the less demanding XP flies on a machine with these specs so as expected performance was excellent.
Being a business machine there is considerably less crapware and trialware than what ships on a consumer notebook. On the XP image there is XP SP2 (so you will need to download SP3 yourself) the HP webcam application Office 2007 (60 day trial) and HP ProtectTools Security Manager which allows you to authenticate logon using the fingerprint reader or optional HP Smart Card. By comparison the Vista image comes loaded to the hilt with HP Recovery Manager several connectivity applications Win DVD Roxio Creator Business McAfee total protection and Windows Live Messenger. No wonder HP sent us a unit with the lightweight XP image!
Weighing in at over 2.1kg the 6930p is not the lightest notebook around. Add the optional HP high capacity battery and the unit starts to get really heavy but then again it is worth the weight when you consider that you could get up to 24 hours of use before needing a recharge.
One of the first things you will notice about the 6930p when you turn it on is that the screen is not very bright. In a normally lit room we found it difficult to see especially when on battery power. Thankfully you can turn up the brightness but doing so considerably shortens battery life as our tests (which involve continuously playing a DivX CD at what we consider to be a watchable brightness) only managed to achieve just over 2.5 hours on battery. HP do include an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the screen brightness depending upon room conditions but even with this feature activated on we found the screen a little too dull for our liking. Once you do turn up the brightness the screen is nice and sharp with a non glare coating that significantly cuts down on reflections.

The 6930p is certainly well endowed when it comes to ports and connectivity. On the left of the notebook are two USB ports a firewire (1394a) port an Express Card 54 slot as well as sockets for microphone and headphones. There is also the heat vent which thankfully does not get too hot so you could use this notebook whilst wearing shorts and not burn your legs.
The front of the unit has the speakers and an SD/MMC card slot as well as the button to release the notebook lid. On the right is a multi format DVD burner with Lightscribe and a slot for an optional Smartcard for secure authentication. There is also another USB port an Ethernet port and a socket for the inbuilt fax modem. The back of the notebook has the power socket and VGA connector. As well as a Kensington key lock. Underneath the unit is a proprietary expansion port for an optional HP docking station and a socket for a 3G modem (which is not yet available in Australia).

The keyboard is well spaced out and comfortable to use although the amount of key travel is less than some other notebooks we have tested and does give the feeling of typing on a netbook rather than a full size notebook. At front of the unit slightly off centre to the left is the trackpad with two buttons underneath. Like with the keyboard the buttons don’t have as much travel as we would like giving a somewhat spongy feel. In the middle of the keyboard is a mini joystick so if you don’t like trackpads you have a choice. It is a pity that other notebook manufacturers don’t also include the mini joystick as it is a very convenient way of using the computer especially when space is at a premium (such as in economy class!)  Above the keyboard is the power switch and indicators for power wireless connectivity presentation mode sound and speaker volume. The indicators also double as switches to allow you to easily mute or adjust volume without having to press various function key combinations. At the bottom right hand side of the notebook is the fingerprint reader which in conjunction with HP’s software provided a biometric form of authentication.

At the top of the screen is the webcam a small microphone and a tiny LED lamp which allows you to see the keyboard in darkness.
Whilst no notebook packs a punch in the sound department the audio from this unit’s tiny front mounted speakers is surprisingly good. You won’t scare your fellow passengers with too much doof doof but at least they won’t think you are listening to a tin can on the end of a string. Of course you would most probably listen through headphones but at least you can play back a video during a presentation and your colleagues will be able to hear it.

Whilst we would love to really see just how rugged the EliteBook 6930p is our insurance policy had other ideas. Looking at it we believe that this unit will go the distance and would be ideal for someone who needs a notebook that can tough it out in the real world (or at least in a plane when another passenger dumps their heavy backpack on it). The screen is good but if you are using this notebook in daylight you will need to crank up the brightness even at the expense of battery life. If however you work at night this notebook is ideal with its ambient light sensor and mini keyboard light. Connectivity is not an issue as most ports are available and whilst not the fastest notebook on the planet there is enough RAM processor and video grunt even in the standard model to be able comfortably run Vista. It is not priced at the bargain end of town but if you want ruggedness this notebook could well be the one to get!