Conclusion: Nice, But Oh! That Pricetag

Let it be said that the HP EliteBook 8740w really is a fantastic piece of hardware. It's fast, extremely flexible and capable, and boasts a healthy amount of expansion and potential upgrades. You can configure it with the fastest mobile workstation graphics on the market, the fastest quad core processor, and an obscene 32GB of DDR3. The 8740w is by any measure a lot of notebook. HP has even gone to lengths to get the notebook ISV certified with Autodesk and Adobe and done a healthy amount of reliability testing.

It's also pleasing on the eyes, and I don't just mean the IPS screen. Just because something is meant for business doesn't mean it has to look as boring as humanly possible, and HP's designers understand that. The gunmetal motif and aluminum lid are attractive and understated, drawing attention to the notebook without being gaudy. It's a good-looking piece of kit you'd be happy to have sitting on your desk.

But you will pay dearly for the privilege, though. Our configuration came to us north of six bills, beating even the insane pricetag on the Clevo X7200 we reviewed. Sure, the X7200 isn't the best built of notebooks and that power supply probably isn't long for this world, but it has two GTX 480Ms in SLI, a pair of SSDs, and a thousand dollar hex-core desktop processor. (The Eurocom "workstation" equivalent on the other hand can break $6000 without adding any SSDs.) What about the Dell Precision M6500?

If the M6500 didn't exist the 8740w would border on being a slam dunk. The problem is that it does. The M6500 costs less and its only major fault is that where HP has access to the Quadro 5000M, Dell does not. That means you lose some performance in workstation applications, and if you're buying a top-shelf mobile workstation that has to be important. Outside of the GPU and LCD, Dell is willing to offer you more computer for less money. As much as we'd like to recommend the 8740w—and it really is a great mobile workstation—it's tough to do with the M6500 running around. Let's end with a quick head-to-head to sum things up.

We'll call the build quality equal, though many will say the 8740w looks better. If we start from the 8740w SmartBuy option priced at $4900, it comes with the 5000M and the IPS LCD. Note that HP charges substantially more for a configure-to-order (CTO) system—$5792—but there's an 18% discount code (CTO8740W) to bring the price down to just under $4750, saving you $150 relative to the SmartBuy system. Drop the 5000M to provide a direct counterpart to what Dell offers and you're looking at $3966 (again with the code).

Configuring a similar M6500 with the FX 3800M and the TN RGB LED comes to $3555. So looking at the best possible pricing from each company right now, using the same setup as the previously linked SmartBuy HP but with the FX 3800M (i.e. Core i7-740QM, 500GB HDD, 2x4GB RAM, WUXGA LCD, and 3800M), you're looking at a price premium of $411 for the 8740w, and you lose out on the extra hard drive bays. But again we can't discount the Quadro 5000M option or the IPS LCD.

In short, both are extremely expensive notebooks, but they're built to satisfy enterprise customers and pack in just about every high performance (and security) option you could want. If you value storage flexibility, Dell has the better package with up to three HDDs/SSDs plus an optical drive. HP answers with what is arguably the best current laptop display and aesthetics that aren't quite so dull, plus a better GPU. If all you really want is an awesome LCD, unfortunately the cheapest way to get such a display in your laptop is to spend a minimum of around $2400, and that only nets you a dual-core i5-520M, 4GB RAM, 250GB HDD, and FirePro M7820.

One other (potential!) IPS laptop option worth mentioning is the HP EliteBook 8540w CTO (with 24% discount code: CTO8540W). You can get a 1080p "DreamColor 2" display with i5-520M, Quadro 880M, 2x2GB RAM, and 250GB HDD starting at around $2150. So, in answer to Jarred's recent post about the lack of IPS laptop LCDs, HP at least provides a couple options, provided you can spend over two grand for a moderate laptop—or $3500+ for an awesome workstation.

The $550 DreamColor IPS Upgrade
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  • slacr - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    "Of course, being a Quadro it does bring all of the secret sauce that NVIDIA packages with its workstation class cards"

    What does this secret sauce do these days, the only documents i've found are rather old and talk of anti-aliasing in CAD software. Other "CUDA capable" cards offer GPU-assistance in for example Adobe CS and CAD software is no longer particularly bound by cpu so the only benefit i've seen is the larger video RAM which can be found on normal cards anyway, so what does the price premium actually buy?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    I believe it's line anti-aliasing, better OpenGL drivers (with ISV certification for various applications), and some 64-bit FP performance enhancements. To my knowledge, all of this stuff is available in the standard NVIDIA GPUs, but they only enable it on the Quadro drivers. Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    FP64 is the big one. ATI's high end GPUs are limited to FP64 performance that's 1/5th of FP32. Nvidia's high end consumer cards only have 1/.8th, while GT100/110 quadro's are 1/2 (the highest possible without throttling FP32). For scientific computing this is enough to justify paying several times as much as a consumer card so nVidia hobbles the GeForces to support sales of Tesla boxes. Reply
  • mczak - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    FP64 is really for tesla though. Maybe workstation cards still have the full performance FP64 enabled, but honestly noone would care. It's pretty much line aa still I think, plus geforce cards also have artificial limitation on (non-tesselated) geometric throughput. Reply
  • carsandcomps - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    The secret sauce is overlay planes and 3D wireframe performance. Consumer cards are great for tesselated 3d with texture maps, but most are pretty horrible when there a hundreds of thousands of 3D wireframe edges in a view.

    You are correct about the drivers being better also. While a crazy "flareout" or glitch from a surface is no big deal in a game, it is a show stopper on a real 3D engineering model. Not that I am a Nvidia fanboy, but their workstation class drivers have always been better in my opinion.
    Reply
  • sheltem - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    I'm pretty sure the Quadro 5000M is the same exact card as the 480M. The main difference is the drivers. You can either hack the driver files to trick it into a 480M (or vice versa) or mod the bios.

    I actually have the Elitebook 8740w, but with an AMD FirePro 7820. I hacked the Catalyst Mobility drivers to work with my FirePro 7820M.
    Reply
  • Zan Lynx - Monday, December 13, 2010 - link

    You can hack it, but there's more to it than just the drivers.

    The Quadro and Tesla hardware goes through a much more careful test process.

    The gaming hardware will produce calculation errors fairly often.

    The Quadro and Tesla hardware: hardly ever.
    Reply
  • yakugo - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    How/what did you do to hack your 7820 drivers so catalyst control center would work? i have a dell m6500 with the m7820 card. Could you email me at mp3moeny@hotmail.com

    Thanks,

    -Aaron
    Reply
  • mschira - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Well, I do appreciate a decent screen, and you know what I might even be ready to pay 550$ extra for it, but a 17" laptop?
    What's the point for that?
    They never fit onto anything else but a desk. Even 15" laptops are a pain to carry around.

    So why not get a decent all in one PC like an iMac ?
    And why, oh why is there no smaller laptop that offers a decent screen?
    M.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Why an iMac instead of the other oem machines? Reply

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