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4/28/2009
02:01 AM
Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul
Commentary
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HP's New ProBook Line Brings Some Style To SMB Notebooks

Everybody wants to look good, even while they're working. But these days not everyone wants to pay a premium for stylish industrial design. HP's new line of ProBook notebook computers tries to bring business style to SMBs at reasonable prices. The attempt largely succeeds.

Everybody wants to look good, even while they're working. But these days not everyone wants to pay a premium for stylish industrial design. HP's new line of ProBook notebook computers tries to bring business style to SMBs at reasonable prices. The attempt largely succeeds.The new ProBook machines boast simple, even elegant lines, and slick matte-black "chiclet" keyboards. The exterior finishes, available in glossy Noir or extra-cost Merlot -- I guess Merlot really has been rehabilitated from its major dis in the movie Sideways -- didn't thrill me, and my experience with other HP notebooks suggests that glossy finishes can be easily marred with fingerprints. But once you open up the notebook, they look just as slick as Apple's Macbooks. I loved the look of the smooth chiclet keyboards, and HP says the design makes them spill-resistant and easy-to-clean as well.

4510s Merlot The "Merlot" version of the HP 4510s ProBook.

A clean, sleek, screen and hard drive is just as important as a stylish exterior, and HP promises that the ProBooks will include minimal amounts of "promoware." If you ask me, no promoware would be better still, but HP wouldn't commit to removing all such programs, which bring in additional revenue to the company.

The actual screens come in 16 x 9 wide-screen ratios (apparently, the days of squarish 4 x 3 aspect ration screens are dead, the LCD manufacturers barely even offer them anymore). Sizes range from a 14-inch version for the Asia-Pacific and Latin American markets to 15.6 and 17.3-inch models for the US. Interestingly, by widening the aspect ratio and boosting screen size to 15.6 inches, HP found room to include dedicated numeric keypads on the ProBook -- a definite boon to number jockeys.

Special features aimed at SMBs include

  • HP QuickLook 2, which gives you access to key applications in 10 seconds without booting the main operating system.
  • 3D Drive Guard accelerometer to protect the hard disk if the machine is dropped.
  • Smart AC adapters that let you use any ProBook adapter with any machine in the ProBook line.
  • HP Sparekey, which asks users key questions to authenticate log on if you forget your password.

Other features include four USB 2.0 ports, a media card reader on the front, an Express Card/34 slot, and HDMI output. Optional features include a modem and a 2-megapixel Webcam, along with 8-cell batteries that promise almost six hours of power.

Accroding to Sarah Bussell, HP product marketing manager, business noteboooks, the ProBook line falls in between the EliteBook business notebooks and the Compaq entry-level models. Consumer notebooks are being sold under the HP Pavilion and Compaq monikers.

The ProBook line comes in two trim levels. The Standard "S" series offers base business features, while the upcoming Business "B" series will offer such advanced features as common docking stations and additional security capabilities, such as HP Credential Manager for single sign-on. Initial models include the 15.6-inch HP ProBook 4510s and HP ProBook 4515s (with Intel or AMD processors) and the Intel-powered 17.3-inch ProBook 4710s.

One caveat, though. Unless you need the new machine right away, I'd consider waiting to pull the trigger until Windows 7 comes out. Although you can downgrade these machines from Windows Vista to XP (until June 30, anyway), that will make it harder to upgrade to the superior Windows 7 operating system when it ships later this year or early next year. And if you get a Vista machine now, you'll definitely want to upgrade when Windows 7 comes out, and you have to figure in that cost. Alternatively, you can get these machines with Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 preinstalled.

Prices for the 15.6" start at $529, but Bussell said SMBs can expect to pay $700-$900 for a full-featured set up. The 17" model starts at $995.

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