First Impressions - HP Elitebook 2170p notebook

It's no accident 11.6" notebooks (or netbooks depending on your viewpoint) have been improving greatly over the years. Since my first exposure to AMD's Nile effort in 2010, followed by Intel's response with ULV Sandy Bridge 15 months later, each newer iteration has afforded consumers improved CPU/GPU performance along with a longer stretch in battery life.

Introduced during 2012, Intel's ULV Ivy Bridge is currently the top-of-the-line solution for maximizing battery life with performance. While finding a consumer 11.6" notebook has been tough given the focus on ultrabooks and slates of recent, HP had no hesitation creating a business-class 11.6" notebook with this sought-after platform. Does the Elitebook 2170p manage to tick all the boxes? Let's take a look!

PROS: class-leading performance, great battery life, very light, solid build, runs quiet, matte display, full security features, backlit spill resistant keyboard, docking capability

CONS: far too expensive even with coupon, 6-cell battery protrudes, somewhat large for a 11.6" device, 3rd USB port sorely missing, quirky num lock


HP has had a solid history with netbooks, beginning with the 8.9" 2133 Mini Note, the 10.1" 210 Mini series and their AMD-based 11.6" dm1z. While Intel managed to kill the netbook platform thanks to their stalling of a viable Atom solution, AMD likewise fell off the horse with their even poorer Brazos alternative. Combine that with the growing attack of slates over the last 24 months along with the focus drawing towards ultrabooks, and it's not hard to understand why 10" netbooks became extinct in 2012.

But 11.6" as a form-factor has not suffered such a fate, thanks partly to it's viability with Intel's Core i3/i5/i7 ULV architecture. Offering far better performance than any Atom or AMD solution yet with comparable battery life, it's become more attractive as a modern replacement for users that need a compact and lightweight device. And while ultrabooks sacrifice user upgrades by using soldered memory/storage and non-removable batteries, a 11.6" notebook suffers from none of those shortcomings. Sub-13" notebooks also remain a very lucrative market among enterprise customers, as evidenced by solid sales of 12" business notebooks from years past.


HP's SMB online store is where you can purchase the Elitebook series. The 2170p is offered in both preconfigured and CTO versions. The unit I'm looking at today is a custom-configured model equipped as follows:

-Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
-Intel Core i3-3217U CPU (1.8GHz, 3MB cache) with HD4000 integrated GPU
-4GB DDR3 RAM @1600MHz
-320GB 7200RPM HDD
-6-cell battery
-11.6" 1366x768 HD matte LED display
-backlit keyboard
-Intel 6235 WLAN with Bluetooth
-MSRP $1354 (as configured with 25%-off coupon applied)

I won't be mad to admit that $1354 is steep for a 1366x768 device, but HP's Elitebook line never has been cheap. The 2170p is also one of perhaps two devices currently shipping that use a ULV Ivy Bridge processor inside a 11.6" footprint. HP is making you pay a hefty price premium for the privilege of a fully configurable unit along with that enterprise-class build quality. Could it be priced cheaper? Sure. But I think a more glaring omission is that HP is not offering a consumer version of this notebook that could be sold alongside it's AMD-powered dm1z for $500. I certainly don't believe moving on from Atom and ULV Sandy Bridge should be this expensive.

Connectivity around the 2170P is standard for what you would find on a business-class notebook, with a smart card slot, fingerprint reader option, SD card slot, VGA, display port and a pair of USB3.0 ports. I do wish HP would have placed a 3rd USB3.0 port along the right side. One thing the 2170p is great at is it's security features thanks to options such as TPM/vPro. The vacant WWAN slot also allows options for built-in 3G/4G, useful for businesses that already have a contracted wireless solution.

On the bottom HP has placed a large docking connector designed to work with it's line of docking stations. These provide not only expanded connectivity options, but many docking stations include built-in 3.5" storage, allow you to lock the notebook to the dock for theft-prevention, and can be set up with a 2nd display mount. It wouldn't be too difficult to assemble a full desktop replacement with dual monitors, external keyboard/mouse, BD burner, 4TB HDD, etc, with the svelte 11.6" notebook acting as the centerpiece.

The matte display is also a plus, especially as it can accept 3M privacy filters. The bezel is a non-glossy plastic eliminating fingerprints, although somewhat wider than what I would expect for a 11.6" device. While I'm happy with the screen real-estate, I wouldn't mind experimenting with a higher-resolution 1600x900 panel at this size, especially considering that many 13" and 15" notebooks today ship with much higher PPI 1920x1080 displays.

Great for use at night, and dims automatically
The no-nonsense backlit keyboard works amazing. Rather than stay lit continuously the backlight will dim after 15 seconds of inactivity (timeout can be changed in the UEFI) helping improve battery life. The integrated track stick works well with the upper set of mouse buttons, although I'm still partial to my wireless trackball for real productivity. It's also spill resistant, with tiny channels underneath that feed any liquid out through two recesses located on the bottom, although this is a feature I won't be testing!

Measuring at 11.5x7.56x1.04 inches, the 2170p is very compact and light, although not as compact as my 10" 210 Mini or other 11.6" notebooks. It's about half an inch too wide to fit inside my Solo netbook case, and the 6-cell battery protrudes from the back a good 0.75" as well. The smaller 4-cell battery brings the weight down to under 3 lbs, making it perfect for the mobile road warrior going on short trips. My recommended configuration would in fact be one 4-cell and one 6-cell battery, using the former for it's smaller size/weight and throwing the 6-cell in a pocket when taking extended trips.

I'm also pleased with the configuration options HP has made available. With two DIMM slots available, the 2170p can max out at 16GB RAM, a feat no other 11.6" notebook can boast. The availability of the speedier ULV Core i5 and i7 processors also promises CPU performance far better than any Atom/Brazos alternative, and an extremely capable productivity tool for getting some serious work done.


As was the case with the 11.6" ULV Sandy Bridge-equipped dm1-4170us, I've decided to run the same set of tests and compare results to measure how ULV Ivy Bridge stacks up. Running 7-zip's built-in benchmark (8MB) returned a score of 5132. That's double the performance of a N570 Atom, also a 2C/4T processor, and more than 25% better than a Core i3-2367M. More impressive are the numbers shown with 3DMark06 pulling in a score of 4760 - a massive 65% improvement over HD3000. But these are pure synthetic benchmarks - it's actual software applications that give the critical picture of how good (or bad) a configuration really is.

ULV Ivy Bridge has what it takes to impress
With that said, I proceeded to run the more demanding tests in my software suite, and they indeed further underscore the potential of ULV Ivy Bridge. My VOB to WMV conversion finished in just 3 hours 25 minutes, over 1 hour faster than ULV Sandy Bridge, while working with WMEx64 completed in 1 hour 10 minutes. Given that this is the entry-level Core i3, it's a solid baseline for how much more potent a faster Core i5 and Core i7 would perform.

Testing with ArcSoft's Media Encoder also allows me to compare how well HD4000's Quick Sync implementation performs. With Quick Sync off, transcoding the 3-hour-length VOB source to H.264 MP4 using purely CPU horsepower finished in a scant 42 minutes - that's actually faster than what HD3000 did with it's Quick Sync ENABLED. Turn Quick Sync on, and the HD4000 wraps up the same job in under half and hour, completing in exactly 29 minutes. For many people, a time saving of 25% or more will be more than just tangible, but a strong argument to upgrade from Sandy Bridge right now.

Gaming on the HD4000 likewise is an extremely pleasant experience. Loading Civilization V in DX10 mode, I can crank every display setting on maximum and still achieve fluid game play even at a late game stage with heavy AI. It's comparable to using a modern mid-range dedicated graphics card, making me question how much longer AMD's Brazos offering remains competitive. Unlike the 10" netbook market which was either Atom or nothing, Intel has provided consumers shopping in the 11.6" market a very viable choice.

Heat and noise remain incredibly manageable as well, thanks partly to the Elitebook 2170p's thicker chassis which allows a more potent heatpipe and heatsink to be married to a quieter fan. Running F@H SMP client, temperatures settle at 60C with an ambient temperature of 28C. Gaming will push CPU temperatures up to 65C, but that's understandable given the 3D performance of the HD4000 located on the same die. Fan noise remains practically inaudible, even under heavy use. It would have to be in an extremely quiet location for you to hear the Elitebook 2170p. This makes it perfect for use at night in bed, more so with the backlit keyboard. Kudos to HP as well for making the fan easily accessible for removal/cleaning.

Ditch that 7200RPM drive for a SSD
As for available storage, it's somewhat confusing why anyone would want a power-hungry 7200RPM hard drive paired with a ULV solution on a notebook. The idea would be to get maximum battery life, and a low-power SSD would suite the purpose providing better performance than a 7200RPM drive would offer anyhow. The caddy supports both 9.5mm and 7mm z-height drives, yet HP has chosen to use 7mm 7200RPM hard drives in the Elitebook 2170p. There are no options for 5400RPM drives - HP limits your options to either a 7200RPM hard drive or will charge you a hefty mark-up to move to a SSD.

Quite frankly, I would just order the Elitebook 2170p with the base 320GB HDD, grab a 250GB Samsung 840 series SSD for under $200 and be done. You'll save on power, noise, heat and enjoy faster performance with longer battery life to boot.


Adding to the run time... and size
With the definite improvement in IPC and shrink from 32nm to 22nm process node, perhaps the most notable metric has to be battery life. HP equips the Elitebook 2170p with a 6-cell 48WH 4200mAh battery or a smaller 4-cell 30WH battery. The smaller battery sits flush with the rear, while the 6-cell protrudes slightly. Depending on your gear bag, that may be a bad thing, but if you plan to use the notebook mostly plugged in or short trips, the 4-cell should be the battery to keep installed, with a spare 6-cell stashed away in a pocket.

Actual battery performance is indeed better than what I saw from the ULV Sandy Bridge-equipped dm1-4170us. VOB playback with max battery settings and all wireless off came in at 6 hours 15 minutes - 40 minutes longer than what I saw from the i3-2367M and only 10 minutes behind numbers posted by the Atom N570. WMV playback came close behind at 5 hours 52 minutes, or roughly half an hour better than ULV Sandy Bridge and slightly less than an hour behind the 210 Mini.

Turning wifi on for your daily dose of Hulu chops that time down to exactly 4 hours 32 minutes, or about on par with numbers posted by earlier units.

Of course, the ultimate measure for those that need to get real work done will be how well the Elitebook 2170p works for web browsing/office and other similar PC tasks. My tests show a very respectable run time of 6 hours 40 minutes on max battery settings. While that's still a full hour less than what my netbook can provide, it's almost 20 minutes better than what the dm1-4170us could do. Adding the 4-cell battery along with a 6-cell would net you close to 11 hours of combined unplugged real-world run time - plenty for all but the most grueling of work days.

Keep in mind, these numbers are taken with a backlit keyboard at play as well as a 7200RPM hard drive - neither of which was a factor on the models I looked at earlier. Swapping for a Samsung 840 series SSD will provide a realistic 45-60 additional minutes on top of the numbers shown. In fact, a SSD-equipped Elitebook 2170p would come close, if not match, an Atom netbook for battery life - quite amazing considering the brutal performance spanking the N570 gets from the Core i3.

As for gaming, the best I could muster was a flat 2 hours on max battery settings with wireless off running Civilization V in DX10 mode. While that's only half of what ULV Sandy Bridge delivered, the real culprit is the HD4000 graphics. It's not too difficult to understand when looking at a die shot of both parts that HD4000 takes up far more real-estate on that silicon than HD3000. As a result it will draw greater power when called to use along with ramping up temperatures and fan speeds, all of which eat away your battery. It also explains the drawback of that rather stellar 3DMark06 score. True, the Elitebook 2170p was never designed as a gaming notebook, so the fact that you can still get away with titles such as Civilization V running with all settings cranked on maximum is a fair take away.

Knowing what we have seen so far, would a higher-performance ULV Core i5/i7 have a negative impact on battery life? Not likely. The i3-3217U, i5-3427U and i7-3667U are all 17W TDP parts, meaning that they won't be raising temperatures or fan noise either. I'm actually scratching my head now why I didn't order the i7 part instead of the i3. HP's markup from a i3 to i7 is perhaps only $200, something I would consider doing on a system with 8-16GB of RAM, and especially if performance is of paramount importance to you.


Decent software for a business notebook
I've always criticized notebooks for poor speakers, yet the Elitebook 2170p has me in a bind. For a business notebook, the speakers are indeed exceptional. Being located at the front and angled downwards, sound will actually bounce off a conference room table making it quite suitable for presentations, especially since they can play loud without distortion and easily fill a room. The SRS Premium Sound PRO software provides a customizable 9-band EQ and sliders for various sound sources, but getting any benefit from the audio enhancements requires a decent set of cans. The built-in speakers just don't have the capability to reproduce the full frequency response of music, although movies and games will play well. Incidentally, I tried the Elitebook 2170p with my Logitech Z305 notebook speaker - mounted to the top of the lid, the heavier base of the notebook prevented any tipping. The listening experience? Absolutely phenomenal!

But using the Z305 means taking up one of only two precious USB ports. It would have been such a godsend for HP to add a second USB port along the right side of the unit (the space is there) and have a two ports available on the right, with a third on the left. For one thing, it would make it easier to use a pair of slim DVD burners, but it would also allow use of two devices while still keeping a third port free for charging or a data device. Sure, you could connect a compact 4-port hub, but that's not the most ideal when you're on the move.

Size comparison, corner-to-corner
The Elitebook 2170p is also a tad large for a 11.6" device, at least compared to HP's earlier 11.6" offerings. I cannot fit it inside my Solo netbook case because the sides extend about half an inch beyond the edge of the keyboard. While I'm guessing HP did this to make the chassis more rigid and maintain the spill resistant design, it means searching for a compact case large enough to accommodate it's 11.5" width. Also, with the 6-cell battery protruding out the back an extra 0.75 inches, it does give the unit a rather strange profile. The flush 4-cell battery just looks so much better when attached, never mind making the device come in at a scant 2.94 lbs - the same weight as a smaller 10" netbook.

The most irritating quirkiness I came across, however, is the numlock feature on the keyboard - it doesn't work as it should. Hitting fn + num lk turns on the light to tell you that the number pad is on, but instead of getting 123 when hit jkl on the keyboard, I still only get jkl - you have to also hold down the fn key while hitting the letters to get 123. This two-hand approach of holding down the fn key while punching in numbers is not how a number pad should ever work. Poking around the detailed UEFI, I was unable to find any settings to adjust this behavior, and I cannot understand who at HP let this somewhat key detail (pun intended) fly past their quality control.

For many interested folks, however, the price of the Elitebook 2170p will be it's biggest negative. Starting at $999 for the base configuration, HP does offer a 25%-off coupon that you can apply. That coupon brought my CTO unit's price to $1354. Tack on the i7 upgrade and extra RAM, and you're easily looking at $1600, and that's before even mentioning the SSD that you need to really get the most out of this notebook. I just don't understand how something that can be sold for around $500 on the consumer side has to cost 3x-4x the price. It cannot be build quality or security features alone.


If HP made a consumer version of this notebook for $500, I'd be handing out an award without hesitation. ULV Ivy Bridge beats ULV Sandy Bridge on performance and (with the exception of gaming) battery life by a very tangible margin. And despite the death of 10" netbooks, the market for 11.6" notebooks is still alive and well, as evidenced by the presence of Brazos 2.0 along with newer 11.6" hybrid models. It's such a shame that 11.6" options are so limited outside the ultrabook and hybrid segment.

$1350 vs. $400 - which would you choose?
For the serious mobile road warrior looking for the most mobile solution that can still deliver performance/security and solid build-quality, the Elitebook 2170p is as far as you need to look. The only thing really missing is that $200 extra you'll pay for a SSD upgrade. Likewise, if your company already has a sweetheart wireless contract, adding 4G to the 11.6" notebook will easily turn it into a work-anywhere productivity tool.

In my case, however, I don't know if splurging $1300-1600 on a 11.6" device is the best investment. Don't get me wrong - the Elitebook 2170p is certainly no disappointment. The few negatives I did encounter definitely aren't deal-breakers, and the build-quality really does stand out. I just feel HP missed the mark completely when they came to pricing this little notebook. Leaving the Atom behind, for enterprise users at least, is going to hurt your wallet.



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