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HP EliteBook 8760w: A Notebook for Demanding Video Producers

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If you’re considering a notebook for video or streaming production, check out the HP EliteBook 8760w. In terms of capacity, graphics performance, screen readability, and overall throughput, it can dance with most single-CPU desktops on the market.

My test unit had a four-core 2.3 GHz i7-2820QM CPU with 16GB of RAM running 64-bit Windows 7, with the top-of-the-line NVIDIA Quadro 5010M GPU. Probably because of the RAM, the unit made a strong first impression by booting in 18 seconds, compared with 1:55 (minutes:seconds) on my older HP 8710w running the same OS, but with only 2GB of RAM. HP sent the EliteBook with only a 250GB hard drive, but you can configure up to 2TB of internal storage. Ports include an ExpressCard/54 slot and the eSATA port that I used to connect to the Akitio Taurus Mini Super-S LCM drive used in my testing.

Though the EliteBook configuration I used costs about $5,500, the 1920x1080 DreamColor display lives up to its name, proving clearer and brighter than all the desktop LCDs in my office and making my older notebooks look dingy in comparison. If you’re producing color-sensitive productions on-the-go, you simply have to have it.

To assess performance, I ran three sets of tests, one rendering in the Adobe Media Encoder, one encoding with Sorenson Squeeze, and the third producing live streams with the Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder. I compared the results to HP’s own Z400 desktop workstation powered by a 2.67 GHz W3520 four-core Intel Xeon CPU and 24GB of RAM, running 64-bit Windows 7 with a $1,700 NVIDIA Quadro 5000 graphics card. With these options, the Z400 comes in at a little more than $5,000, without an LCD monitor, about the same price as the 8760w.

In the Adobe Media Encoder trials, I tested five real-world projects, stored on an internal disk in the Z400 and the aforementioned Akitio Taurus Mini Super-S drive for the EliteBook. In all tests, I rendered the project to H.264 by using one of Adobe Media Encoder’s presets. In the two HDV-source trials, the Z400 proved faster by about 10%. The third project was a mixed HDV/AVCHD three-camera shoot, and the EliteBook edged out the Z400 9:51 to 10:04. In the next test involving 1080p AVCHD footage, the EliteBook won again, rendering in 14:16 compared with 15:06 for the Z400. Finally, in a project that used footage from the Canon 7D DSLR, the EliteBook produced the test files in 12:42 compared with 12:53 for the Z400. That’s not a huge difference, but the Z400 produced these results with a $1,700 graphics card. If the Z400 had been configured with a cheaper card, such as the $423 Quadro 2000 card, the EliteBook would have won every trial and proven 11% faster overall.

In the Sorenson Squeeze trials, I loaded 16 1-minute DV files and applied two presets: an MPEG-2 preset for DVD production and an H.264 preset for streaming. The EliteBook produced all 32 files in 13:24, while the Z400 finished in 13:52. This is not a huge difference, but again, if portability is key, it’s nice to know that you’re not sacrificing any performance when compared with a similarly priced desktop.

In my final tests, I used the Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder to produce three live streams: one at 320x240 at 300 Kbps; one at 480x360 at 450 Kbps; and one at 640x480 at 650 Kbps. Audio for all files was 128 Kbps stereo. CPU utilization for the EliteBook averaged about 24% during the 5-minute trial period, while the Z400 averaged about 43%. If you’re looking for an efficient portable unit for live event production, the 8760w should be on your short list.

My performance-focused analysis barely touches the surface, and there’s a lot more to like, including the easy-open chassis to add memory or a hard disk. Overall, it’s the most impressive notebook I’ve ever seen, and it’s one that I’ll be very sad to return. 

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