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I use my 15" ProBook 4520s as a company laptop in my dayjob as an IT technician. It goes with me everywhere as a vital tool when diagnosing and checking customer networks and systems. As such, it's consistently transported in the back of my van, switched on, switched off, perched precariously on dusty engineering worktops and office floors as an improvised workstation. It is there to be an on-access portable PC with no quirks, qualms or time-consuming foibles for me to have to contend with. So far it's done very well, and here's how...
Build and layout -
As a machine that must accompany me virtually everywhere, the build standard and materials used for the ProBook are quite appropriate. Over half of exposed faces are clad in lightweight brushed metal, which includes almost the entire lid, the palm rest of the keyboard aswell as the speaker and power button cover. The underside consists of a single large formed plastic shell, which has no sub-panels or access hatches compromising it's rigidity or appearance.
The widescreen display is generous enough, though with roughly 7" of height it can *sometimes* feel a little restricted in terms of vertical display space. The sharpness, color vibrancy and clarity of the screen, too, is somewhat lacking compared to alternative manufacturer models. Crucially, though, the screen uses a matte finish which is highly practical. Many other manufacturers choose glossy screens which look highly attractive in the showroom but are obstructive in the real world as the contents of your screen are hidden behind a bright reflection. A matte finish screen shows HP are mature enough to provide a screen that can be used everywhere, even if it's sadly not absolutely pin-sharp. The display is tough and resistant to muck and scratches. Sacrifices in performance can be forgiven when the payoff is both suitability and practicality, and even the strongest of sunlight through the office window never makes the ProBook's screen do anything more than blush.
The keyboard is sleek and well-kitted, though it takes a small amount of familiarisation as the keys have defined square edges, in heavy contrast to most laptop units which seem to be a 'squashed' and rounded version of any desktop laptop. Featuring a number pad on the right hand side, you have pretty much all the keys you'd expect on a desktop PC, without seemingly feeling squashed or small. Not falling foul of the usual laptop pitfall, HP have gone out of their way to keep the important keys their proper sizes. No tiny backspace key, no miniscule shift button, no micro return key. The escape and arrow keys are not very large, but I have never found them to be a problem. In time I've come to love the design of the keys as they offer an incredibly subtle sensory cue when you accidentally press two keys at once. Intentional or not, thanks to these keys, I can happily tell when I've made an error and look to correct it. When resting, the butt of the palm can sit atop the smooth, neat and generously spacious surface along the front of the laptop which, as mentioned earlier, is topped by brushed steel.
The touchpad, once you overcome the disadvantageous positioning of it, does its job adequately. Peculiarly, the ad is in fact offset from the centerline of the laptop by about 2 inches to the left. This means using the touchpad heavily requires you to be in an 'offset' seating position, otherwise your arms feel unequally strained while using it. The functioning of the touchpad itself is not too shabby, and has good detection and fluid movement. The touchpad can be double-tapped to click and sliding your finger along the edge of the right hand side of the pad serves to scroll pages and values up and down. The physical buttons are not seperate from the touchpad, but are inclusive within it as one big pad. The front edge of the touchpad is raised a tiny amount, allowing the buttons underneath to be pressed with admittedly more force than would be desired. Foregoing all of this, I prefer to carry a plain USB mouse with me in the supplied HP laptop bag. Once initial installation is over, my mouse starts working the very second it's plugged into a USB port. The touchpad does work well and is good if the laptop is being used on the move, but a mouse will remain an invaluable addition to your laptop kit.
Access to the important components is compromised slightly because of the single-piece underbelly, but not by much. Getting to the innards (Memory, hard drive etc) means undoing a couple of tiny screws and unhinging the speaker/power button cover, then releasing the keyboard. The 2 screws holding the assembly in place are not obviously positioned, so I initially had to consult the manual to be sure of the steps needed to get to the gubbins. It's not exactly difficult or taxing, but it's certainly not as standardised as other laptops where each component can near enough be accessed modularly, peeling away only the panel covering the targeted piece.
Sockets, plugs and peripheral ports are all positioned well. On the left hand side of the base, there is a notch to put your table security lock, a VGA output display connection, network port, HDMI Port, eSATA/USB port, and an additional plain USB port. The right hand side features the charger input, slimline DVDRW drive and 2 extra USB ports. On the front edge is a card reader for SD and similarly sized cards, aswell as small-jack microphone input and headphone output. Business as usual, except there are no plugs and ports on the back-side, and why should there be? It is irritating to no end when manufacturers place an often-used port on the back of the laptop, where accessibility is usually low or awkward, so HP's recognition of that is of great reward to me as I jump from place to place. The battery resides beneath the screen hinge, as expected, and slides in and out with little fuss.
Durability so far is great. Many manufacturers produce laptops which after merely a few months look very beat up. The ProBooks we have supplied over the past 2 years, of various models, have stood up well to daily use in the workplace. Some use laptops for rep duties, others prefer them as their permanent workstation. In either case, Probooks have been a fire-and-forget model, as has my own works laptop.
As for reliability, our company supplied a run of laptops identical to these to our regular customers giving me a unique chance to see how a batch of ProBook 4520s does. Of all units sold and installed (about 10), we had one 4520s with RAM that went faulty after a month or so. Compared to our recent venture with Lenovo, which has been disastrous, we're glad to have chosen ProBooks, particularly considering we've had no reports of any hardware failures since then, and we're talking almost 2 years so far. Having a failure is never great, but of all elements to be affected, RAM is the most common and easiest to resolve.
Wireless capability is much like the rest of the laptop - does the job with no bells and whistles and most of us prefer it that way. Like many of its kind, the ProBook features a wireless on/off button, though HP likes to provide subtle illumination to this important button, which works well to immediately identify its current status. White means on, orange means off - response is good, too. The adaptor can be flicked off and on with ease using this method, and that counts for a lot when I am testing and creating wireless networks or disengaging and reconnecting to an existing one.
Performance and software -
The ProBook offers nothing special at all in terms of response and speed. It does what you ask in an average response time. Whilst initially sounding like I'm putting this model down, I am in fact stressing that there are very little reasons not to choose it for a middle-of-the-road general workhorse, a safe bet. My model uses 64-bit windows 7 with an i3 processor and 2GB of RAM, which is a standard expected specification still to this day. It can be better, but I've rarely found myself wanting with this equipment. During regular browsing and accessing active websites, such as those I use to log onto customer computers from my office (controlling their computer from my laptop to assist with problems), the ProBook doesn't falter. There may be the odd time when I wish my ProBook had come with more memory, but that is usually only when I am in a big rush and I haven't switched my laptop on before needing it and I attempt to do too many things at once. Because of that, I can only say that commenting on the laptops performance when in a hurry is adding unnecessary bias. With performance you normally you get what you pay for, but at least HP doesn't offer ProBooks with ridiculously low and obviously inadequate specs just to scalp sales. In every other way, on every normal occasion, my ProBook has performed superbly with great stability.
One thing that HP have unfortunately done with their branded systems these days is ship an undesirable portion of what I consider to be unnecessary software preloaded onto their systems. One such item is HPProtectTools, which is a network of security-orientated software which integrates into many aspects of the operating system. Whilst active, HPProtectTools sees fit to involve itself in password storing, drive encryption, and so on. I myself am not personally familiar with the system, as I routinely rinse out any non-essential software to give myself a clean slate from the start, and the vast majority of customers and recipients of the ProBooks have done the same.
We have pre-emptively ruled HPProtectTools out as needless interfering software, and as such I can't comment on how good or bad it actually is. All I do know is that after spending 15 minutes removing the preloaded extras, the Probook becomes a great base for a wide variety of roles from that point on.
The ProBook, whilst obviously meant for business and home use, does still have the basic ability and all-round hardware to do many tasks. For example, I took my ProBook away on a jaunt where I knew I'd have stretches of time with not much to do. Chucking a few old games in the bag in a hurry, I would find out if the ProBook could be a basic games machine for a little while. I installed and ran Halo, as well as a few other games from many years back. They were hardly new games or that intensive by modern standards, but I was surprised at how well they ran, though unsurprisingly the toll on battery life was large if not ran off the mains. So it seems my works laptop can be a source of entertainment as well as productivity, if I do not expect the world of it.
The ProBook 4520s has become my recommendation of choice for those who simply want a portable PC. The reliability from my own laptop, aswell as the run of supply to our maintenance customers, has been very good. The screen could be better, I dislike the touchpad due to it's positioning and the preloaded software is merely another thing to uninstall upon setup, but these points are not significant in exchange for a reliable, no-frills and practical laptop. I've happily used mine for nearly two years for on-the-road and office-based work.
I got this excellent looking solidly constructed laptop in January 2011 as a gift. It has a very soft touch key board with a giant 17'' screen which is appropriate for using at home and office. What I like most about its external features is the proportionately built size, both width and length. It has a plain but useful and helpful looking keyboard and screen. There is an in-built 2 mp webcam which is more than enough to conduct video activities online and offline. It takes up a bit of space because of its relatively large size, yet it is more convenient for doing writing and research work as well as work related to graphic design.
It has a huge 325 GB hard disk and lots of RAM (2 GB). The processor is very fast. I have run both XP Service Pack 3 and Windows 7 Ultimate Operating Systems and my experience is just superb. Windows 7 Ultimate, however, works like magic and I am very satisfied the way my laptop responds.
I would recommend to take out the cable after your battery has been fully charged, it will give the battery more longevity to perform well. Another important think to remember is, keep it in a cool place, do not let multiple hands operate it.