So you like the idea of an HP gaming notebook but you’re not comfortable shelling out R40,000 for the HP Omen, no matter how attractive a machine it is. There’s an alternative for you, which reduces the price – by a cool R15,000 – and actually ups the performance a smidgen (or more than that) but you’re going to love the aluminium body and all that attractive engineering. It’s like trading in your iPhone for a cheaper Android – they both do the same thing and the Android always has better hardware. Ahem…
Seriously though, HP’s Pavilion 15 notebook doesn’t look like the sort of laptop that you could take to a LAN, unless you were playing the original DoTA and maybe some old-school Starcraft. Mostly you’d expect it to be coping with spreadsheets and the like but looks can be deceiving.
Pretty On The Inside
We’re not kidding about the Pavilion 15’s looks. It comes across, at a casual glance, like the kind of machine you’re issued when you’re sentenced to 15 years in a cubicle wearing a headset and looking at a smelly potted plant. That’s not very fair to HP, which has gone and made an attractive notebook from plastic. It looks boring from the top but flip it open and you’re greeted by a burst of colour and a full keyboard. There are no real frills on the outside – they’ve been hidden below the chassis.
There’s a matte 15.6in display for you to play on, which is at least a full HD panel. It’s also bright enough for you to make out the sneaky weasel, at the other end of the map, sniping you. The Pavilion 15 still sports an optical drive, a form of media reader so old that we’ve stopped looking for them. We only noticed it because we bumped the button which pops it open. There are a fair collection of ports but the chassis is plain and simple. Which makes the internal organs all the more surprising, as internal organs tend to be.
Wait, Skylake? Seriously?
That plain-as-hell exterior conceals a worthy collection of hardware — pieces that you wouldn’t expect in an I’m-working-overtime-every-night-and-not-being-paid notebook. Run a finger down the specs and you’ll quickly note that the Pavilion 15 is a gaming machine in its own right. At the top of the list? Skylake. Intel Skylake, specifically the Core i7-6700HQ, the chip-of-choice for a large number of early 2016 portable gaming rigs.
HP has opted for 8GB of RAM and a hybrid drive configuration: a 2TB hard drive and a 128GB solid-state boot drive (which will probably also host one game of your choice – maybe). There’s an Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M 4GB GPU tucked away inside, to do all the heavy lifting when Intel’s embedded solution won’t do. See? Gaming machine. The only thing missing is a mechanical keyboard, a set of LEDs and the price being doubled.
For all the impressive Skylake cred inside the Pavilion 15, this notebook still could be faster. A lot faster but not at this price point. The ‘problem’, if you can use that word, is the GPU. The GTX 950M is outperformed by a lot of other hardware. As such, our tests have given us playable frame-rates but not eyebrow-lifting ones.
In Unigine’s Heaven test (1920×1080, High, 8x AA) the Pavilion 15 scored an average of 18.2 frames per second, dipping to 5.3fps in places. It spiked at 30.4fps, which is in the ideal range. Unless you’re one of those who things that 60fps is the be-all and end-all. A second Heaven test (1920×1080, Ultra, No AA) churned out frame rates of 27.8, 7.8, and 56.3 for average, minimum, and maximum respectively. Very playable.
Using the same metrics for the Valley benchmark we got 13.4fps for 1920×1080, High, 8xAA as an average. The second test (1920×1080, Ultra, No AA) had a 27 frames-per-second average, with a spike of 49.2. This is actually a better gamer than the Omen, thanks largely to the Skylake chip. Even if it is in plain clothes.
This performance isn’t without cost. The HP Pavilion 15 generates a lot of heat, which is vented out the right-hand side. There’s no fancy gaming cooling system like we’d see in higher-end machines so it sounds like a jet turbine winding down at times. We’d also recommend not leaving chocolate, candles or small children on the right-hand side of this machine, lest they melt.
But if you’re looking to play World of Warcraft, Call of Duty or Far Cry Primal (on medium-to-high settings) on the go then some heat and noise are the price you’ll pay. Instead of paying full price for a flashier gaming setup that will still generate noise and heat. Could HP’s machine be bigger and better? Sure. Should it? Er… no. If you’re capped at R25,000 then this is a decent option. If you can stretch your budget over thirty grand though, you might want to scale up.
Want a more ‘gamer’ gaming notebook? Sure thing, just double the price from R25k to a cool fifty grand. You’ll be able to run everything on ultra and you’ll have all of the bells and whistles but you’ll be out the price of a cheap second-hand car. The HP Pavilion 15 is a portable desktop replacement that won’t be too ruinous in the wallet area and will get the job done. That said, if you opted to build your own desktop instead you could probably get it cheaper than this. But you can’t just stash a tower in a backpack, can you?