For most buyers, purchasing a notebook/laptop is linked to having a mobile office, allowing them to work wherever they choose. In addition, it is also a tool for students who continually travel between class, residence and home, easy to carry out assignments and view study material. And there is a plethora of choices from budget to performance requirements. But, at the same time, gamers find a lot more difficult to choose a laptop to meet their needs, especially on a tight budget.
If you’re still under any illusions, gaming is a hobby. An expensive one at that. While it doesn’t match that of more expensive hobbies such as tuning cars, it isn’t as easy on the pocket as origami, bird watching or crafting (all good hobbies to have, mind you). Notebooks provide a means of buying all components of a desktop rig into a more affordable package (not always), and without the requirement of having to assemble your unit in a case. There are, however, many trade-offs in choosing such a setup, but, ultimately, the aim is to save on costs and time. The HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook aims to do just that.
Laptops and notebooks are essentially the same thing. The only difference here is opinion, with laptops often considered larger and heavier.
Build and Design
Gaming notebooks are almost always black. The HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook is black as well. So far so good. It also has a backlit keyboard, lit up in bright green, resembling something from a classic alien sci-fi. The green hue, alien theme doesn’t stop there, with a gradient of honeycomb on the palm rest, fading out as you reach the keyboard. The rubber feet are also green for good measure. The matte finish is subtly elegant, although the lid is highly prone to fingerprints and smudges. No aluminium finishes here. The build quality of the unit is also impressive, with no rattles and creaking to speak of.
The keys are responsive with a host of shortcuts available. Instead of using the Function button with the F-keys to perform the shortcuts, the process is inverted on the HP. This makes normal F-key shortcuts tricky, such as refreshing your browser, but I found myself using the shortcuts a lot more than the F-keys since using the unit. The trackpad, however, doesn’t provide the same level efficiency. Yes, it has all the standard gestures for Windows, but its cursor movement and button clicks don’t live up to the same standard. But, given that this is a gaming notebook after all, most users will prefer using their own mouse alongside the unit.
As far as specifications go, the HP weighs 2.32kg, and has dimensions of 385x265x28.8mm (WxDxH). In terms of its ports, the unit covers the basics, including x1 HDMI, x1 3.5mm auxiliary, x1 USB.20, x2 USB3.0, x1 RJ-45 (Ethernet), and a multi-format SD card reader. The lack of a USB3.5 port is concerning, since we’re fast headed in that direction. With only x3 USB ports in total, it also makes things a bit tricky, given that one will already be dedicated to your gaming mouse. Do we really still have to mention that it has a DVD reader/writer? This space could easily have been used for additional ports, but given that many SA gamers still go with physical disks, it may be an issue to remove it.
Display and Audio
The Gaming Pavilion has a really good display. Its 15.6”, IPS, anti-glare screen has a Full HD display, which is WLED-backlit and has a 1920x1080px resolution. In addition, the display is almost viewable from the full 180° angle, has good colour representation, with equally good saturation and contrast. Gaming-wise, the 15.6” screen me seem limiting, but users can always double up by using the HDMI port for a larger screened device, even a projector if you wish. The display and HDMI are powered by Intel’s HD Graphics 530 GPU, which does a good job of HD playback. Interestingly, having connect a second monitor, which has a 1080p resolution, the resolution seemed a lot larger than my standard 1080p setup. That is to say, a 1080p movie easily fit into the confines of the resolution, with enough pixels left over to be considered 1440p.
With the recent joint venture between the two companies, HP has fitted Bang & Olufsen speakers onto the gaming unit. But, to be honest, the speakers didn’t match the high quality sound I was expecting from the B&O brand. Yes, it does play loud and clear, there is still an element of hollowness in the sound with deep base missing. That said, these are still notebook speakers after all. What the sound setup performs better at is the equalisation of headsets plugged into the 3.5mm audio jack. I was surprised that my gaming headset with mic was usable with a simple plug-and-play, which wasn’t the case on my personal rig. Even better was the sound reproduction off the bat.
HP has fitted the 6th generation Core i7 Skylake CPU (6700HQ 2.6GHz, up to 3.5GHz overclocked, 6MB cache, 4 cores) into the Pavilion Gaming Notebook. While the chipset used may be on the lower end of Intel Skylake range, it does a very good job on powering the unit. Pairing well with the CPU is a 120GB SSD, which is also partnered with a 2TB HDD. Boot up times are impressively fast, as well as many of the applications installed on the main drive with the OS. Gaming-wise, the 128GB doesn’t quite meet the storage requirements, as there may only be slightly more than 50GB remaining after the OS and bloatware installations, leaving capacity for 3-4 games. Thankfully, you can choose to install the games on the 2TB HDD, which has more than enough capacity, but doesn’t yield the same performance benefits.
Alongside the already mentioned Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU, HP has coupled it with Nvidia’s GTX 950M, an (upper) mid-range GPU. Realistically, you won’t be running games at 4K resolution, or even 1080p with Ultra settings. That said, you will find some joy in the GPU, as all the games I had installed for testing in my Steam library ran with a high enough frame rate. Some of the slightly older games could run on Ultra settings, but it becomes a lot tougher with releases from 2016, with a marked reduction in frame rate. It is, however, worth noting that this gaming notebook does come in at a fair price point (almost half), compared to more powerful units that are able to switch to Ultra settings whenever you’d like.
A Word or Two
There are a few noteworthy points worth considering on the HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook you may consider before making your decision on whether it is a worthwhile purchase. Firstly, the unit only includes 8GB RAM. I say “only” due to the fact that a lot of gaming rigs are fitted with 16GB or more, with many high-end games also requiring this amount. GTA V for example has a recommended 16GB minimum, but given the limitation of the GPU, this may not be all that feasible in the first place.
While it may not be a big issue, people are quick to pick out faults in design, and the green lighting, matte black finish, and honeycomb palm rests may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
It isn’t entirely future-proof either. Yes there are a number of useful ports, but the lack of USB3.5 is a concern, especially if there were to be a sudden adoption or changeover to the new standard.
Battery life isn’t great. Working on standard documents will allow you up to 4 hours of use on a single charge. This isn’t ideal for users who spend long hours away from a power source. But, at the same time, where are you that you can’t find a power source? I found that a contributing factor towards the lowered battery life is a slightly higher operating temperature. During the initial few days of use the fans were bellowing out plenty of hot air, which was distracting to say the least, especially considering how quiet all the other moving parts operate. A few tweaks and setups made for better results, with not as much fan overdrive in the subsequent days.
Most often I find myself looking at gaming notebooks that are priced well over the R30,000 or even R40,000 mark. This isn’t ideal for most budgets, especially when compared to a similar build gaming desktop rig. The HP Pavilion Gaming Notebook as a more reasonable R25,000 price tag, still a lot, but for what you’re getting, is a lot in itself. With one or two changes, the overall performance and credibility may have stood up against much more powerful units, but then there’s the risk of the price jumping quite dramatically. There are other variants on the market with no SSD, less powerful CPU, for example, which would reduce the cost somewhat, even below the R20,000 mark.
My biggest concern with any gaming unit such as this, apart from the cost equivalent of building a desktop, is whether the portability aspect of owning a gaming notebook in the first place. Yes, it comes in handy when travelling, but how often do we engage in hardcore gaming away from our homes, unless at a friend’s? Game-ready as the unit may be, there are still quite a few hurdles to jump through before portable gaming may even come close to matching (when comparing the pros and cons of each) the standard desktop setup.