The direction behind HP might have hit the headlines a few days in the last few years, but the simple fact it’s releasing budget laptops once more, under recognisable names, does go some way to showing that it means business once again. Business in an area that it understands and that end users could possibly benefit from.
There is a small bit of a problem here however, since the market for such generic machines is awash with everything from tablets (of all guises) through to Chromebooks and netbooks (which are put to make a comeback), with a large healthier chunk of budget laptops, exactly such as this, jostling for position as well.
The advantages that the likes of this HP Pavilion 15 as well as the likes of this recently reviewed Lenovo G505 provide over the choices is the fact that they operate Windows 8 and thus it is possible to use all of the programs which you’re used to. And unlike something like HP’s own Pavilion 14 Chromebook or any of those Windows RT tablet computers, you’re not limited to a very small subset of apps, here you can run all out of MS Office through to Photoshop and other high-end applications.
This is budget notebook in the ground up however, and as these sacrifices have had to be made. It surely is not a single machine that will answer each one of your computer needs. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a general machine for your house, then there is nothing wrong with such a target in the first place.
Before we get on to the details of the specification, it’s worth working out everything you need out of a general purpose machine like this in the first. What do you want more than anything else? Would you like to be able to play games? To take the machine with you on a commute? Playback HD video? Render films or 3D scenes? Edit your photographs? Just navigate a bit? Work out what is most important and you will be able to see whether a budget system has everything you want.
Before we get on to the details of the specification, then it’s worth working out what you need out of a general purpose machine in this way from the first. Do you want to have the ability to play matches? To take the machine beside you on a sail? Playback HD video? Edit your photos? Simply surf a bit? Work out what’s most important and you will be able to see if it’s the budget system has everything you need.
The graphics processor is termed a Radeon HD 8330. The specifications for this center paint a favorable enough image, since it will happily handle the most recent games. In theory. There are a couple of issues here though, and they basically return to silicon – there aren’t enough transistors on the graphics side of things to run such games in the smooth framerates – although more on this soon.
With this center you’ll find 4GB of DDR3 RAM, frustratingly all on one of the APU’s two stations, which means you’re only getting half of the memory bandwidth that you ought to be. The machine is also home a 750GB hard disk, a DVD +RW drive and plenty of USB ports.
The 15.6-inch display is bright, although as it is a TN panel that it does suffer with polarizing when not seen at the perfect angle. The native resolution of 1366 x 768 should be regarded as the bare minimum for laptops nowadays, and it will mean that you will not be watching Authentic HD videos onto the display directly, even though you can use the incorporated HDMI connector to see them in your 1080P tv or monitor.
General construction is reasonable, though tapping on the chassis does produce hollow rattles especially around the optical drive. The chassis is pleasing enough however, along with the metallic red end does help place the Pavilion 15 out from the audience. System cooling doesn’t get overly loud in use either.
Given the specifications that are similar to the Lenovo G505 that we’ve looked at previously, there’s not surprising that the benchmarks from using this machine and the G505 are tough to separate. And by that we mean there’s not a great deal of power going spare. The truth is there is not enough to do the sort of tasks that you might expect from a modern system – you will be awaiting your own videos to output, for you photographs to receive that final layer of gloss and for generally whatever requires serious processing power to do their thing.
Regrettably this APU lacks the raw silicon to deal with the latest games at anything like smooth framerates. At the greatest settings you are taking a look at single-figure framerates in the display’s native resolution, which means they are going to frustrate over they are likely to entertain.
Of course that is a budget system, and how does this fare if you knock down the settings a bit? Not brilliantly. In spite of each setting as low as it will go, you are still looking at less than 20fps from the huge majority of names in our suite of games, with minimum framerates trying hard to enter double figures – which suggests that games are just that little bit too sluggish to be truly fantastic.
There is one key difference using this machine compared to using the Lenovo G505 though, and that difference is that this machine is a lot more responsive. While we had been generally waiting for the Lenovo for every easy operation to complete, the HP Pavilion 15 felt snappier and notably more responsive. We did prefer the keyboard on the Lenovo machine, however, as it merely feels much more responsive and more comfortable to type on.
There is some fantastic news for your HP Pavilion 15 though, and that is that the battery life is incredible. In testing under PCMark08, which stresses the machine’s capabilities in website development among other items, you are looking in 5 hours and 22 mins of continuing usage, which is outstanding. When you consider that you ought to see double this once you’re out and about, then you are looking at a system which will persist for a day’s commute easily.
Anyone in the market for a budget notebook, possibly as a general usage machine for your family, or as a machine which will handle school work, should certainly consider the likes of the HP Pavilion 15 simply because on the outside it provides such great value for the money.
It is worth considering carefully what you need from such a machine before you dash out though, as the selection of systems you’ll be able to get for this type of money or less defines a lot of the mainstream marketplace nowadays – from budget tablets all of the way through to complete Windows 8 notebooks.
Even five hours under heavy load should be applauded, and should you need to travel away from a power connector for lengthy periods, then that alone may well pick things for you.
The overall functioning of the machine feels responsive. You are not waiting to get your operating system to complete simple tasks like you’re about the Lenovo G505, and while the specification is extremely similar, HP has tweaked things only enough here to make a difference. The processor and graphics performance are not stellar, but if you set your expectations a little lower than ordinary, you’ll be pleased with what is on offer here.
The general styling is to be praised also. While there is not a great deal of budget for flourishes at the price point, the fact that HP has seen fit to style an intriguing looking laptop is great.
The screen is bright, but shift your mind slightly and you’re going to get rid of color reproduction and comparison will head from the window. Together with the likes of the Apple iPad redefining what we anticipate from portable devices thanks to their IPS screens, it’s this 1 facet that is holding budget laptops back.
There’s a surprising amount of space within the machine, and if you are typing on it, the hollow sounds which respond to your working fingers show up the machine for its budget origins.
The fact that HP has populated just among the machine’s memory channels frustrates, as it will imply that the APU will be waiting for code and data. Our advice here is to upgrade the amount of memory that the machine has the moment you get it.
The HP Pavilion 15 is not a machine for everyone. Actually we’d suggest that it is best as a second system for the house that everybody is able to catch as needed. Even so, if you’re looking for a simple laptop on a strict budget, it will more than its pricing would have you think. Ironically you will not be playing the latest games on it, and whatever that is too processor-intensive is going to take a while, but overall it is not a bad little device in any way.