AMD yesterday announced to the press that their biggest partner in the notebook market, Hewlett-Packard, is releasing several new products based on AMD’s Carrizo hardware. These comprise of two new additions to the Probook family, namely the Probook 645 and 655, as well as Envy 15z notebooks that are technically new because they ship with different displays that support variable refresh rates and are compliant with the AMD FreeSync standard. HP is one of AMD’s biggest partners in the notebook space, and they’re frequently the main brand that rolls out desirable builds based on AMD APUs.
AMD FreeSync across the board
HP’s announcement about FreeSync support was squeezed in to a tiny section of the press release that I received, but it’s the news that I’m most interested in. HP announced that they plan to support FreeSync in all of their Envy 15z notebooks by the first half of 2016. It’s interesting to note that HP doesn’t make any mention of rolling out updates to support this in existing Envy 15z models, so it’s likely that newer batches of these notebooks come with displays that are FreeSync-capable. In addition, HP hopes to roll out FreeSync to all of their consumer notebooks based on AMD Carrizo APUs be the end of the year.
What HP didn’t say, which might be concerning, is whether the displays they’ll be shipping are capable of high refresh rates or not. AMD’s implementation of FreeSync on new monitors now includes the ability to smooth out the stutter and judder one previously used to see at refresh rates below the display’s rated minimum, which is something that NVIDIA had to work on for G-Sync, which is why things still appear relatively smooth at 15fps. In the past, dropping below the monitor’s minimum refresh rate usually ended in a bad experience for AMD users, forcing AMD to implement low-framerate compensation (LFC).
To benefit from this, you need to have a monitor that has a maximum refresh rate that is at least 2.5x the minimum refresh rate, which means that a monitor with a 30Hz minimum needs to support a 75Hz maximum refresh for LFC to work. If this is what HP has done, then LFC will work and dropping below 30fps in games won’t be a problem. If they don’t do it, though, it’s not going to be a great experience.
HP also announced two new Probooks also based on Carrizo hardware, called the Probook 645 and the Probook 655. The Probook 645 is more my kind of thing, sporting a 14-inch chassis with an anti-glare VA panel, which can be ordered as a 1080p display with touch, with a four-button trackpad, a backlit keyboard with a trackpoint, a 48Wh battery promising up to eight hours of idle runtime, Displayport 1.2a and USB 3.0 Type-C connectivity, and a host of other upgrades and options including M.2 NVMe solid state drives. The maximum supported memory speed appears to be DDR3-1600 and the laptops use dual-channel memory, a curious omission that Anandtech discovered recently in their analysis of Carrizo-based notebooks for various brands.
The 15.6-inch Probook 655 is very similar in build and design and features the same 48Wh battery as well as an optional serial port (I have no idea how that’s done though. It’s possible that it’s through a supplied USB adapter). The display options are also the same, topping out with a touch-enabled 15.6-inch VA 1080p display. AMD didn’t mention if either of these notebooks would support AMD FreeSync. If they did, that might be an interesting method of extending battery life.
Both the Probook 645 and the Probook 655 will have three AMD Pro APU options to choose from. The Pro A10-8700B is a quad-core APU with Radeon R6 graphics (384 shaders) and a boost speed of 3.2GHz, and the Pro A8-8600B is the same chip with a slightly lower boost speed of 3.0GHz on all four cores. The Pro A6-8500B is a dual-core chip with Radeon R5 graphics (256 shaders) and a boost speed of 3.0GHz. The first two chips feature a configurable 15-35W thermal design power (TDP), while the A6-8500B only has a range of 12W to 15W. I’m not sure why that’s an option, and it probably ought to be 15W anyway. AMD claims support for DDR3-2133 support on these processors, but it’s up to HP to enable support for these speeds in the BIOS.
The Envy 15z with FreeSync and the Probook 645 and 655 models should become available this month overseas. These are usually not sold on South Africa, but we might just get lucky with the Probooks.