This past week, laptop and desktop OEM Hewlett-Packard invited the press around the world to join in on a briefing of their plans for the rest of 2016, or at least a part of it. The company is very conscious about its gaming brand and how people perceive it, and to that end they’ve spend considerable amounts of time and money in bringing things up to the same level as the competition, competing clock cycle for clock cycle with the biggest brands in the market. HP has had some success with a recently released Omen gaming laptop, and this year they’re extending the range and treating Omen as a premium gaming name brand, just as it should be given that it’s the final form of the now-dead VoodooPC hobbyist company. HP’s coming into 2016 swinging, and their lineup looks quite good.
“We created OMEN by HP for gamers who need their PC to deliver a great experience while also allowing them the flexibility to choose the level of performance and design that fits their needs,” said Kevin Frost, vice president and general manager of consumer personal systems at HP Inc. “The new OMEN platform offers the features gamers rely on – power for battling on the go, graphics for smooth gameplay and advanced thermal cooling to tackle the latest AAA games. The OMEN by HP delivers gamers what they need to strike first, and last.”
HP Omen gaming desktops
We’ll start off with the most important part of their revamp, the desktop offering. You may have noticed the news in the past few years that people are buying OEM desktops less and less these days, and that’s a problem for big-box OEMs like HP who bank on their ability to sell to the public and businesses. While the latter has no chance of ever going away, even with the invasion of thin client ecosystems and desktop virtualisation, the consumer market needs something more compelling in order to keep buying these pre-built systems. It seems like they’ve identified what people want, and the new Omen gaming desktop lineup looks good.
Specification-wise, these new Omen desktops are decidedly high-end systems. The outer casing is a mixture of brushed and painted steel, and the chassis at the front is lit up by an array of RGB LEDs that can be configured in a separate application HP will pre-install on these devices. The front is fairly plain, accentuated by the Omen logo on the lower left corner, and it’s different to most other case designs because there’s a single slot-loading DVD drive on the front, rotated to keep the black stripe in the center unbroken. It’s a small decision, but it’s one that makes the chassis immediately different to other designs I’ve seen.
Hardware-wise, HP is up to date with the latest Intel Skylake Core i7-6700K processors on offer, along with up to 32GB of DDR4-2133 memory on a custom motherboard design. Storage options include up to a 512GB SSD drive as well a 3TB hard drive. Graphics card options are also pretty modern, offering up to a NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1080 Founder’s Edition graphics card, or an AMD Radeon R9 390X 8GB GPU.
When quizzed about the odd offering, which leaves out some of AMD’s higher-performing parts like the Radeon R9 Nano and the Fury X, HP said that they were being proactive in giving gamers options in terms of GPUs to choose from, which to me says that they probably wanted some Fiji-based offerings, but couldn’t get them. Incoming Polaris updates, anyone? I’ll be sure to keep an eye out on any changes on this front. HP at least confirmed during the press briefing that new graphics options would be added as they became available.
Some other hints that HP threw in with the press presentation that I sat in on included optional water-cooled configurations for higher performance and lower noise levels. I’m not sure if HP is concentrating on overclocking performance in the Omen lineup, but it’s safe to say that it’s probably not their main aim with this release. The footnotes in the press release say as much, and they’ve been copied verbatim below:
Altering clock frequency and/or voltage may: (i) reduce system stability and useful life of the system, processor, and other system components; (ii) cause the processor and other system components to fail; (iii) cause reductions in system performance; (iv) cause additional heat or other damage; and (v) affect system data integrity. HP and Intel have not tested, and does not warranty, the operation of the processor beyond its specifications. HP and Intel have not tested, and do not warranty, the operation of other system components beyond their industry standard specifications. HP and Intel assume no responsibility that the processor and other system components, including if used with altered clock frequencies and/or voltages, will be fit for any particular purpose.
HP also announced that they were qualifying their gaming desktops for VR headsets and playing games with a VR HMD like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. They’re concentrating more on the Vive than the Rift, and there will be bundle options available at the appropriate time. Relief swept over the chatbox during the presentation when HP said that they wouldn’t stand in the way of users upgrading their systems and made accessing their innards as painless as possible, though I expect that there will be some warranty restrictions that apply when choosing to upgrade one of these puppies.
The starting price point for the HP Omen desktop range is set at €1099 (approx. R19,000*), and availability is estimated to begin on 1 July 2016.
HP Omen 15 and 17 gaming notebooks
HP also made upgrades to their Omen laptop range. Previous iterations on this formula proved successful, although I never saw any of these offerings locally when writing up my Laptop Buyer’s Guide. The new Omen range will incorporate a 15-inch and a 17-inch design, which have some interesting technical differences between them. HP accents the design with their signature “dragon red” backlit keyboards, which have a similar overall look to the red backlit keyboards on some ASUS ROG laptops. These laptops (as well as the desktop) come with Windows 10 licenses pre-installed, and HP adds to this by including Intel RealSense cameras into the Omen laptops to allow access to features like Windows Hello sign-in.
There’s also a fast charging option, the first of its kind I’ve seen on a laptop from any of the major brands. HP offers fast charging on the 15-inch Omen laptop, allowing up to 90% of the battery life to be restored in 90 minutes with the device turned off, and thereafter the amperage drops to lower levels to allow a trickle charge to fill up the rest of the battery. There’s no technical reason why the 17-inch design can’t get this added on as well, but HP said that they don’t consider it a necessity because the smaller design will be ported around more often, while larger laptops tend to spend their life near to a wall socket. HP offers up to 10 hours of battery life on both models, which means both also come with NVIDIA’s Optimus graphics switching technology, and the battery capacity is the same on both models – 62 watt-hours.
Hardware-wise, things are looking pretty standard as far as laptops go. Intel Skylake Core i7 mobile processors are offered, and there’ll be models that ship with the cheaper, and just as capable Core i5-6300HQ. Graphics options start with the Geforce GTX 960M, and the press slides I saw only went up to the Geforce GTX 965M. When asked about this, HP revealed that this was not a restriction due to thermal concerns, and they were merely thinking about the price point for these designs. Consumers can expect more powerful models to get added into the lineup as time passes, and I expect that we’ll see those mainly on the 17-inch designs instead of the smaller 15-inch chassis.
Memory and storage options include up to 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and either a 512GB SSD or 2TB HDD on the 15-inch model, or a dual-storage option on the 17-inch model with up to a 2TB HDD and a 128GB SSHD. Those storage options are skewed for now, and might be revised in the future. It’s possible that HP is just using SATA drives here, but there are previews already online that show an open M.2 SSD slot on the 15-inch model which is NVME capable. Perhaps HP wants to include M.2 drives in the future, but is sitting with a lot of SATA stock that they need to get done with first.
The usual additional frills apply to HP’s gaming lineup, which includes sound by Bang & Olufsen and HP Audio Boost technology, which might actually be the Beats technology with a new name. Display options also seem to be good, with full HD displays with an anti-glare coating available as standard, and 4K displays available at a price premium. Both are IPS panels, but neither of them are G-Sync capable, owing to the use of NVIDIA Optimus.
The HP Omen 15 has availability slated for 23 May 2016, which means it’s already selling in some regions in the EMEA, for a starting price of €799 (approx. R14,000). The Omen 17 has availability set to start on 13 June 2016, and has a base price of €999 (approx. R17,500).
These prices are in line with existing gaming laptops on the market, but I can’t help but feel that these prices should be adjusted locally to fuel adoption and drive people to start thinking about HP as a viable gaming laptop brand alongside Acer, MSI, and Lenovo. Some existing models locally retail for far more than what’s reasonable, and at R30,000, one could buy a gaming notebook from a competing brand with much higher specifications and performance.
* Exchange rate calculated at R17.51 to €1 as of 25 May 2016