HP is normally known for its business and enterprise focused computers. What happens when it turns to the gaming world with its Omen brand of Windows 10 laptops? I’ve been using the latest Omen 17 to find out.
The goal of the Omen 17 is to be a great gaming laptop. That means mixing high specifications for the best experience, with a comfortable environment for the player. But HP also wants to focus on the price, and that means compromising in some areas to keep the sticker shock as low as possible.
How successful has it been?
It has certainly nailed the first half of the mission statement. Every available Omen model is based around Intel’s sixth-generation core processor (the i7-6700HQ running at 2.6GHz) and you have various combinations of memory (8GB or 16 GB) and graphics card (Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 or 1070). My review until came with the increased memory and higher specced graphics card.
Although the seventh-generation Kaby Lake processors are working into 2017’s new laptops, Intel has not completely focused on increasing the raw power for the updated chips, so the sixth-generation Skylake chips in the Omen will not only deliver more than sufficient CPU performance now, but should also stay on top of the performance game for at least eighteen months. If you are looking to go for the top gaming titles, I’d be wary of skimping on the RAM and would push you towards the 16 GB models to ensure there is as much forward compatibility as possible.
Port-wise the Omen 17 feels a bit behind the times, although I could understand if these decisions were part of keeping the costs down. There are no USB-C connectors for future proofing, instead HP has built the laptop with three of the older-style USB ports. While there is an SD card reader, there is no built-in DVD drive – that’s fine if you are using services such as Steam but legacy game players will likely need an external drive to read gaming discs.
My goto game for testing at the moment is Bethseda’s reworking of Doom. It places a huge amount of stress on a computer and asks a lot of any system. For all of the world’s benchmarks and comparative tests, if Doom plays smoothly with everything turned up then that is a good place to start.
Yes, Doom shows that the Omen is going to do very nicely as a gaming laptop, although turning up the screen resolution can only go as high as the native 1080p HD resolution. HP does have a 4K screen as an option if you want to go larger, but the associated increase in cost perhaps misses the point of the Omen range as the ‘best value’ choice.
I’m happy with the resolution decision made by HP here and I assume this choice to stay at 1080p is ‘the compromise’ needed to ensure the quality of the rest of the screen technology is as high as possible. The matte 17-inch IPS display (supplied by LG) is one of the brightest in the price range, and has a much wider contrast than similar gaming laptops. It’s let down slightly by a narrower range of colors on show (managing just 84% of the sRGB range) and the blacks could be just a little bit darker, but all in all there’s little to complain about on the screen. It’s not going to cut it for photo reproduction or media editing (and there’s no touchscreen either), but for gamers the slight loss in color is balanced by the brighter screen and a comparatively wide viewing angle.
HP has a 95 Wh battery sealed into the laptop, providing similar power to most gaming laptops – the limiting factor being the size of battery the FAA will allow on-board while flying. In regular computing use with a mix of office apps, browsing the web and playing media files the Omen 17 would run for around four hours. Gaming time is significantly less – I never had a gaming session with graphically intensive games reach two hours before I was looking for the AC adaptor.
It’s worth noting that the battery life is extended while gaming by turning the performance down – when you are on battery power alone the GPU is scaled back to preserve the battery’s endurance. There doesn’t seem to be a way to short-circuit this if you wish. The Omen 17 is portable, but unless you’re travelling near an AC outlet it’s not set up to be a portable and untethered gaming machine.
HP’s partnership with Bang & Olufson continues to deliver clear audio from its laptop speakers. The Omen 17 is no exception, with a crystal sharp sound that has very little distortion. The overall effect could do with being louder, but the rise of headsets and external sound systems for the best gaming experiences mean that these speakers may not be the prime audio output from the laptop.
The secondary job of the speakers when playing and relying on them is to cover the noise of the fans needed to cool the system, and it manages this well while playing games.
When asked to deliver they produce an above average sound, but it’s not a powerhouse sound that chills you to the bone. That said I don’t think I’d trade the clarity for a louder but poorer sound.