HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review
The HP Pavilion Gaming 15 is for people who want to wander into a shop and get hold of a gaming laptop with as little bother as possible, and come away with plenty of change from £1000. It’s a sensible laptop that knows its owner may use this as their main computer, not just as pure gaming machine.
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However, you should also be aware the Pavilion Gaming 15 is really an entry-level model among gaming laptops, and that its screen is not as accomplished as the more fashionable slim laptops you can get at the price. It’s a solid all-rounder, though
HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review: Price
The HP Pavilion Gaming comes in a few different specs, ranging from £649 to £999 from HP's website. They all have a 15.6-inch screen and the Nvidia GTX950M graphics card. No matter which version you buy, the gaming performance is roughly in the same league.
Differences between the models concern storage and CPU. The cheaper models have a 1TB hard drive and an Intel Core i5 CPU. Paying more - £849 for the 15-ak113na from John Lewis - gets you a 128GB SSD and an upgrade to an Intel Core i7 CPU, as well as a free three-year warranty.
The model on test here is the 15-ak003na, which has a 2.6GHz Core i7 -6700HQ, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive but lacks an SSD. It costs £719 from Laptops Direct.
The very top-end version has a 2TB hard drive instead of a 1TB one as well, but this doesn’t seem to be on sale widely in the UK. We’d struggle to recommend it anyway, as it doesn’t appear to represent a good deal when you look at the raw component costs involved.
HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review: Design
Today’s laptops come in more shapes and forms than ever before. From hybrids to thick’n’heavy gaming rigs to laptops so slim you could forget they’re in your rucksack, there’s plenty of choice.
The HP Pavilion Gaming fits the ‘old’ mould of what a laptop looks like, though. It’s thick, chunky and heavy enough to ensure you won’t want to lug it around with you everywhere. But at 2.3kg it isn’t so weighty the mere idea of taking it out of the house is ridiculous.
Its look sits in a middle-ground between an in-your-face gaming laptop and a regular one. The shell is matt black plastic, and it looks like a standard laptop from the rear. It’s on the inside a little gaming flair appears, with a green gradient honeycomb pattern at the bottom, gradually fading into the black of a case.
The sides of the keys are also green, as are the rubbery feet on the bottom. If you don't like it then it's tough as there are no alternative colour options.
Just as “HP Pavilion Gaming” sounds, this laptop does appear to be a tweaked ‘gaming’ edition of a more conventional Pavilion laptop design. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t expect top-notch build quality, though. This is a practical no-nonsense design that feels solid.
HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review: Connectivity
The HP Pavilion Gaming has a job to do, and it does it without too much showing off or fuss. It sticks to a bog-standard array of connections, leaving out the USB-C connector you'll see on the trendiest new laptops.
Quite how important this omission will be in 12 months’ time isn’t clear. Mobile devices were meant to lead the charge on the take-up of the standard in 2016, but several of this year’s flagship phones have stuck with the older microUSB.
There are two USB 3.0 ports and one additional USB 2.0 one, full-size HDMI and Ethernet sockets and an SD card slot. This is a pretty retro setup, particularly the USB 2.0 port, but as we said at the start, this isn't designed for the most demanding user.
In keeping with the traditional style, there’s a tray-type DVD writer so you can still rip your audio CDs, install software and burn your own CDs and DVDs.
HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review: Screen
The HP Pavilion Gaming does have up-to-date hardware where it really matters, though. It has a 15.6in IPS LCD 1080p screen, which is perhaps the perfect balance of size and resolution for a gaming laptop that isn’t intimidatingly huge. It has a matt finish, too, which diffuses reflections to make them less distracting.
An IPS panel ensures good viewing angles, which you almost certainly won’t have had if you’re upgrading from, say, a five-year-old laptop with a nasty old TN screen. The HP Pavilion Gaming’s display doesn’t bend back far enough to show these angles off, but even with a totally standard laptop hinge the difference between IPS and TN is immediately obvious.
This is not a particularly impressive screen among £600-800 laptops more generally, though. Its colours are noticeably undersaturated. They don’t look wrong, but they won’t make games pop like a great TV might.
Testing the HP Pavilion Gaming with our colorimeter, its display hits a pretty dismal 57 percent of the sRGB standard, which is low for an IPS screen. It achieves just 41 percent of the more demanding Adobe RGB standard.
Contrast is perfectly acceptable at 832:1, though, which helps the HP Pavilion Gaming avoid looking weak or legitimately washed-out. Colour calibration is fine too, with a DeltaE of 0.15-0.52. While the display just can’t render those really deep reds, greens and blues, the tones it can handle look natural enough.
The last little glitch is that top brightness is just OK, at 228cd/m2. As such it’s going to struggle with very bright outdoors conditions even with a matt-finish screen.
Overall, it's decent enough without being remarkable.
HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review: Performance
Thinner, more expensive-looking laptops at the same price will net you a higher-grade display than this, but that is because the goal of the Pavilion Gaming is to provide real gaming power at a reasonable price.
Our review model has an Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU, a Skylake-generation chipset with enough power to be effectively paired with a far more powerful GPU than features here. If gaming is the most taxing thing you’re going to do with the HP Pavilion Gaming, the cheaper Core i5 version has enough power to ensure the graphics card will be the performance bottleneck 95 percent of the time.
Such a capable CPU makes this particular HP Pavilion Gaming laptop spec a solid all-round productivity machine for those who will appreciate the extra processing power. However, in general day-to-day use you won’t see the benefits of this added power because the non-SSD version we have uses a fairly slow hard drive that only reads and writes at 105MB/s.
There are obvious pauses in loading apps that would not be there with the 128GB SSD-added version of the laptop. When considering which version to buy, the Core i5 with 128GB SSD is going to get you a better all-round experience than the Core i7 with HDD alone.
The spec we’re reviewing isn’t the spec we’d choose, in other words. To compound the issue, the HP Pavilion Gaming uses single-channel RAM, meaning it’s a single stick of 8GB DDR3. That’s cheaper-but-slower than 2x4GB sticks, and there’s no quick-release panel to upgrade the HP Pavilion Gaming. You’d have to take the whole casing apart.
The Intel Core i7-6700HQ will prove speedy when Windows 10 is loaded onto an SSD, though. In this non-SSD configuration it still achieves 12067 points in Geekbench 3, comparing well with laptops costing over £1000.
It comes out with a similarly strong score of 2814 in PC Mark, using the Home benchmark, designed to replicate the everyday uses of the average laptop owner.