Style: That's one thing Voodoo PC had in spades before HP bought the boutique builder a few years back. In the shadow of a nationwide economic recession, consumers' appetite for high-end gaming machines went on a long pause, and Voodoo soon vanished into the vastness of HP's oceans.
Now, rising from the depths like Venus on a half-shell, HP's new Omen laptop offers good gaming performance in a svelte body with plenty of style. Let's not trivialize the style part: Besides a few key standouts (you know who you are), most of the gaming laptops makers today would throw panache under the bus at 45mph and then stop to back over it, if it would save them the bus fare.
That's not so with the Omen, which grabs your attention even before you lift it from the wedge-shaped box that mimics the laptop's actual shape. Flip up the 15.6-inch screen, and the Omen gives you the illusion that the base is razor-thin and levitating a half-inch in the air.
The Omen is actually about 15.5 mm thick in front and 19.9 mm in back. That's thin. The similarly equipped Alienware 13 is 26.3 mm in front and almost 28 mm thick in back.
Pieces of Flair
Other pieces of flair include variable lighting that lets you set the backlighting on the speakers, WASD keys, power button and three zones of the keyboard. These aren't innovative moves, but they're appreciated. The hinge is another thing: HP intentionally chromed the lid's hinge and then added a color shift to the ends to give it the feel of super-heated exhaust tips. LED lights shining out the rear vents add to the atmosphere. It's a nice touch.
HP also integrates a dedicated row of programmable functions just to the left of the keyboard. The function keys are easy to set up, but they do seem pretty limited. I couldn't easily find a way to set up deep macro functions for a long key sequence that gamers might want, such as: Hit R to reload, then pause for 400ms and then hit 1 to switch back your primary weapon.
The Hot Zone
HP said it spent an inordinate amount of time making sure the Omen could play games without sounding like an HVAC unit was parked on your desk. To do that, cool air is sucked in from the front, pulled over a chassis-wide array of bottom vents, and blown out the back. This design, HP claims, also helps keep the keyboard of the laptop cool during heavy gaming sessions.
I checked out that claim by taking thermal images of the top of the Razer Blade Pro (above) and the Omen (below), after both had been left looping the intro sequence for the Heaven 4.0 benchmark set to DirectX 9 "basic" mode for an hour. While the Razer Blade Pro's top deck was almost uniformly hot, the Omen kept most of the heat toward the back of the laptop. It's actually very impressive cooling when you consider how small and thin this laptop is.
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