There’s a reason budget and mid-range gaming laptops are in demand: You can get decent performance for a price far less than those packed with the most features. HP’s Pavilion Gaming 15 has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti and Intel Core i7-9750H, which gives you strong performance on high settings. But you get a bland display in exchange, single-DIMM RAM in our review model and, in several configs, not enough storage. So the question is, can it balance all of your needs?
If nothing else draws your eye to the Pavilion, the fact that HP used the color green here certainly helps it stand out. HP has used emerald on its Pavilion Gaming lineup for awhile now; it’s all but alone in use of the shade, outside of one competitor: Razer. But that company uses a matte green, while HP has gone with a reflective version. So even though the rest of the laptop is black, the absinth-colored reflective logo is sure to get some attention.
The laptop’s lid is angular and black with the HP logo in the center. On the back, by the hinge, it says “Pavilion” again between the vents, which are covered in plastic that feels a bit flimsy.
The lid lifts along a hinge based under the center of the monitor, revealing the 15.6-inch FHD display with a thick bottom bezel. The speaker grilles below the display create an optical illusion, which looks like a series of 3D boxes, but which are actually indented in the chassis. The keyboards have a green backlight and the deck is black, just like the lid.
At 14.2 x 10.1 x 0.8 inches (360.7 x 256.5 x 20.3 mm) and 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg), this Pavilion is generally average sized for a budget gaming notebook. The MSI Alpha 15 is slightly smaller (but thicker) at 5 pounds and 14.1 x 9.8 x 1 inches. The Asus ROG Zephyrus is 4.6 pounds and 14.2 x 9.9 x 0.8 inches, and the Dell G3 is 5.4 pounds and 14.4 x 10 x 0.9 inches.
The sides of the HP are dotted with a fair share of ports. On the left side are an HDMI output, USB 3.1 Type-A, Ethernet, USB Type-C and a full-sized SD card reader. On the right are two more Type-A ports and a headphone jack.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-9750H|
|GPU||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti (6GB GDDR6)|
|Display||15.6-inch, FHD, 60 Hz|
|SSD||256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, 1TB, 7,200 rpm HDD|
|Networking||Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200, Bluetooth 5.0, Ethernet jack|
|USB Ports||3x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C|
|Audio||Speakers tuned by Bang & Olufsen|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||14.2 x 10.1 x 0.8 inches / 360.7 x 256.5 x 203 mm|
|Weight||5.3 pounds / 2.4kg|
|Price (as configured)||$1,249.99|
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The Pavilion we reviewed came with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q. This won’t play all games at the highest settings, but should work with most games at solid settings at 1080p. When I played Borderlands 3 on the high preset at 1080p, the game ran between 60 and 72 fps.
On the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark (1080p, very high), the Pavilion ran the game at 43 fps. That’s below the mainstream average (48 fps) but ahead of the Dell G3 (GTX 1660, 30 fps), ROG Zephyrus (GTX 1660 Ti, 43 fps) and Alpha 15 (AMD Radeon RX 5500M, 28 fps).
The Pavilion hit 56 fps on the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark (1080p, very high). That’s one frame lower than average (57 fps) and the ROG Zephyrus, but better than the Alpha and the G3.
And on Hitman 2’s Miami benchmark, the Pavilion ran the game at 63 fps, falling behind the average but beating the Alpha and the Dell G3.
We stress tested the Pavilion with 15 runs of Metro Exodus on the high preset. The laptop ran the game at an average frame rate of 43.9 frames per second. The first two runs were closer to 44, and then it evened out after run 3. The average CPU speed was 3.4 GHz and the average CPU temperature was 81.3 degrees Celsius (178.3 degrees Fahrenheit). The GPU ran at an average clock speed of 1294 MHz at an average temperature of 69 degrees Celsius (156.2 degrees Fahrenheit).
The HP Pavilion Gaming 15 showed up in our labs with an Intel Core i7-9750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD boot drive and a 1TB, 7,200 rpm HDD.
On Geekbench 4.3, the Pavilion notched a score of 20,539, just ahead of the mainstream gaming average (20,194) and well above the Alpha (AMD Ryzen 7 3750H), Dell G3 (Intel Core i5-9300H) and ROG Zephyrus (AMD Ryzen 7 3750H).
It took the laptop 9 seconds to copy 4.97GB of files. That’s a rate of 565.5 MBps, which is faster than the average (450.9 MBps) as well as the Alpha and the Dell G3. The ROG Zephyrus was faster at 727 MBps.
It took the Pavilion 11 minutes and 30 seconds to complete our Handbrake test, which involves transcoding a 4K video to 1080p. That’s behind the 10:48 average, but faster than the rest of the comparison field here.
The Pavilion Gaming's 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 display is bland, dull and dim. That’s a fairly lethal combination for a laptop dedicated to multimedia. I used it to watch the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984, and was disappointed to see that a desert that Wonder Woman fights in was bland and colorless, with almost no blue in a number of darker scenes, I was hitting the brightness up button in hopes that I would better be able to see.
When I played Borderlands 3, there was a bit of screen tearing. The usually cartoony game looked slightly less colorful than on some competing laptops. Amara’s purple sash looked good, but the green on FL4k’s jacket and the yellow in Zane’s outfit were dull. While it’s hard to make a sandy dune look good, it seemed extra lifeless here in the opening of the game.
HP’s screen covers just 65 percent of the sRGB color gamut, far less than the mainstream gaming average (109 percent). It’s also below the Zephyrus and Alpha 15, but slightly better than the Dell G3.
It measures 253 average nits of brightness, again below the average (281 nits). The Dell is brighter, but the Zephyrus was even dimmer.
Keyboard and Touchpad
HP’s keyboard is a bit shallow for my liking on a gaming laptop, but is ultimately comfortable enough. The keycaps feel cheap and there is some obvious keyboard flexing, but when it came to a test, I hit 107 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. That’s on the low end of my usual range, with the 2 percent error rate that I have come to expect.
The touchpad is 2.3 x 4.5-inches. I’d prefer it to be a bit taller, but I also didn’t find myself bumping into the edges while I scrolled. HP is using Windows precision drivers here, and I found navigating the OS and programs to be easy. All of the Windows 10 gestures worked and the touchpad itself is smooth and comfortable.
The Pavilion’s speakers, which are tuned by Bang & Olufsen, are one of HP’s biggest strengths here, especially in the budget and mainstream price range. The laptop sounds quite good; When I listened to Hozier’s “Work Song,” the keys, choral humming and clapping were all as crisp and clear as the vocals, though the speakers didn’t get as loud as more expensive competitors do.
It also made Borderlands 3 sound great. Claptrap came through nice and clear in the beginning of the game, and the bullets that shot through the air had a nice punch and landed in a Psycho’s body with a gross squish.
HP also includes the B&O Audio Control app, which has a few different music presets. I’d suggest most users don’t play with this, though, as audio sounds quite good out of the box.
To take off the Pavilion’s bottom cover, you need to remove a total of seven Phillips head screws. Unlike its ultraportables, there are no screws under rubber strips here. It took us quite a bit to find a seam to get our spudger in to separate the sides, but once we did it was smooth sailing.
The RAM, SSD, hard drive are all upgradeable, and the battery and M.2 Wi-Fi card are both accessible.
Upon opening the laptop, we found that one of the two DIMM slots is empty, and it was using just a single 16GB stick. Having two 8GB RAM sticks would offer better performance, but there is room here to upgrade at least.
To get to the SSD, all you have to do is remove a heat shield held down by the same screw as the drive itself.
Our system had a bit of excess thermal paste inside, but nothing too messy to get in the way of an upgrade.
On our battery test, the Pavilion lasted for 5 hours and 26 minutes continuously browsing the web, streaming video and running OpenGL tests, all while connected to Wi-Fi with the display at 250 nits of brightness. That’s higher than the mainstream gainv average of 3:56.
The Dell G3 did better (6:42), but both the Alpha and the Zephyrus didn’t last quite as long.
We measured surface temperatures during our Metro Exodus stress test. The hottest point on the bottom of the laptop measured 53.5 degrees Celsius (128.3 degrees Fahrenheit). Between the G and H keys on the keyboard, it hit 41.1 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit), while the touchpad reached a cooler 28.7 degrees Celsius (83.7 degrees Fahrenheit)
The webcam on the Pavilion is miserable. The 720p resolution does it no favors, and a picture I took at my desk was blurry, grainy and it looked so smooth that it appeared I had gotten plastic surgery. Consider getting an external webcam.
Software and Warranty
There’s more than a fair share of HP pre-installed app on the Pavilion. There’s HP Support Assistant, which shows you warranty status and helps you get assistance with the notebook; HP JumpStarts, with a bunch of quick tips and offers; and HP Coolsense to automatically adjust cooling settings when your computer is stationary.
HP also adds Netflix, McAfee LiveSafe, McAfee Personal Security, Booking.com, Simple Solitaire and WildTangent Games.
That’s quite a bit of bloat, beyond what’s already included in Windows 10, including Polarr Photo Editor, Sketchable, Phototastic Collage, WhatsApp Desktop and Hotspot Shield Free VPN.
HP sells the Pavilion Gaming 15 Laptop with a 1-year warranty.
We reviewed a configuration of the HP Pavilion Gaming 15 with an Intel Core i7-9750H, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD and a 1TB HDD. That costs $1,249.99 and is available exclusively at Costco in the United States, though at the time of this writing there is a limited additional $150 savings.
The base model is $639.99 with an Intel Core i5-9300H, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a GTX 1050.
There are several models in between, including an option with an Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a GTX 1650 for $919.99. But you should opt for more storage than that. A 512 GB SSD should really be the minimum on a gaming machine, and getting the hard drive for extra space will go far.
The top-end model on HP’s website boasts a Core i7-9750H, GTX 1650, 16GB of memory and 512GB SSD. You’re better off with the model we reviewed, which gives you more storage and better graphics for less money. HP also lists a version with a Core i7, GTX 1660 Ti, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,019.99, but again, that’s not enough storage.
This Pavilion can serve your most basic gaming needs easily. Performance on most games is strong at high or medium settings, and you get great sound as an extra. The Core i7 CPU option is also solid for productivity.
For the price, you get a bland screen. Using one SODIMM of RAM may cut some costs, but it cold also mean reduced performance.
For a bit less, you can get the MSI Alpha 15 if you prefer an all AMD-alternative, though performance isn't as strong. If you want to pay less, the Dell G3 starts at $849.99, though it also has similar issues with the bland display.
So for this price, the Pavilion is a strong choice. The issue is finding a configuration with enough storage to game. That makes the one we reviewed the best option, as long as you're willing to pay a bit to get over $1,000. And you'll of course need a Costco membership to pick one up, as well.