Recently after being tasked with finding a value laptop as a Mothers Day present I proceeded on a journey, a hunt for the perfect computing device for mom. Being a light user; web, photos and a little Skype raw computing power wouldn’t be as important as user experience and value.
Like walking a tightrope if you lean too far in either direction (value or performance) your balance will be lost and tumble down you go. But how low down the performance scale can you go before slow is too slow even for a light user? This was the question rattling around in the back of my brain as the journey began.
Budget was also a major constraint, with only $500 to spend and some stringent requirements this was to be no easy task. The machine had to have a large screen that’s easy one the eyes, HDMI TV hook-up for multimedia work using KODI, Windows OS (over Android), movable but not as portable as a tablet and all for $500. After the initial search many options presented themselves with many catch phrases pointing the way; flipable, foldable, luggable and even touchable. Laptops, desktops, tablets, NIC, transformers and even all in one PC’s were actually available at the $500 AUD price point.
The final decision on form factor came down to the screen size and the need to work at a desk, move to the couch and then sit next to a TV. All of which added up to a laptop, leading nicely to the next question which laptop? What does $500 AUD get you in the laptop world?
A touch screen display would have been a nice feature to have, especially with Windows 8.1 pre-loaded, but machines with the right spec and touch screen were nudging over the $600 mark.
All of the major brands actually have numerous models under $500, if you are willing to go Chrome OS you can even get decent hardware as low as $300. Many of the models from different manufacturers seemed to share the same spec sheet suggesting a shared or common OEM design. Hardware wise it boiled down to a choice of Intel i3, Intel Atom and AMD A4 CPU’s. Most models used integrated graphics and displays were generally all running 1368×768 resolution.
Settling on the HP Pavilion 15-P001Au 15.6 inch laptop came down to a number of preferences; the HP built in system software is about the best at imaging, recovering and generally keeping the beast alive. The multimedia functions of the AMD chipset also influenced the choice. Of course a very similarly spec’d i3 would have performed just as well, maybe better on the CPU side but the graphics performance and audio of the AMD won out. There may have been a third slight influence as well, the model I ended up purchasing from J.B. came in white, which just happens to blend perfectly into it’s new home.
Under the bonnet the HP Pavilion 15-P001AU fits an AMD A4-6210 quad core CPU and R3 GPU running at 1.8Ghz, a low power combination that still packs a punch. 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB hard drive round out the internal hardware.
The 15.6 inch LED LCD display runs at the lower HD resolution of 1368×768, 1920×1080 would have been nice but the budget killed that idea. Ports are well catered for with 2 USB 3.0 and 1 USB 2.0, HDMI, SD card slot, 2 speaker Beats Audio, audio jack and a RJ-45 network port.
Windows 8.1 is pre-installed out of the box although there were still plenty of patches to download during setup. The usual assortment of software was pre-installed; WildTangent Games, McAffee Antivirus and an others which were all uninstalled. The limited nature of the machine meant stripping everything back to essentials, and yes Avast Antivirus was installed to replace McAfee, a less demanding AV package.
In use the Poo1 is quite responsive, it’s sort of eager in that as soon as you’ve clicked on anything it responds instantly, it’s just not going to move super-fast in response but it gets started right away.
The only really noticeable performance deficiency of the Poo was the Hard Drive. While tasks such as web browsing, email and even Office were quick, pages splashed up fast scrolled smoothly, tasks that required a lot of hard drive access tended to feel a little slow. Again after using an SSD based Surface Pro for a while my perceptions may be tainted.
The gig of patches took a couple of hours, probably twice as long as my i7 Toshiba laptop, but thankfully it is a task that only needs to be done once. Luckily the light use model tends to only thrash the hard drive while doing once off tasks, installing an app, updating Windows etc.
The chicklet keyboard was exactly the same to use as every other except that the keys were harder plastic keys not the really annoying rubber some manufacturers use. The harder keys also seemed to help with sensitivity which is often missing with chicklets. The width of the laptop afforded a numeric keyboard as well as a complete keyboard layout, print screen key included.
The display is bright and clear and didn’t seem to suffer to badly from glare during daylight hours. A good solid display that’s easy on the eyes. Audio quality was good from the built in speakers, clear at low volumes and with a little punch once your crank it a little, and plenty of distortion when your crank it too far.
Gaming is a low detail affair but browser based games seemed to run just fine, the lower resolution saves the frame rates somewhat. There are many video’s of the A4 chipset running DirectX 11 games at 30fps, it does have the GPU to do it but if gaming is important a more powerful GPU will be in order.
Applications were surprisingly snappy, Office 365 and basic paint packages such as Paint.net ran just fine. Documents and images opened a little slower than I was used to but once open moving around documents was smooth and effects applied without delay. Sure it’s not as zippy as an i7 but everything works. More powerful applications such as video editing would probably be a bit much for the little lappy, an exercise in patients and frustration, but they do run.
After some initial tests and a little experimenting with the Poo1 it dawned on me that it would make a decent business machine, especially if connected to a network for your working files, removing the hard drive from the equation.
How the numbers stack up.
|Test||Toshiba||Desktop||Surface Pro 3||HP AMD A4|
|PC Mark 8||2823||2199||2314||1488|
With the lengthy setup and tuning process done with the Poo was ready to be put to the test and compete with against other Highpants hardware. All of the machines tested are real world machines that are used around the Highpants office every day, they help to keep it ticking over and may be machines that you might have yourself.
Testing the Poo1’s metal are 3 other machines of varying power. At the top of the tree is a Core i7-3630QM powered Toshiba Laptop. Its fast and it excels under heavy workload. Next is the long in the tooth AMD powered desktop, more file server than workstation the Phenom II CPU is old but at 3.6GHZ its doesn’t feel much slower than Toshiba. Rounding out the competition is the Surface Pro 2 with an i5-4200 at 2.3GHZ, a nice little daily driver.
The initial testing did lead to one observation, when performing light duty tasks such as loading a web page barely even moves the CPU meter on the Toshiba while the Poo bounces the meter quite a bit more. The page loads in about the same time its just that the Poo1 uses more of its CPU to get there. And since it doesn’t have a lot of spare CPU the Poo can be overwhelmed especially when you run out of memory.
The NovaBench numbers indicate the Poo1 is on average 2.5 slower than the Toshiba and its i7 CPU. The desktop and Surface score very similar results in spite of being vastly different hardware. Both of which generated numbers around 1.5 times higher / faster than the Poo. This is actually fairly impressive when you remember the Poo costs far less than both, a third the cost of the Surface Pro 3 (i5, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD) and Toshiba.
|Test||Toshiba||Desktop||Surface Pro 3||HP AMD A4|
There is a performance bright spot for the Poo too, graphics performance. While RAM, CPU Hard drive and other hardware constantly scored 1.5 times lower than the Surface the R3 graphics core was on 1.28 times slower and it was actually faster than the NVIDIA GTX 520 video card in the desktop.
The Peacekeeper tests were a demolition with the Toshiba scoring 2.6 times the score of the Poo1 in the browser benchmark. PeaceKeeper being a purely web based test may not be well rounded but it does tell us one interesting fact, the Po01 is nearly twice as fast as a 4th gen iPad.
Upgrading the Poo is a little tougher than more expensive laptops as the usual upgrade flaps on the underside are missing. To access the HD and RAM the underside and keyboard must be separated, 15 screws in total and gently pry them apart. Not an incredibly tough task but one that will invalidate the warranty.
How cheap is too cheap? Is slow too slow? It turns out that it depends on what you do and what you are used to. As far as light workload machines are concerned computing power has reached the point where even the slowest machines are fast enough. An Intel i3 or Atom Quad Core should also be equally powerful enough for basic web wanderers and email monkeys.
As a light use home or business machine the Poo gets the job done and looks good while doing it, and it won’t burn a hole in your wallet. Let’s face it buying computers can feel a little like burning money at times, the instant 100% depreciation can leave a bad taste. This is one laptop that this will never happen with, instead it gives you the bargain hunters grin.
Really the final word on the Poo1 has to go to Mum, the day after Mothers Day her verdict was ‘Loving it’. With the journey complete I can safely say that now days you get a lot of technology for just a little money.
Overall Value for Money Rating: 8 out of 10
Overall Performance: 6 out of 10
Overall: 7 out of 10
Reference: HP Pavilion 15-P001Au