HP Omen

I am not a hardcore gamer. When I was much younger, I was more of a gamer. These days, I don’t care about benchmarks. If it is fast enough to do what I need without annoying me, it is good enough. Spending more money to get a few extra framerates is pointless. Maybe it is a sign of getting older. I judge things on the personal annoyance factor over anything else. Give me convenience or give me death!

Because of that, I will not be posting benchmarks, not that this laptop is a super high-end model, but it is a good, all-around laptop.

My main focus for a laptop is for programming that can easily run one to two Linux virtual machines and possibly dual boot without a lot of futzing.

If the laptop can reasonably run games, that is a bonus.

I have read many reviews of supposedly good programming laptops, and the results were quite laughable.

Small screens down to 13 inches(32.5cm) came highly recommended. There is no way I could do any work efficiently or sanely on such a toy. Who could? Just as funny is that many of these laptops had 8GB of RAM and low end and low power CPUs. That is a non-starter. Playing games on such a laptop would be annoying as well.

I guess these things sell, or they would not be made, but I am curious what kinds of use-cases they cover.

There were some positive reviews on 15” models but again too small. 17.3 inches is barely tolerable, but laptops are always a compromise. 17 inches(43.2 cm) is my bare minimum screen size. Maybe someday, a genius will invent a laptop with a 32” screen that can fold three or four times when storing it.

I read a lot of whining about the struggles of lugging around a 17” laptop. It was never a big deal to me. I spent most of my college years carrying a big laptop that probably weighed 10 pounds, plus all of my books. One term, I had to carry large Calculus, Physics, Art History, and Economics books constantly in my bags along with the laptop. When you have to carry 80-100 pounds on your back, waist, and hands through the hilly, thick, hot, and humid jungles of Panama walking from class to class with 30-35 pounds is hardly a challenge.

Of course, when you get to bigger screen sizes, plus at least 16GB of RAM and a dedicated GPU, prices jump up. A dedicated GPU is not a necessity for programming. It is for gaming, and that does add to the price.

As I said, laptops are a compromise. Size/power/price are the main considerations from a buyer’s viewpoint. Hitting a decent ratio between them is the challenge.

I had been thinking about buying one since last spring, so when I leave town I can take a real computer with me. It annoys me to have to use my phone or tablet for anything other than making calls. Productive tools they are not.

Even little games like candy crush annoy me on my phone. Yes, I am a crotchety old Luddite with a master’s degree in computer science.

Since I will not be using it much at home, the purchase price bothers me. I am getting a portable and adjustable table. It can be used on a couch or in bed lying down. I hope it will help me to use it at home more often. The table even has separate space for a mouse, which is nice since I get super cranky using the pad to move the cursor. That annoying device makes using laptops almost as annoying as using a tablet.

It also has a built-in fan which is important. Any laptop with a dedicated GPU is going to get hot. A month after I got the laptop, I replaced one of my 27-inch monitors with a 34-inch widescreen making the 17-inch laptop much more annoying.

I build my desktop computers, but it is not much of an option with laptops. Even if it were, the heat issue would likely scare me away. A desktop computer is much easier to build and gets good airflow.

My first stop was system76. It is a Linux laptop builder that has so many options. If you are not careful, you could configure a laptop that nears $10k! Unfortunately, they ship with Ubuntu which is such a poor and overrated distro. I get cranky having to use that or Debian or any of its children. Any reasonable Linux should work, but I am not sure what that does to support options. I am an OpenSUSE nerd, it has the best KDE experience, the best admin tools, and is by far the easiest to install and use without dumbing down the interface.

It is equally great for professionals and newbies. I think the first time I installed OpenSUSE was in 2003. I don’t even remember the version number. I have tried lots of others, but nothing comes close. It is not perfect, but YAST is the best system management tool I have seen in any OS. However, it doesn’t totally remove the need for editing configuration files. It doesn’t have a module for ngix, which is odd.

System76 also has its own distro that is supposedly useful for STEM work, called POP OS, but it is based on Ubuntu and Gnome. Gnome is a headache-inducing non-starter. Just for fun, I am installing it in a VM to check it out. Maybe they did do a good job polishing the turd known as Gnome, but color me skeptical.

As an aside, I would love to see a distro specifically made for programmers.

One that can automatically manage multiple libraries and languages by automatically installing them in /opt or something. Distros may have a lot of dev tools, but they are typically used to support other system functions. The included dev tools are often out of date, and in the case of Debian, it may be broken in subtle ways cough Ruby cough. Ruby and Elixir have pretty nice programs to deal with this problem.

Of course, they have their annoyances, so I usually handle it manually and have a script to swap out the appropriate soft links in ~/bin on my development machines. Then I just install what I need manually in /opt for my production server. With Ruby, rbenv + bundler + gems are probably as close to good as one can get. Not perfect, but better than most. On the other side, there is garbage like Maven for Java which fittingly is a very Java solution: it is big, bloated, and over-engineered, yet feels under-featured. Having no automated system is better than Maven.

These days it is easier to skip the dual boot and use a VM, so having the CPU and RAM to run it is more important than ever. It also makes it easier to keep backups. On my desktop, I historically dual boot and run VM’s on my desktop. More and more, I just fire up VM’s. I rarely notice performance differences. I still need to dual boot for various reasons, so having the ability to have two hard drives or a single large drive is an important feature.

To get something with all the specs I wanted with system76, the price shot up way too high to justify. Similar specs were about $600 higher than what I ended up getting. So I looked around on NewEgg and BestBuy and Amazon.

Laptops that aren’t custom-made seem to have at least one fatal flaw that makes them untenable. Under-powered features that lowered the price made it somewhat useless to me. Or, they had features that are more than I needed which would be nice but added too much cost.

It seemed like there was no Goldilocks laptop available at retail sites and stores.

I did find a few ASUS laptops that were close. The problem is that they are from ASUS, a company whose products I have had bad luck with, and have the worst customer service in the world. I can talk more about them when I review my new audio card. I did buy a monitor from them once, and to get it serviced, they required that I pay shipping costs both ways and be without a monitor for 6-8 weeks. And this was after playing phone tag with them for 2 weeks.

The thought of giving money to irredeemably bad companies makes me physically ill.

Reviews for their ROG laptops were good but were peppered with complaints about when something went wrong and how impossible they are to deal with. In a nutshell, if you get lucky and have no problems, it is great. Otherwise, not even heaven can help you. Blech

My next stop was HP, a company I rarely buy from but have had to deal with their CS once, and it was pretty good. Too bad EVGA does not build laptops, well I guess they sort of do, but not really. There is not a company in the industry that has better support. It is related to my audio card switch, my 800 Watt EVGA power supply, which has a 7-year-warranty decided to die spectacularly. Basically, it exploded in the case and creating a lot of smoke.

After a 15-minute wait to talk to someone in tech support, and a 5-minute conversation about a quick function test, resulted in an RMA number with cross shipping, and the brand new power supply was shipped the next morning. I was surprised it was a new unit. I have had to manage a couple of warranty claims with them over the years and have always just been refurbished. Typically, I get a model upgrade, and the PS claim was no different. Besides motherboards, their products are first-rate, and their motherboards are not bad, just mediocre.

HP doesn’t measure up to EVGA but is good enough.

Their Omen series is very similar to the ASUS ROG in pricing and features. The ASUS is generally slightly cheaper, but losing customer support isn’t worth the slight discount. The Omen is slightly configurable on the HP website, not nearly as much as system76. It is just okay.

One good thing was Windows 10 Pro was an option if you have to get Windows. HP doesn’t offer Linux on these despite it looking very Linux friendly. There is no earthly reason to get the Home version and be even more at the mercy of Microsoft. Windows 10 isn’t so bad if you discount the spying, forced updates that seem to be poorly tested (I wait at least 180 days for feature updates, sometimes up to a year), and forced reboots. All of which means it is a bad OS.

Once Cortana is killed in the registry, it improved. Sadly, so much configuration has to be done to make Windows usable. I can start with an empty hard drive and Linux on a USB stick and have a completely installed - including games and development tools - configured and updated system within 30 minutes with one reboot, max.

Windows take hours and many reboots.

Sorry, the continued incompetence of Microsoft makes me nerd-rage.

Although, when I was a grad student, I was grateful that Microsoft supplied functions in the operating system APIs to facilitate writing keyloggers, and other nefarious functionality. That made my life so much easier as the university’s cybersecurity lab’s Supreme Dark Overlord. Sadly, that is not an official title. I should have pushed harder to make it happen.

Now to get to the available options, yes, I ramble too much.

Like I mentioned previously, Windows 10 Home or Pro.

The base CPU/GPU is an Intel i7 9750H with an Nvidia 1660 Ti. It is not the gimped Nvidia laptop cards. They also offer that CPU with an NVidia 2060, 2070, or 2080. There is an option for an Intel i9 9880H with an Nvidia 2080, but that option is an additional $830. The base option is perfect for me.

For memory, it is 16GB or 32 GB of DDR4-2666. I chose 32 GB.

The base display is a 60Hz IPS panel that looks nice. They also offer a 144Hz IPS, a 4k panel, and a 240Hz IPS panel that seems pointless to me. The default works fine for me.

For storage, the base is 512 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD. There is also 512 GB SSD + 32 GB Optane memory or 1 TB 7200 rpm SATA + 512 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD. They also offered a 1 TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD, which is what I got. It boots and shuts down extremely fast, and people like to make a big deal of it, but I don’t think I could care less. I care more about space than speed. The fact that they only have so many writes bothers me. I have never had a normal hard drive die on me in 25 years of owning computers.

I wish a 2TB drive, even if only a 7200 RPM drive, were an option. At some point, I will add a SATA SSD drive for dual booting and additional storage. I am waiting to see if the Samsung EVO will drop in price during the holidays. Why there was no option for an SSD on both the M.2 and SATA slots or even a 1 TB SSD + 1 TB HD is a mystery.

There are various warranty options and MS Office add-ons. I had the unfortunate luck to get a free copy of Office 2007 Professional when I was teaching as a grad student + Visio 2007. I can’t see ever needing more, so I refused MS Office. If I need an office suite, I just use Libre Office anyway. These days, I have very little use for any of that nonsense. Besides, the ugly, unintuitive, and inefficient interface of Office drives me nuts.

There are options for McAfee’s “security” software, which is bloated and inefficient. Avoid McAfee and Symantec like the plague that they are.

I never needed such nonsense in Linux. For Windows and my phone and tablet, I use Webroot Secure Anywhere. It is a little pricey, but it is so lightweight. It doesn’t take over your system, offers free online storage space, a password manager, and various utilities like a secure file shredder that integrates into File Explorer. It has a web console that allows you to remotely control your device. It is a “cloud” based system, so what installs and runs on your machine is extremely lightweight. You never really notice it until it shuts something down. Even scans are fast and very quiet. Licenses allow you to run it on up to 10 devices depending on what you buy.

HP makes a big deal of the Bang & Olufsen speakers. Maybe they are nice speakers, but the system has crappy Realtek onboard audio, rendering good speakers useless. There is decent audio control software, but it never really sounds very good, not even when making allowances for laptop sound. I use $50 Bluetooth headphones which sounds so much better. A dedicated sound card, even a cheap $30 one, would have massively improved the sound situation.

Yeah yeah, there is limited space inside a laptop. Doesn’t change the fact that the sound is awful.

They have theft protection software for an additional cost, two types of keyboards, and some wireless options: 802.11b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.2 is standard. There is also the Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 200 and Bluetooth 5 Combo for $10, which is what I got. They also offer Intel 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5 Combo. Strange to see that they have many minor options while they severely limit CPU/GPU and storage options.

The keyboard is well lit and unusable without a backlight.

It comes with HDMI, thunderbolt, card reader, Ethernet, and a few USB ports.

The HP control software is surprisingly decent. Lots of useful controls are included.

I am not sure if the camera is any good. The first thing I did was place a cover over it. I do have a very nice webcam given to me by a special friend, which is likely better than the built-in camera. It has the bonus of being able to unplug completely when not in use.

They have overpriced accessories like bags and other software. I bought a nice backpack with a USB charging port for under $40 on Amazon. Like cell phone accessories, laptop accessories are expensive from where you buy the device. Go online elsewhere and save a ton of money.

The power brick is light, far lighter than the Toshiba Qosmio I bought in 2007, about half the weight.

The laptop is plastic but seems like it is of decent quality and looks nice - it has a vaguely metallic look. It is a fingerprint magnet.

A big downside is that it can get loud. Very loud. It sounds like I am inside a plane at takeoff. Even older games like Rift get it running very hot. The fans are powerful, pushing heat out of the back. You might be able to use it to blow dry your hair. The newest games I have access to right now are Witcher 3 and Outlast 2, and it runs smoothly at high settings. As I said, I don’t play games much, and newer games aren’t as good as games from the ’90s for the most part. I care more about gameplay than graphics quality. This setup will run whatever I want well enough and do so for the foreseeable future and beyond.

Predictably, a full battery charge does not last long. Two to three hours max if I am not doing anything graphically intensive. For the price, it seems it could do better. This is a $1600 laptop that I got on sale.

Another complaint is that it takes them a long time to build, test and ship it. I received it almost a month after I placed the order. It is a shame I could not find an acceptable Omen configuration on Amazon, or NewEgg, or at BestBuy.

For its main purpose, it is just perfect and will be as long as it is running. It will probably die long before it is not enough for my needs. It runs VMWare player with no issues, running two VM instances is not a problem. I am certain that Linux would run flawlessly on it, so when I get a SATA SSD I may set it up to dual boot, although there is little reason to do it with the VM running so well on it.

I get the performance I need and didn’t have to compromise anything except price. It just costs a bit more than I was wanting to spend.