Introduction and design
Overpriced brand tie-ins are nothing new to laptops – I still shudder when I remember the idiot estate agent I met who was richly proud of his shiny red Ferrari laptop, as we all crammed into his Peugot 305… but this Star Wars Special Edition laptop is a bit different.
First, HP isn’t pretending this is a top-spec machine – this is a simple, cheap modern laptop. It has solid components and a distinct graphics card, but doesn’t have any claims to power beyond that. It’s to laptops what Count Dooku was to the Sith, what Stormtroopers are to normal soldiers, what Kit Fisto is to Jedi, and what General Grievous was to villains. Something that looks really good, but with totally average performance.
Secondly, they’ve shown some love to the Star Wars movies beyond the machine’s design, cramming in all sorts of extras, ranging from the tacky to the silly. This thing has tweaks galore, from the recycle bin being turned into a miniature Death Star (which turns into the partially built Death Star 2 when it’s emptied) to a huge range of media add-ons.
The model we’re testing is the only version available in the UK – it’s based on the low end version in the US, with an added Nvidia graphics card, while Australia has the US mid-tier version. It’s quite confusing about which model is available where, so definitely check the specifications on your model carefully before buying.
The best thing about this laptop is undoubtedly its design. It doesn’t scream Star Wars at you, but has a deliberately roughed-up finish that speaks of many battles. The top surface features a black and gray Imperial style, with the HP logo at its centre, and Darth Vader sitting in a black and red large window, looking serious. The top corner has been scarified, as from much use or having been dropped – which bodes well for how this look will age.
The choice to go with a Galactic Empire design rather than a Jedi design or a straight Star Wars design works well on the inside too. The keyboard backing continues that black / grey-silver look, with a pair of stormtroopers at the bottom right, barely visible behind dirt, and the death star in silverpoint at the bottom left. Imperial text – also installed as a font on the computer, amazingly – is dotted around the surface and appears on the laptop hinge. The only downside are the Intel and Nvidia stickers, which are small but totally out of place.
The keyboard itself glows with a threatening red backlight – and can be toggled off easily, which is welcome. Without it, it’s too hard to see the keys, so we’d recommend mostly leaving it on in dim light. As for the laptop shape, it’s fairly slim (3cm) and pleasant to look at, without being an ultrabook or cutting edge – the design hides how plastic it actually is nicely.
Another nice touch is the touchpad, which has gloss markings that are oddly spiderman-like – until you realise it’s the targeting reticule and overlay from a rebel spaceship making a run on the Death Star core.
It’s worth pausing for a second to talk about the actual box the laptop comes in, because the design of that is as good as the laptop. It comes in a supercool deep red and black casing, featuring the face of Kylo Ren on the front, and Stormtrooper heads serried along the top. Inside, the power cable is trapped inside another box emblazoned with a very nice Darth Vader decal. And most impressive of all, the laptop foam itself is sculpted to look like two Tie Bombers. It’s probably the most sympathetic packaging I’ve ever seen on any product, full stop.
The Special Edition is not exactly special. It’s basically an HP Pavilion 15-inch laptop with a nice paint job and some fan-service bloatware. It does have a graphics card, but everything else about it is merely so-so. The processor is a new Skylake ultra-low voltage dual-core that launched in September 2015, which can handle office tasks and multimedia well, and comes with Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 520.
This version also comes with a mid-end Nvidia graphics card, which isn’t included on the bottom end model available in the US – so make sure you know what you’re buying.
Here is the HP Star Wars Special Edition configuration supplied to techradar:
- CPU: Intel® Core™ i5-6200U (2.3 GHz, up to 2.8 GHz, 3 MB cache, 2 cores)
- Graphics: Intel® HD Graphics 520 + NVIDIA GeForce 940M (2 GB DDR3L dedicated)
- RAM: 6GB DDR3L RAM
- Screen: 39.6 cm (15.6″) diagonal FHD anti-glare WLED-backlit (1920 x 1080)
- Storage: 1 TB 5400 rpm SATA
- Optical drive: SuperMulti DVD burner
- Ports: 2 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, Headphone / microphone combo jack, ethernet RJ-45 port, SD card reader
- Connectivity: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (1×1) and Bluetooth® 4.0 combo (Miracast compatible)
- Camera: HP TrueVision HD Webcam (front-facing) with integrated dual array digital microphone.
- Weight: 2.09 kg (pounds)
- Size: 39 x 26 x 3cm (inches)
Overall, that’s a low-end current-gen set-up par excellence. A mid-sized mechanical hard drive, a current-gen CPU, and a minimal RAM set-up (would 8GB have broken the bank?) Including a DVD burner at all is a touch archaic, but expected for the audience this will be targeted at. The connectivity selection isn’t bad – a couple of current USB 3.0s and a legacy 2.0 – and the webcam and Bang & Olufsen speakers are all present and correct.
The odd extra is that graphics card, which is a surprise on such an average package, and skews its benchmarks oddly later on.
Performance and features
On everyday tasks, the Star Wars Special Edition moves a bit like a Star Destroyer, though that lumbering slowness doesn’t result in an equivalent awesome power when deployed. Start-up, for example, is sllloooowww, taking at least a couple of minutes.
Other functions are equally frustrating, and anything that involves writing to that old-fashioned 5400 RPM HDD will annoy users used to modern SSDs. Still, the casing doesn’t really seem to get hot, which is a boon if you’re using this on your lap in the first mate’s seat of your Corellian YT-1300 light freighter.
The B&O speakers are pretty good. With the bundled trailers and assets they produce a good job, with accurate high-pitch detail sounds and reasonable basses. The mid-range is a bit messy, perhaps, but that would be the only criticism. The HP noise cancellation option makes conference calls that much more manageable – after all, if you’re ringing up to threaten a minion over your star-killer project not being completed on time, you don’t want your henchman’s breathing interfering with your dastardly speechifying.
Our test Star Wars Special Edition Notebook came with Windows 10, an Intel Core i5-6200U CPU clocked at 2.30GHz, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD. Here’s how it performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 6119; Sky Diver: 5295; Fire Strike: 1394
- Cinebench CPU: 176 points; Graphics: 27.38 fps
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2491 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: Would not complete
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 10 fps; (1080p, Low): 25 fps
- Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 5 fps (1080p, Low): 40 fps
Those benchmarks are entirely in line with what we’d expect from this machine. That Cloud Gate score is way sub-10,000 and Fire Strike is sub-3000 so it’s not going to be much cop for intensive 3D gaming – though Sky Diver being above 5000 means it should cope well with most graphics-intensive applications, so could cope with most modern games up to medium settings.
The Cinebench scores corroborate that, showing it can cope with intensive content at around 30fps – not too shabby – even if the CPU is quite weak. Shadow of Mordor was playable, but not wonderful at low settings. Given all that, we’re not sure that the extra cost to ram that graphics card in there was worth it, at all.
The outlier is that battery life score – it messed up, giving us as low as two hours on our initial test, which anecdotal usage didn’t corroborate. With such a low-power CPU, you’d expect that score to be much, much better. We’re going to keep testing it to see if we can work out why the score was so low – two hours is our minimum for a laptop battery, especially one that’s so underpowered in other regards.
At 15.6 inches, the display is a good size. Unlike the normal Pavilion range, this comes with a 1080P screen by default, which is a welcome upgrade. The matte finish goes perfectly with the case design – it means movies and games don’t appear as slick and shiny, but we’re happy with this gritty trade-off.
The machine comes with Windows 10 Home 64, which it just about copes with. Three free games – Grid Autosport, Smite and CounterStrike Global Offensive – come with the laptop in the UK, though they’re not pre-installed and you have to send off for them, bizarrely.
Beyond that, there’s the usual array of bundled, pre-installed programs you don’t need, like Candy Crush Soda Saga, Evernote, Netflix and 3D Builder – though it’s hard to know which ones they are behind the Windows 10 Start Menu and it’s wall of crap you don’t want.
Much more impressive is the array of Star Wars tat that comes pre-installed. Fans may love this or not, as much of it is pretty low-end and feels a bit like a Dorling Kindersley or Encarta creation from the early 1990s – but older Star Wars fans may thrill in it.
The majority of it is accessible through a Star Wars Command Center programme. This lets you alter your laptop’s look and operation, as well as browsing galleries. The first pane, ‘Themes’ lets you choose from a range of rotating wallpapers taken from different parts of the franchise – ranging from concept art for the Death Star through all the movies to the latest film and even to the Clone Wars cartoon show.
You can also alter the screensavers here (we recommend the lightsaber compilation reel) and choose from a huge range of licensed Star Wars sound schemes for Windows – the laptop comes with a default sound scheme of blaster fire, which is totally nerdy.
The second part of this programme is a galleries section, that allows you to browse historical Star Wars memorabilia, with hundreds of images covering behind the scenes pictures of model construction, photo stills from the movie sets, concept art and illustrations. It’s a massive wealth of images and, while the whole thing feels a bit like something you’d pick up from a sale bin in PC World, there’s a certain geeky pleasure in having R2 scream whenever a device is removed without being ejected…
There’s also a Marvel comics app, where you can see the first edition of the old Star Wars tie-in comic, a trailer folder, with a bunch of the trailers for all the movies, and a library folder, which has excerpts of a few works of Star Wars fiction – probably the few which are still canon, sadly. There’s no sign of the ridiculous Crystal Star storyline, thank god – the less space-centaurs and space-werewolves, the better. Also bundled is also a silly and poorly-made pop-up R2D2 programme that floats above your desktop and can be interacted with, to prompt Leia’s holographic message from the first movie.
This laptop looks the part and just about struggles along to make it convincing – like Samuel L. Jackson playing Mace Windu.
We love the design of the machine overall. The messed-up surface is very modern, but mixes pleasantly with the older elements like the structure of Vader’s helmet and the Stormtrooper armour. The Aurabesh writing is a good touch too.
In terms of the actual unit, the keyboard is pleasant both to use and look at. The laptop itself isn’t too heavy or bulky either, so we’d happily carry it under our arm.
The Star Wars content bundle is a pure geekfest and a bit cheap – we’d much rather have paid extra to have the complete movie collection bundled with it rather than the trailers – but to have it all in one place is great. That’s what you’re paying a few pounds more for.
The laptop doesn’t operate very fast, nor does it wow us in any way. It’s resolutely a reskinned Pavilion 15, and you pay for what you get. That awful battery life was the biggest surprise to us, and we’re a bit stunned by it. We’re going to keep rechecking it, but a laptop of this calibre should be able to manage at least 4 hours and probably 6 with ease.
If you’re a Star Wars fan with a mid-tier budget, you could do worse than look at this. It’s notable that in the US you can get a very similar HP Pavilion 15 for around $450 currently – though like the basic US model it lacks the graphics card.
In the UK, there isn’t a direct analogue – the nearest model is around £500 without the graphics card, or £700 with a slightly more powerful GTX 950 4GB graphics chip. This means that the premium you’re paying for the design and fan-bloatware is minimal. If you want more, there’s more, with a range of accessories to tie into the laptops theme – a dark side mouse with Vader emblazed on it, and a matching laptop sleeve.
And while we’re sure all this fan service stuff is available elsewhere, it’s lovely to have it all in one place, served up to you. If it was served up with a better interface, we’d be happy owning a more premium, more powerful version of this laptop – as it is, it’s a classic and ideal model for a low budget star wars fan of any age, whether taking it into the lecture hall, or sitting retired at home watching the movies on loop.