Well-designed case with plenty of room to expand. Lots of customization options.
Slower than similarly configured PCs.
- Bottom Line
Gamers who admire the HP Omen Desktop's smart-looking case will appreciate that it's configurable to suit a range of budgets and power needs, even if it's not the best blend of price and performance.
Everything you can see and touch on the HP Omen Desktop (880-025se) (starts at $799; $1,399 as tested) is eminently satisfying, from the window that invites admiring, lustful gazes deep into the chassis to the etched plastic that covers the top and most of the front of the sculpted, appropriately aggressive-looking case. This is not a boring tower desktop into which HP stuffs a graphics card, lights, and logos. Since it won't likely leave your den to strut its stuff, though, it's the performance that matters more. That is going to depend on how you configure it; the gaming performance of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070-powered unit I tested is adequate, but some of its midrange gaming desktop competitors can do better, including the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition, which remains our Editors' Choice for budget gaming desktops.
A Peek Inside
Unlike the radical design of the HP Omen X, a grey cube that balances on one of its edges and strives to be a piece of modern art, the Omen is simply a regular desktop case with two notches cut out of the top and bottom of the front edge. The top notch is much bigger than the bottom, and it houses the front I/O panel along with access doors for two of the four hard drive bays. To access the bays, you flip open the doors, unlock the drive sleds beneath, and pull them out using the included fabric tabs, which are embossed with the Omen logo. It's an impressive bit of engineering, even if it is ostentatious. The whole thing measures 16.4 by 17.4 by 7.6 inches (HWD).
The front ports include an SD card reader, two USB-C ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, and an audio input jack. They're all on the right-hand side of the notch, and balancing them out on the left-hand side are silver letters arranged vertically that spell out the Omen name. Below the ports, on the vertical section of the case's front, is the door for the DVD-RW drive. You apply pressure to the top of the drawer to release the drive tray.
At the top front of the case, there's a convenient built-in carrying handle (although there's no holder for a gaming headset). At the rear, you'll find the locking mechanism for the case cover, which requires no tools to open. While the cover includes a transparent window and the interior of the Omen is lit with red LEDs while it's powered on, the window is tinted, which means you don't get a good glimpse of the components until you open the case.
The ability to peer into your gaming PC through a transparent case is a matter of personal preference, of course, although I find the Omen's design to be an intriguing compromise between the completely transparent cases of high-end gaming machines like the Origin Neuron and the ordinary opaque, grey plastic of the XPS Tower Special Edition, which is first and foremost a general-purpose PC.
Once you open the cover, you'll find plenty of space between the components for easy access. The most important bits are front and center on the motherboard: the GTX 1070, along with four memory slots (two of which are filled with 8GB modules on my test unit) and a 256GB M.2 SSD. To the right of the motherboard are the two 3.5-inch externally accessible drive slots mentioned earlier, and there are two more at the bottom of the case, one of which is occupied by a 2TB 7,200RPM hard drive. This storage arrangement is an ideal setup for a gaming PC, since you can store most of your collection on the larger spinning drive and move a few titles that you're currently playing to the SSD.
Around back, you'll find four USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports for connecting mice, keyboards, or other peripherals that don't require fast data transfers. On the GTX 1070 itself there are plenty of display outputs for single or multiple monitor setups, including three DisplayPort connectors, an HDMI port, and a DVI output. Rounding out the port selection are audio line out and in jacks, a headphone jack, and a gigabit Ethernet port.
Wired, Wireless, or Both?
You'll certainly want to use a wired network connection for gaming, but it's nice that the Omen also includes 802.11ac and Bluetooth wireless radios in addition to the Ethernet ports. If you connect to the internet via Wi-Fi and Ethernet simultaneously, you can use HP's Omen Command Center software utility to send gaming traffic over the faster of the two connections (likely the wired one), and relegate everything else to the slower one (likely Wi-Fi). The resulting decrease in latency could make online gameplay much more enjoyable if you're one of the many people who have a finicky router or an unreliable internet service provider. The utility is informative and easy to use, offering stats on each app's network prioritization and data usage and how much total bandwidth you're consuming.
The Omen is eminently customizable, with a wide range of processor, storage, and memory combinations. Although the unit I tested includes a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, you can also choose one of the latest eighth-generation Intel CPUs or AMD's new Ryzen processors. The graphics card menu is equally diverse, ranging from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 to dual GTX 1080s. AMD's Radeon cards are also available. Some of the processor options are overclockable, although the 3.6GHz Core i7-7700 in my test unit is not. If you choose one that is, you can manage the clock speed using the Omen Command Center. The upshot of all these options is that if the Omen's case design catches your eye, HP will sell it to you as a budget tower, a midrange gaming rig good for games with less-demanding graphics, or a performance powerhouse.
HP includes a basic USB optical mouse and keyboard with the Omen, neither of which are suited for gaming. You'd do much better to configure the system with HP's own Omen-branded mouse and mechanical keyboard for a $100 premium, or plug in your own gaming mouse and keyboard. The Omen comes with a one-year hardware warranty and 90 days of phone support.
A Good Performer for the Price
Although the HP Omen seeks to be all things to all gamers, the version I tested is quite clearly aimed at gamers on a budget who still want a machine capable of playing the latest AAA titles, so I pitted it against three of its closest competitors priced at about $1,500. In addition to the XPS Tower Special Edition, the lineup includes the iBuyPower Snowblind Pro and the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y710 Cube. Each of these PCs sport a GTX 1070 with 8GB of dedicated memory and Core i7 processors from Intel's seventh generation, except for the sixth-gen Core i7 found in the IdeaCentre.
On the Fire Strike Extreme benchmark, a test that truly taxes the graphics subsystem, the Omen achieved a respectable score of 7,706. That's quite a bit lower than the Snowblind Pro's 8,333, but at least it's not the lowest score of 7,582, which belongs to the Lenovo. Fire Strike Extreme serves up theoretical, proprietary benchmark scores, so for a more real-world look at how the Omen renders actual games I ran the Heaven and Valley gaming simulations. Each of the desktops performed admirably, with frame rates hovering around 100 frames per second (fps) on both simulations running at Ultra quality and 1080p resolution. The Snowblind Pro took top honors again here, however, and the difference between its average score of 114fps on the Heaven test and the Omen's 102fps could be a deal-breaker for some gamers.
Note that none of the systems are capable of immersive 4K gaming, since each scored 30fps or lower on the Heaven and Valley tests at 4K resolution.
The Omen will work fine as a general purpose PC. It's not as quick on our multimedia editing tests as the XPS Tower Special Edition is, but it completed our Handbrake video-encoding task in 52 seconds, which means it's hardly pokey. On the all-encompassing PCMark 8 Work Conventional benchmark, which measures web browsing, video conferencing, and other common PC tasks, the Omen's score of 3,750 is near the bottom of a narrow range, which tops out with the XPS's score of 3,977.
It's Mostly About the Looks
The HP Omen's main strengths are its looks—sure to seduce people who love well-organized and well-equipped PC innards—as well as its exhaustive array of configurable options. In the configuration of my test unit, a budget gaming machine that can moonlight as a powerful content creation tool, the Omen gets the job done even if it does drop a few frames compared with its similarly priced competitiors. Buying one, then, really comes down to a matter of taste. If the sleek case wins you over, ostentatious flair and all, then there's little reason not to buy it, since pretty much everything else is customizable. On the other hand, if you know your gaming PC budget down to the last cent and you don't care much about looks, there are better-value desktops out there, including the iBuyPower Snowblind Pro and the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition.
As a hardware analyst, Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups. Before that, he worked for PCMag's sister site, Computer Shopper, where he occasionally dunked waterproof hard drives in glasses of water. In his spare time, he's written on topics as… More »
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