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HP Envy x360 15 (2021) review: A big convertible that ticks the right boxes

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HP Envy x360 15 (2021) review: A big convertible that ticks the right boxes

Ryzen shines in this plus-sized convertible laptop, but the bigger screen has its downsides.

hpenvyx360hero

Jared Newman / IDG

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  • HP Envy x360 15 (2021) eu0097nr

The HP Envy x360 15 is something of an odd duck in the laptop world. You don’t see a lot of 15-inch laptops with touchscreens that flip into tablet mode, perhaps because of the performance and weight compromises. Laptops of this size also often include discrete graphics cards, while most Envy x360 15 variants do not.

Still, the Envy x360 15 manages to hold its own. Its $1,000 list price is reasonable given its specs. Even if the convertible design isn’t of much interest, the Envy x360 15 is still worth considering as an attractive 15-inch laptop in this price range.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing models and how we tested them.

There’s one caveat: At the time this review posted, the available Envy x360 15 models offered a display with a maximum brightness of 250 nits. The screen in the one we tested has a maximum brightness of 400 nits. For instance, this similar model that’s $990 at Best Buy has the dimmer display. Blame the pandemic for supply and shipping issues. Any Envy x360 15 you buy should function about the same otherwise, but you may want to wait for the brighter screen if you work outdoors or in bright indoor conditions.

Tech specs

Our HP Envy x360 15 review unit, which lists for $1,000 on HP.com (when available), includes the following specs:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5700U
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4-3200
  • Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
  • Display: 15.6-inch 1080p touchscreen (400 nits’ maximum brightness)
  • Webcam: 720p 
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Connectivity, left side: USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (SuperSpeed 10Gbps), USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 (SuperSpeed 5Gbps), headphone jack, HDMI 2.0
  • Connectivity, right side: Power adapter, USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 (SuperSpeed 5Gbps), SD card reader
  • Dimensions: 14.13 x 8.98 x 0.72 inches
  • Weight: 4.11 pounds (4.71 with power brick)
hpenvyx360right Jared Newman / IDG

No dongles necessary here; the full-sized SD card slot lets you back up your camera photos at will.

Like many other HP laptops, the Envy x360 15 is highly configurable. There are versions with as little as 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and with the 250-nit and 400-nit display options, as noted above. Intel variants are available as well, including ones with Nvidia GeForce MX450 graphics.

Some models also have dedicated number pads—our unit does not—and HP continues to sell models with AMD’s Ryzen 4000-series CPUs. (Note, however, that the 5700U CPU reviewed here uses AMD’s older Zen 2 architecture.) Pay extra-close attention to the configuration you’re buying, as the tech specs and corresponding experience can vary.

hpenvyx360left Jared Newman / IDG

HDMI 2.0 is a nice inclusion, letting you hook up to 4K TVs and monitors without issue.

One constant: All the laptops have great port selections, including two high-speed USB-A ports, USB-C, HDMI 2.0, and a full-sized SD card slot. HP’s inclusion of a 65W barrel charger is a bit disappointing given that this is still a relatively lightweight PC, but the laptop does accept a charge via its sole USB-C port if you bring your own charger.

Design and display

Compared to HP’s high-end Spectre series, Envy laptops tend to be more reserved in their designs. There’s no “gem-cut” pattern or gold trim, but you still get a sturdy aluminum chassis and edge-to-edge display glass. Our unit came in dark gray, though HP also sells versions in silver and pale gold.

At 4.11 pounds, the Envy is considerably heavier and bulkier than convertible laptops with 13- or 14-inch displays, and it won’t fit easily into small-to-medium travel bags. That means you must think long and hard about whether the extra screen real estate is worth the sacrifice in portability.

hpenvyx360tablet Jared Newman / IDG

The Envy x360 15’s touchscreen can fold all the way back into tablet mode—a rarity on laptops of this size.

The display has its ups and downs. All Envy x360 models include 1920×1080 resolution screens, with no options for 1440p or 4K. You’ll notice the pixilation on that 15-inch panel more than you would on laptops with smaller screens. The display touts 100-percent sRGB color gamut support, however, and the peak brightness of 400 nits on our unit is just enough to stay legible outdoors on a sunny day. 

Keyboard and trackpad

Typing is a pleasure on the HP Envy x360’s backlit keyboard. The keys give off a satisfying tactile bump, and they actuate even if you hit just the corner of a key with your fingernail. That means you won’t run into typing mistakes by not hitting a key at dead center. It’s not a totally silent typing experience, though: While the main keys are quiet, the spacebar and backspace keys are on the clicky side.

Again, note that our review unit has no numerical pad, so the keyboard is centered with speakers on either side. Excel pros may want to seek out the alternate keyboard, but the design on our unit is much better for everyday writing, and southpaws may appreciate its centered trackpad.

hpenvyx360keys Jared Newman / IDG

The Envy x360 15 keyboard has a great layout and is comfy to type on, provided you don’t need a number pad.

HP should also get some credit for stretching its trackpad to take advantage of the 15-inch laptop’s large footprint. While the click mechanism has the same affliction as most Windows laptops do—it gets harder to click near the top edge—that becomes less of an issue when you have more surface area to click on in the first place. The trackpad also has a super-smooth surface and supports Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad features, such as three-finger swipes to expose the desktop or the multitasking menu.

Webcam, security, audio

Now we get to the part of the review that’s pretty much the same across all higher-end Windows laptops. Middling 720p webcam? Check. Fingerprint reader? Check. Privacy shutter for the camera? Check.

Yes, the HP Envy x360 15 has all of those things, though it’s worth noting the particular way HP implements its privacy features: Instead of a shutter that you physically slide over the camera, the Envy x360 15 keyboard has convenient kill switch keys for both the camera and the microphone. Hitting the former does in fact throw up a visible cover over the webcam, while the latter amounts to an easy way to mute yourself on Zoom calls. Both keys also have indicator lights to prevent accidental muting.

hpenvyx360camera Jared Newman / IDG

Press the keyboard’s camera kill switch, and a white cover pops into place.

As for audio, the Envy x360’s speakers pack a decent punch, though they don’t sound particularly crisp and you won’t notice a big bass response. The laptop’s dual microphones are more of a standout, producing loud and clear audio for videoconferencing.

A bloatware disclaimer

While preloaded software is a standard part of the Windows laptop experience, HP still deserves some scorn for having more annoying bloatware than most. After setup, you’re bombarded with annoying notifications, including a nag to use Dropbox and an attempt to change your default search engine. McAfee antivirus is pre-loaded, but merely uninstalling the core program doesn’t remove all the company’s software–you have to remove a separate Web Advisor program to keep the company from scanning your downloads. The company also appears to add its own bookmarks to Microsoft Edge.

All these annoyances can be removed, of course, but they make an otherwise pleasant laptop feel decidedly user-hostile out of the gate. HP should really consider scaling back some of this stuff.

Performance

AMD is no bit player in the HP Envy x360 15 experience. In our review unit, the Ryzen 7 5700U CPU turned in impressive benchmark scores for productivity, and the integrated Radeon graphics can handle some lightweight 3D gaming.

In PCMark 10, which simulates a range of productivity tasks, the Envy x360 15 maintained a slight edge over several laptops with Intel’s 11th-gen Core i7 processors, with a score of 5,337. Interestingly, the Envy x360 posted a subpar score in the “Video Editing” section of this benchmark—3,577, versus 4,769 for HP’s Intel-powered Spectre x360. Other benchmarks that follow seem to save this content creation laptop’s reputation.

hpenvyx36015pcmark10 Jared Newman / IDG

The HP Envy x360 15’s Ryzen 7 CPU edges out several Intel machines in PCMark10’s productivity test.

The Envy x360 15 made remarkably quick work of encoding a large video file using the free HandBrake utility. It got the job done in 26 minutes and 15 seconds, more than 10 minutes faster than similarly equipped laptops with Intel Core i7 processors. Ryzen’s eight-core processor should make it well-suited for video encoding, and the larger chassis gives it more room to disperse heat during heavy workloads compared to 13- or 14-inch laptops. Note that HP also includes air vents along the Envy x360 15’s back edge, which keeps the laptop from blowing too much hot air onto your lap.

hpenvyx36015handbrake Jared Newman / IDG

For video encoding, the eight cores of Ryzen 7 demolish quad-core Intel processors.

If HandBrake is a marathon, Cinebench is a sprint, a burst of CPU activity that we test in both single-threaded mode, which reflects the needs of most mainstream applications, and multi-threaded mode, which resembles the demands of more intensive applications such as video editing. To its credit, the laptop’s multi-threaded score was well beyond that of any Intel-powered laptop. Single-threaded performance fell back to the middle of the pack.

hpenvyx36015cinebench Jared Newman / IDG

The HP Envy x360 15 shines in Cinebench’s multi-threaded test, though single-threaded performance is average.

For gaming, machines with Intel Xe graphics maintain an edge over the Envy x360’s integrated Radeon, as you can see in 3DMark’s Time Spy test. Even so, HP’s laptop can eke out some gaming in a pinch if you manage your expectations. Fortnite ran at a smooth 60 frames per second for me at 1080p with medium graphics settings. To my surprise, Hideo Kojima’s post-apocalyptic head-trip Death Stranding was just barely playable at 720p on low settings.

hpenvyx36015timespy Jared Newman / IDG

Both Intel and AMD talk a big game about their integrated graphics these days, so we couldn’t resist throwing in a discrete GPU for comparison.

Just don’t expect stellar battery life. The HP Envy x360 15 lasted for 10 hours and 5 minutes in our looping video rundown test. That’s not bad for a 15-inch laptop, but you can see from our comparison chart how smaller laptops tend to last longer, even with similar battery sizes. (Both the Envy x360 15 and the Envy 14 have design capacities of roughly 51Whr, yet the smaller laptop lasted five hours longer.)

hpenvyx36015battery Jared Newman / IDG

Ten hours of looping video playback should equate to a having a chunk of your workday on battery power, but you’ll probably need a top-up toward the end.

All this adds up to a solid value for a 15-inch laptop, especially when you factor in the 16GB of RAM and 512GB of solid state storage as reviewed. The HP Envy x360 15 performs well, has an attractive design, and includes both a great keyboard and a nice array of ports. The convertible touchscreen is just icing, even if it adds a bit of bulk.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

  • HP Envy x360 15 (2021) eu0097nr

    Ryzen shines in this plus-sized convertible laptop, though the bigger screen has its downsides.

    Pros

    • Great performance for the money
    • Slick, understated aluminum design
    • Ample selection of ports

    Cons

    • Bloatware is annoying
    • No display options greater than 1080p
    • Average battery life

Jared Newman covers personal technology from his remote Cincinnati outpost. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for help with ditching cable or satellite TV.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

Updated

The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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Table of Contents

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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