The 2015 HP Envy 13, Two Weeks On

The 2015 HP Envy 13
The 2015 HP Envy 13

In my previous post i highlighted two weak points of the 2015 HP Envy 13. The first is the short battery life and the second is the heat. Two weeks on, i have now managed to get 7.30 hours of battery life while getting the laptop to run cooler. So here’s what i did.

Replacing Ubuntu with Kubuntu

Replacing Ubuntu with Kubuntu instantly decrease the heat and improve battery life. On an up-to-date installation with no tweaking whatsoever, i can instantly notice that the laptop ran cooler, it indicates lower use of processing resources. To investigate more further, i then have installed the latest PowerTOP (version 2.8) and it shows that Kubuntu operates with almost 2 watts less, making discharge rate when idling somewhere between 5.4 to 5.7 Watts. htop is also showing a calmer cpu usage with Kubuntu.

PowerTOP showing discharge rate of Envy 13 under Kubuntu.
PowerTOP showing discharge rate of Envy 13 under Kubuntu.

PowerTOP have a neat feature like --auto-tune that like its name will auto-tune the tunable options to their GOOD setting. However i don’t use this parameter at all, instead i use the latest laptop-mode-tools to do the job with probably added benefits. There is other popular power management utility such as TLP which unfortunately does not play well with the Envy 13, TLP produce a bug that triggered Kworker to use high CPU, hence the increasing heat and even shorter battery life are the obvious results.

Kubuntu Performance

I am quite familiar with Kubuntu, it provides me with an insight through the latest KDE release and new software since Hardy was released in 2008. I had my bad time when Kubuntu often crashes, but it was either the distribution itself or KDE 4 that’s being buggy.

But Kubuntu has mature up to the point i found it more stable and usable than Ubuntu with Unity. For the Envy 13, Kubuntu Wily with a little tweaking added almost 2 hours of extra battery life.

Some of the key points to maximize battery life is to to reduce screen brightness and using power efficient software. Luckily, the superb display quality of the Envy 13 makes 20% of brightness comfortable to use.

Applications will behave differently when it comes to power usage, one easiest example, Chrome on the 2015 13″ MacBook Pro drains battery quicker than Firefox, this is what i can confirm. On Linux this can slightly got worse, Two of the most popular Web Browser applications, chromium and firefox has not yet enable hardware decoding, you can see the screenshot of Firefox (45 alpha) below showing the H.264 Hardware Decoding is still not available.

Firefox still does not enable Hardware Decoding on Linux.
Firefox still does not enable Hardware Decoding on Linux.

One release notes from Firefox  Beta (44) indicates that it enables H.264 when the system decoder is available. But even with ffmpeg support already available on my system i still can’t get H.264 hardware decoding to work. The result is plain and simple, playing YouTube video will use high CPU, somewhere between 50-60% when streaming 720p video.

However, there is a developer build with enabled hardware decoding on Chromium, the build performs better than Firefox but when compare to MPV, Chromium CPU usage for video playback is still high.

MPV plays a 4K Video with only 15% of CPU, this was achieved by enabling vaapi parameters, mpv --hwdec=vaapi --vo=vaapiHere’s the comparison of the three.

MPV use 15% of CPU power when playing 4K video. The result is from htop while KSysGuard reporting 6% of CPU usage.
MPV use 15% of CPU power when playing 4K video. The result is from htop while KSysGuard reporting 6% of CPU usage.
Firefox 45 Alpha Streaming YouTube video
Firefox 45 Alpha Streaming YouTube video
Chrome 48 Developer Build Streaming YouTube video
Chrome 48 Saiarcot895 Build Streaming YouTube video

Kubuntu seems to be buggy by the time it was released but as of today after a lot of upgrade, a lot of annoyance was also ironed out. It is important to note that an up-to-date installation is required for added security and stability. Considering the readiness of KDE 5/Plasma 5 for daily use, with errata i think it is ready for prime time.

Final Words

In the case of battery capacity that HP put in this laptop somehow referencing a test conducted by Intel for their new Skylake processor. In this publication, Intel claimed to secure up-to 10 hours of battery life but that’s on a 1920×1080 or FHD screen. Now because the 2015 HP Envy 13 i own equipped with 3200X1800 or QHD+ screen, the up-to 10 hours of battery life will be impossible to achieve.

For me the given 3-cell 45Wh battery on the Envy 13 is not generous enough. Two of the most popular Ultrabook , the 2015 13″ MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13 are equipped with 74.9 Wh and 52 Wh battery respectively. In 2016 when the new MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13 are going to be powered by the new Skylake processor and probably a bump on its battery capacity, i’d be wiling to bet that those laptops will be advertised to have 13 to 15 hours of battery life and this will make the battery life of the Envy 13 just a half of them.

The idea of having long battery life is one of the consideration when i’m going to buy a new laptop, because the availability of power source in public area, campus or even inside a cafe is limited at least here in Indonesia where i live. I don’t regret buying the 2015 HP Envy 13, it is the other best purchase i’ve ever made after Nexus 5. But i got to forget the idea of leaving the charger at home, with 7 hour and 30 minutes of battery life it is better to keep the charger in my bag, just in case i need to use it.

Happy Holidays!

Giri Alam
My name is Giri Alam Wigunnara. I live in the beautiful, yet hectic city of Bandung in Indonesia. I am currently a graduate student at Parahyangan Catholic University studying International Relations. Besides politics, my other interest is in open source technology. I have been a Linux user since 2007, and have contributed to several open source projects since then. I enjoy blues music and old movies. Recently I have travelled widely around the ten ASEAN nations, as I see great potential in them and together with some friends, I export and import spices, fruits and leather into the region.