The HP Spectre: What’s Inside This Ultra-Thin Laptop

With an innovative cooling system and battery design, this laptop packs a lot of power despite its super-slim size.

HP claims it has created the world’s thinnest laptop.

Normally when I hear that a company has made a superlative device, I don’t really care. I do like slim, stylish tech, but as an engineer, I usually value function over form.

The HP Spectre 13, 10.4 mm thin. (Image courtesy of HP.)

The HP Spectre 13, 10.4 mm thin. (Image courtesy of HP.)

However, it isn’t always necessary to sacrifice one for the other. This is the case with the HP Spectre. Most ultra-thin devices (like Apple’s newest MacBook) use Intel’s Core M series of processors, which are slower but less power-hungry and, most importantly, don’t get as hot.

The Spectre comes with a choice of a Core i5 or Core i7 processor, both of which are much more powerful—and much hotter. So how does HP beat the heat?

Hyperbaric Cooling

The key to keeping this laptop cool is a technology called hyperbaric cooling. The idea is that rather than simply pushing hot air out, the laptop uses its fans to pull cool air in, blow it over the motherboard and CPU and then push it out the vents.

This cooling system is theoretically more effective because of the nature of convective heat transfer, which is linearly proportional to the difference in temperature between the surface and fluid and, to a certain extent, is more effective with higher fluid velocities.

The HP Spectre pulls air in through its fans, then blows it over the processor and out the vents. (Image courtesy of HP, annotated by the author.)

The HP Spectre pulls air in through its fans, then blows it over the processor and out the vents. (Image courtesy of HP, annotated by the author.)

“Hyperbaric cooling” really just sounds like marketing jargon, but in this case there may be some technical merit. A chamber is hyperbaric if it has a pressure greater than atmospheric. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are used medicinally to treat decompression sickness (also known as diver’s disease or the bends) and carbon monoxide poisoning. The Spectre has its fans and CPU sealed off to create a hyperbaric chamber, increasing the pressure by sucking air in.

Regardless of what they call the technology, keeping this laptop cool is critical for its success, because a powerful Core i processor is worthless if its performance drops off due to overheating. All processors have a thermal design power (TDP) which is the maximum amount of heat the CPU generates when running typical applications.

The Core i processors in the Spectre have a TDP of 15W, while Core M processors only have a TDP of 4.5W, so there is much more heat to dissipate. If the CPU exceeds its specified TDP, overloading its cooling system, the CPU speed must be throttled down.

Broken-Up Batteries and Piston-Powered Hinges

Another noteworthy innovation in this laptop is its battery. Instead of a typical rectangular battery, the Spectre’s power source is split into four thinner and smaller pieces in order to maximize the available pockets of space. This design adds up to a total of 38 Wh, allowing the laptop to achieve nine and a half hours of runtime.

To make sure the lid isn’t floppy, HP drew inspiration from the design of high-end furniture. The Spectre has two mini pistons incorporated into each hinge, which should provide the necessary resistance for smooth and consistent opening and closing.


Spec Check

The HP Spectre comes with either an Intel Core i5-6200U (2 cores, 2.3 to 2.8 GHz, 3 MB cache) or an Intel Core i7-6500U (2 cores, 2.5 to 3.1 GHz, 4 MB cache) processor and Intel HD Graphics 520. The laptop has a 13.3” Gorilla Glass display, which is limited to a 1080p resolution—likely in an effort to preserve battery life.

In terms of memory, it comes with either 256 or 512 GB of PCIe-based SSD storage and 8 GB of RAM. The laptop also offers three USB Type-C ports (a big bonus over the single port found on the Macbook), two of which support Thunderbolt and all three of which can be used for charging. The HP Spectre starts at USD$1169.99 and at 10.4 mm thin and 2.45 pounds, it’s definitely not a back-breaker.

While it lacks some of the latest tech, such as 4K displays and touchscreens, it packs a solid processor and battery life into an impressively thin form factor. The Spectre may not have everything, but from this engineer’s perspective, it has the things that really matter and it’s a remarkable piece of tech.