HP released the next generation of their mobile workstations back in September 2013 and are the first model range of theirs to take advantage of the Haswell generation of Intel CPU, which is great news for the ‘mobility’ of these mobile workstations. This is also the first time HP have applied the ‘Z’ branding to their mobile workstations, so with that comes a new look for the units. I’ll be reviewing the 15” model since this is my new day to day rig, but it’s important to note that the range includes a 14” model which HP tout as the first ‘Ultrabook’ class workstation on the market.
- Optional HD Webcam
- 15.6 inch diagonal LED-backlit HD anti-glare display
- USB 3.0 ports (1 on side, 1 just around corner on the back), memory card reader, optical drive (select models), monitor port
- Finger print reader
- Spill-resistant keyboard
- Point stick
- Touchpad with scroll zone
- Security cable slot, USB 2.0 port, Thunderbolt port, DisplayPort, USB 3.0 charging port, Smart card reader, ExpressCard port
At first glance the HP ZBook has an entirely different appearance to its predecessor the Elitebook Mobile Workstations. But upon further inspection its clear the overall shape of the ZBook is an evolution of the Elitebook, this observation mainly comes from the side view and the way the hinge is mounted.
The front of the ZBook has been dramatically undercut giving it a much more lightweight appearance than the bulkier 8570w on the left. But it’s clear the genealogy of the ZBook is very similar when you compare the rear profiles, they use the same extremely sturdy hinge mechanism.
The advancement in display technology is evident in this image as well, the ZBook’s display appears as if it’s nearly half the thickness of the older model. Inevitably this continues to contribute to the more slim line footprint of the ZBook.
I was never a fan of how bulky the last generation of Elitebooks were, so combining this with the new contrasting rubber & satin metal finish lid really adds up to a stylish unit in my opinion. It’s not the most stylish laptop on the market, but this ZBook is a lot more capable in the Graphics department than most consumer laptops, so it has more gear to fit in as well as more hot air to get out. HP have done a great job here!
- Intel Core i7-4800MQ – 2.70GHz Quad Core, 6MB L3 Cache
- Intel QM87 (Lynx Point) Chipset
- 24GB DDR3 SDRAM, 800 MHz (PC3-12800) – 2x8GB & 2x4GB (expandable to 32GB)
- Intel HD Graphics 4600 – Integrated
- Nvidia Quadro K2100M – 2GB dedicated GDDR5
- Intel 520 Series 180GB SSD
- Display – 15.6″ diagonal LED-backlit UWVA eDP anti-glare (1920 x 1080)
- Windows 8 Pro
- Dimensions (w x d x h) 15 x 10.1 x 1.2 in OR 38.15 x 25.7 3.05 cm
- Weight 6.2lb, 2.82 kg
I’ve followed Design & Motion’s usual procedure with benchmarking our test machines. I have used the latest versions of the respective benchmarking tools however. So the results aren’t comparable to a certain degree.
- CPU (Single Core) = 143
- CPU = 613
- MP Ratio = 4.39
- OpenGL = 67.56 fps
- OpenGL Reference Match = 99.62%
All the tests were performed with a window size of 1900 x 1060. The following Composite scores for their relative Viewsets are listed below, with a historical test result from the Lenovo E31 in brackets.
- Catia-04 = 18.70 (Catia-03 = 17.75)
- Creo-01 = 18.48 (ProE-05 = 9.42)
- Energy-01 = 0.16
- Maya-04 = 15.61 (Maya-03 = 38.49)
- Medical-01 = 2.01
- Showcase-01 = 9.88
- SNX-02 = 19.96 (SNX-01 = 13.24)
- SWx-03 = 22.78 (SWx-02 = 34.37)
The Lenovo E31 was tested using SPECviewperf 11, so the tests used have now changed. Nevertheless it’s clear this is an apple to oranges comparison, but when you consider this is the mid-range HP mobile workstation against a high end desktop, I think it stacks up well. Interestingly I believe this test also shows how much more efficient the PTC Creo product is vs PTC ProE of old, since there is no way the HP ZBook would outperform the Lenovo E31.
SPECviewperf is by far the most relevant benchmarking tool of the 3 used here for workstation grade PC’s. To read more about what this benchmark puts these workstations through, you can shoot over to the SPECviewperf 12 page.
Real World Performance
I figured there are two simple tests Design & Motion can run on all the hardware we review from now on. Using Autodesk Inventor we can:
- Load a ‘normal’ sized model from Windows Explorer, cold starting Inventor while we do so.
- Run a ‘Good’ quality Ray Tracing job within Inventor. Best often takes too long
I had a bit of a think which dataset we could use to do this. It struck me fairly quickly that our own Gus Petrikas has a lovely car he designed inside Inventor, the ‘Petrikas P2’. While not a massive model, it does have a reasonably high level of detail using 644 file references of which 312 are unique.
So here goes Design & Motion’s first Petrikas P2 Inventor Benchmarking test:
A total time of 23 seconds isn’t too shabby. No doubt Gus will be quite jealous of that having had to open this thousands of times on his student grade laptop.
Right now for the Ray Trace test. I used the following settings & Environment:
This is the end result:
Based on my previous PC & the numerous times I’ve spent waiting for the ‘Good’ Ray Trace job to finish, 307 seconds is pretty good. I was suitably surprised if I’m honest.
I love this machine, I’ve never been a fan of super lightweight laptops. I want them to feel like they are sturdy, I want it to feel like it’s worth all that money I paid for it. It’s a grunty little beast, but if I was doing a lot of GPU intensive work every day, then I would need to stump up a fair few more dollars for the bigger Quadro cards only available in the ZBook 17 model.
Keyboards are very important to me and the ZBook has a great one. There is something odd about the placement of the delete, home & end keys though. It’s taken me nearly 2 months to get used to their positions. I seemed to constantly hit delete instead of home, it’s not just me either, since I’ve watched other ZBook noobs commit the same error.
I have a MacBook Pro at home, it’s a lovely piece of engineering. I’m not a fan of OSx but the one thing I have missed every time I’ve used a Windows based laptop is the incredible touchpad on the MacBook Pro. Apple really nailed the gestures on that baby. This ZBook is the first Windows laptop which has come close. The most common gestures found on Apple touchpads are found on these, in addition the Synaptics touchpad driver enables the user to customize the gestures to suit their preferences.
Unfortunately the HP ZBook has an Achilles heel. While it has wonderful Display Port & ThunderBolt connectivity, it doesn’t have a HDMI port. It does however have a VGA port. This means that most of the monitors sitting in offices around the world will have to use VGA to connect to the ZBook, unless of course you use an adaptor or purchase a HP docking station. Docking stations are nice, but I can’t really justify one for my home office. So I’m using a VGA cable to connection my 22” Acer LCD monitor for use as my second screen. This worked perfectly well on the HP Elitebook 8530w I had prior to this ZBook.
Just a quick comment about battery life. The stated duration for the HP Long Life 8-cell Li-Ion 75 Whr found in this unit is up to 14 hours, in practice it is no where near that long. I don’t think anyone really expects it would. Nevertheless, I have had it unplugged with a USB 3.0 external hard drive attached, running a Virtual Machine and a session of Autodesk Inventor along with various Office applications for a solid 5 hours without having to plug it in. I think I’m asking a lot of it by doing that, so to be fair to the ZBook it does pretty damn well out in the harsh reality of the working world.
Unfortunately, the ZBook’s VGA output is blurry to the point of it being quite tiring on the eyes at times. I’ve tried several different monitors of different resolutions; I’ve tested them while in the BIOS (still blurry) and spent well over 10 hours playing around with drivers.
HP have been very helpful, they’ve replaced a number of system components in the hope it would fix the issue. Last week I had the opportunity to test another HP ZBook 15 as it came into the office, which unfortunately turns out to have the same issue. Luckily for the recipient they will be running dual screens from the Display Port. The case is now with 2nd Level Support at HP, their first response was all their test ZBook’s in their lab aren’t exhibiting the issue. I managed to capture the following image comparing the quality of the ZBook display vs the 2nd monitor output via VGA:
Notice how each character has a ‘halo’ around it on the VGA output, but the Laptop Display produces sharp text so that the colour changes immediately from one pixel to the next. There’s no blurring.
Questions for HP
I had a few unanswered questions while writing this review, curiosity got the better of me. So I contacted HP to see if they could help out and they came through.
1. What were HP’s aims when they set out to develop the HP ZBook series?
We wanted to reinvent the mobile workstation and infuse it with the HP Z DNA that provides customers with the best performance and reliability for their mission-critical operations.
2. There’s some confusion about the version of Thunderbolt released with the ZBook… can you clarify if the coming update is a software or a hardware change?
The HP ZBook 15 and 17 offer Intel’s Thunderbolt technology for high-speed data transfer. Thunderbolt enables the most demanding data intensive workflows to incorporate external storage, video processing, and other high performance peripherals.
3. What would you say is the biggest innovation with the HP ZBook?
The new HP ZBook Mobile Workstations feature a new thinner and lighter industrial design. The HP ZBook 14 is in fact the first workstation to be recognized by Intel as an Ultrabook, weighing 1.62 kg and is 21mm thick. Packed into the thinner and lighter form factor are 4th Generation Intel® Haswell dual- and quad-core processor options, next-generation graphics technologies from NVIDIA and AMD. The ZBooks also feature innovative tool-free chassis for easy upgrades and serviceability.
4. In your opinion what is the future of Mobile Workstations?
We cannot give details on future product roadmaps but we are focused on designing our workstations to meet the rapidly evolving needs of the most compute-intensive industries where our customers operate in, to offer them differentiated value so they can be more productive and efficient.
5. What does the Z in the Z series of workstations stand for?
The HP Z sub-brand is a hallmark for professional products engineered to the highest performance and quality standards, for the most demanding computing and visualization needs.
6. Would HP like to comment on the HP ZBook 15 blurry VGA output issue?
*I haven’t received a reply from the HP PR department regarding this issue*
Despite the VGA output problem, this is a wonderful bit of kit. I enjoy using it every day & hopefully I will either get a new Display Port/ThunderBolt enabled monitor or a docking station in the not too distant future. It’s more than powerful enough to simultaneously run full blown CAD applications, photo/video editing software, as well as 2 or 3 Virtual Machines running servers of various types. I very rarely find myself waiting for it. I wouldn’t have minded 1 more USB 3.0 port though.
Oh and this is one of the prizes up for grabs in the Morgan Motor Company design advertisement competition. So if you like the look of it and fancy your chances, then just click through to the competition page via the advert either at the top or the bottom of this post. Earlier this week we posted a thorough tutorial on how to use Autodesk 3DS Max with iRay for this competition, so swing over and take a look.
I really do enjoy using this workstation, it fits nicely inside my Autodesk University shoulder bag with all my peripherals while weighing just the right amount for it to be hard to lose. I do have one bone to pick though, it seems the ‘Z’ doesn’t stand for Zombie! If it was a reference to the Zombies in World War Z then it would be no insult. Those things are badass & fast to boot!
Since writing this article HP have replaced my ZBook with a new one from a different supplier. The new one does output a much improved VGA signal, however it’s still not quite right. It is much more tolerable for day to day use, so I’m quite happy now. If you see this issue with your ZBook make sure you speak up & let HP know, they have a higher chance of finding a solution with more data. I’ve been told my old ZBook is being tested in HP’s lab, I look forward to hearing from them with an update on the issue.