“Power without the tower” indeed.
When the HP Z1 was first introduced back in April, it was a step in a new direction for workstation computing. Here indeed was an all-in-one system with workstation-class performance, that certainly brought ‘power without the tower’. But would this sleek all-in-one actually be able to stand against the likes of traditional tower workstations? The short answer is yes, but of course you’re going to need a little bit more detail than that.
Design & Build Quality
Lifting the Z1 out of its box was a somewhat immaculate moment, with the entire office crowding around to see this beautiful feat of engineering emerge from its cardboard and Styrofoam prison. The Z1 is packed entirely flat, so once removed all you do is press a button at the bottom and you’ll be able to tilt the screen forward to a regular viewing angle. The unit is quite heavy at about 21kg, so once this thing is setup you’re not going to be moving it around much.
Because this is an all-in-one system, everything is essentially built into the back of the screen, so it was vital for HP to make everything as sturdy and durable as possible. The hinge the supports the screen is freakishly strong, so no matter what varying angle you tilt the screen at, it stays put. You will require a decent amount of effort to adjust the Z1 – it’s not because it’s stiff, but just because the hinge has been designed so be as rigid and supportive as possible. Even though this is an all-in-one system, there’s no touchscreen here as users who would be using the Z1 would most likely be using some other kind of input system such as a tablet or just a regular keyboard and mouse. And if you want to really save on desk space, the Z1 is fully compatible with a standard VESA mount, so you can ditch the stand completely, although this may make upgrades and fixes a little bit tricky.
On the right side of the screen is where you’ll find the power button and slot-loading optical drive, as well as 2xUSB 3.0, 1 IEEE 1394a, Mic, Headphone, and 4-in-1 Media Card Reader. Hidden under the Z1’s hinge are the rest of the ports, including 4xUSB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, Line-In, Line-Out, Subwoofer, Display Port In/Out, and an SPDIF port. These rear ports are a bit hard to reach at times, so it’s best you plug in devices here that you’re not going to bother with such as peripherals, and use the side USB ports for things like flash storage. There’s no Thunderbolt port yet, but I imagine this will be something for HP to consider in the next generation of Z1. Also given the internal constraints of the Z1, you can only fit in one 3.5” HDD or two 2.5” drives – any additional storage you need will have to be in the form of an external drive. There’s also a hidden gem in the form of an internal USB port, which lets you plug in a security dongle or a wireless keyboard/mouse receiver and basically completely forget about it. Towards the bottom of the screen are the SRS Premium Sound, Dual-cone front-facing stereo speakers which deliver a rather impressive performance when the volume is cranked up.
The graphics card used in the Z1 is a custom one from nVidia, utilizing the Quadro M series due to the limited space inside. The choices include the Q500M , Q1000M, Q3000M and Q4000M depending on how much of graphics power you need under the hood. So because it’s a completely custom-designed card, you won’t be able to use any stock graphics cards in the Z1 – again HP reiterate that this was down to keeping the Z1 cool and quiet, as well as reducing power consumption.
While the Z1 does look stunning from the outside, it’s real beauty lies in its internals. By laying the Z1 flat and sliding two small buttons at the bottom of the screen, the Z1’s screen pops up like a car hood, and let’s you open it all the way up to expose the hardcore internals. It’s an ingenious design idea, and certainly one that went through a number of iterations before HP decided this was how they wanted the Z1 to open up.
HP prides itself on what they call the “Z-DNA”, which defines their workstation lineup. One aspect of this is the fact that all of HP’s workstations can be fully serviced without the need to remove a single screw. This is especially true of the Z1, where convenient green tags indicate what can be removed and replaced easily. From the power supply to the graphics card and hard drives, everything just needs a simple lift or pull and it comes right out without any hassles. This means that if literally any component here fails or needs to be upgrades, you simply ‘pop the hood’, replace what you want, close the screen, and you’re back in business. The only component that you can’t upgrade without unscrewing is of course the processor. Expansion here is limited to upgrading whatever components are inside, but there are mini-PCI-E sockets available should you need to slot in anything extra. Cable management is kept to an absolute minimum here, with most of the cables running out of sight behind the screen or under the motherboard. There are also several heat sensors attached all over the system, so you can constantly monitor your Z1’s temperatures if you’re doing anything taxing with it. There are also plenty of fans spread around the inside, which I’ll cover in more detail later on. And as a last design aesthetic, there’s a small hydraulic piston on the left hand side, so even if you should accidentally let go of the screen, it will slowly lower itself down and click shut without damaging the display.