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HP Z1 Workstation Review

By on August 1, 2012
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“Power without the tower” indeed.

Good: Easy to access internal components, space-saving, great screen quality, quiet performance, GPU acceleration is a big bonus
Bad: Screen can be quite glossy at times, dual HDDs need to be 2.5”
Price: AED 10,200
* The price is the Suggested Retail Price at the time of review. Please call a retailer to confirm the latest price for this product.

Performance & Benchmarks

Since this is a professional-grade system, the amount of bundled software on the Z1 was at a bare minimum. There are a few HP utilities and a trial copy of Office 2010, but that’s about it – the last thing you want on a system this expensive is to have a million trial apps running in the background. HP does include software that couples with its Chassis Intrusion Sensor to detect theft or if someone has been fiddling about with the internals of the Z1, which is quite cool.

Boot times from the Windows 7 logo to the desktop was about 41 seconds which I can hardly complain about given the quick number of checks the Z1 does before firing up the bootloader. I wouldn’t advise turning on the sleep function of Windows as the last thing you want to happen when you’ve left your Z1 to render something is for it to stop halfway and tuck itself in for a nice power nap.

For continuity, I ran our standard benchmark suites which would seem almost trivial to the Z1. Performance was fairly good compared to similarly specced desktops, but I was more interested in the workstation tests that I would run later. Here’s what the Z1 scored in our usual benchmarks:

As with the Z800, I ran SPECviewperf 11 to run through a series of 3D tests that would really test both the CPU and GPU not in terms of framerates, but in terms of the number of calculations it could pull off. Each test involved a very taxing model being re-rendered and rotated before more layers were added to the model and the process was repeated.

To compare, I matched the Z1 with my previous tests with the Z800 (2.0 GB DDR3 666MHz SDRAM of RAM, 2 x Intel Xeon CPU X5650 @ 2.67GHz, 500GB (7200) SATA HDD, nVidia Quadro 4000) as well as a custom-built rig that we had in the office (Intel i7 3960X CPU @ 3.3GHz, 16GB DDR3 RAM, AMD HD 7970 2GB, 128GB OCZ Vertex 4 SSD).

It’s a bit unfair to look at the figures between the Z800 and Z1 purely because the two have very different specifications. However even with our custom machine having some fairly decent internals, it wasn’t able to keep up with most of the tests which were very computing-intensive and produced some of the slowest renderings I’ve seen yet. The Z1 however was able to sail through with its specifications, and ran all of the test without any issues.

My next test was with Adobe Premier Pro 5.5, which really took the cake. I took at 1080p rip of the movie ‘300’ (what else?) and cut it down to only the first 15 minutes of the film. I then applied various color correction filters and effects, and then rendered the entire clip back out at full HD at max settings. Now one nifty thing about the Z1 is that it allows programs like Premier Pro to use the GPU to help renders, thus drastically cutting down render times. Using the “Mercury Playback GPU Playback Acceleration” renderer, I was able to export the entire clip in a little under 31 minutes. I then re-rendered the clip with the exact same settings, but chose the default “Mercury Playback Software Only” renderer. This time, the 15 minute clip took a whopping 2 hrs and 51 minutes to output, so it’s not difficult to see the advantages of programs tapping into the nVidia GPU core. Other tasks were also quite easy to handle for the Z1 – ripping a DVD onto the hard drive took about 9 minutes to finish, and rendering my sample dragon model (120,844 faces) in Maya took about 2 seconds to spit out a high quality JPEG at full resolution.

Screen

The 27” screen of the Z1 is an absolute joy to work on, sporting a comfortable resolution of 2,560×1,440. The Z1 uses the same LED-backlit IPS panel that’s built into HP’s DreamColor monitor, which is often used in the media and production industry to display colors as accurately as possible. You can also use the included DisplayPort to further extend the Z1, and when mounted on a VESA mount it makes for a truly spectacular desktop space. The only downside is that the screen is quite glossy, so while it looks bright and displays colors well, it may be hard to use if you’re near a window or have any direct lights shining on the display.

HP have also included a handy HD 1080p 2.0 megapixel webcam at the top of the screen, which can be titled up and down by a tiny scroll at the top, so no matter what angle you’ve got the Z1 at, you can comfortable use the camera.

Heat & Noise Levels

The biggest challenge that HP would face with the Z1 was keeping it cool. There are a number of fans running inside the Z1 which are larger than standard cooling fans found in other machines. These large fans are able to spin at a slower rate than their smaller counterparts while still producing the same amount of ventilation, so you no matter what you’re doing on the Z1, you will never hear the fans kick into high gear.

The Z1’s CPU registered an average temperature of about 82C during our tests, dropping down to 78C when idle. Most of the Z1’s heat is expelled through the top of the unit, so beware of plenty of hot air escaping from the top – make sure you don’t position the Z1 under a low shelf or you’ll certainly disrupt the cooling levels. The Z1 was also quite warm near the left side of the screen where the processor is located, so overall the unit can get a little bit lukewarm at times. But given that this much power is crammed into an all-in-one system, HP have still done a very good job in keeping things quiet and as cool as possible.

Conclusion

So who is the Z1 really targeted to? The simple answer is anyone who’s looking to buy a workstation who needs some serious performance but doesn’t necessarily have the space for a full-fledged tower unit. The Z1 is certainly a no-brainer for anyone in media production who needs the screen real-estate and color quality that’s on offer. The Z1 is easy to upgrade and configure, and certainly is able to deliver workstation-grade performance in a sleek and space-saving form.

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About

A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys hurling fireballs and tinkering with the latest gadgets. Follow him on Twitter as @theregos

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