I’m always interested when it comes time for HP to show a batch of new workstations. While others are excited to know what is happening in tablets and smartphones, workstations are part of what I need to keep up to date with so I can do my job.
HP’s Z series of workstations lead the industry in power and performance, and happen to be my preference for high-end production work such as 3D animation, compositing, visual effects and editing.
Last year they debuted that potent beast of a machine the Z820, as well as the Z1, a powerful All-in-One workstation that pops open, not unlike the hood of a car, making it easy to swap out parts as you need.
So when HP’s Workstation Group came to town recently for their annual show of new gear, I knew I’d be there.
This year, HP’s workstation rollout at New York’s Sheraton Hotel began with an entertaining, once over lightly look at how Disney uses HP workstations in the creation of everything from their theme parks to their animated movies. But the real draw came next: three new HP ZBook mobile workstations, significant enhancements to the desktop workstations and two new HP Z displays. (Nice choice of name on the ZBooks, by the way. Simple and memorable.)
The ZBooks, HP’s new line of Mobile Workstations, represent a significant reinvention of power on the go. That makes sense, because in today’s mobile on-the-go society you’ll never know where you’ll be working on a film or video production from Indie projects to Hollywood features. As part of the workstation division, the new laptops incorporate what HP refers to as “Z DNA” with the workstations, including stylistic consistency, tool-less serviceability, and powerful graphics.
HP’s previous line of mobile workstations, the EliteBooks, were fine machines and roadworthy workhorses, but the new gear feels all of a piece with the workstations. If you’re curious about what goes into an EliteBook in order to do a little comparison, see my review of the 8760w here.
The laptops series debuts with three models initially, with numbers indicating screen diameter: the HP ZBook 14, a compelling small form factor mobile workstation that HP is calling the first Workstation Ultrabook, as well as their heavier-duty siblings the HP ZBook 15 and ZBook 17.
Since I’m the kind of guy who is always interested in ultimate power, my attention was primarily drawn to the top-shelf HP ZBook 15 and ZBook 17, but the exciting innovations represented in the Z Book 14 are worth your consideration.
By partnering again with BMW Designworks, the entire ZBook line features a sleeker industrial look that shows HP isn’t ceding any more room to Apple in that category. Dark and thin, the laptops are sure to please you aesthetically, but how do they measure up performance-wise?
The new ZBooks feature 4th generation Intel Haswell dual and quad-core processor options. Haswell, the successor to the popular Ivy Bridge series, uses 22nm circuitry to offer better power saving from the start. You’ll also find Nvidia’s latest generation graphics technologies including the new Keplar-based pro graphics on the ZBook 15 and ZBook 17. The ZBook 14 deploys AMD Firepro graphics.
A Thunderbolt port is one of the most compelling additions to the mobile workstations; it’s found on the 15 and 17 models. While the previous Elitebook Mobile Workstations included a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port with top (theoretical) throughput of 5 Gbs, at 10 GBs the Thunderbolt is twice as fast.
When you’re out on a shoot, you don’t want to be sitting around waiting for your footage to transfer over to your computer. The addition of Thunderbolt to the ZBooks solves that, allowing you to use external storage arrays and improving transfers of high-res footage from the latest digital video cameras. You’ll also find three USB 3.0 ports (including one with added power to act as a charging port), along with a DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 2.0 ports for compatibility with older devices.
In addition, the HP ZBook 15 and ZBook 17 come with an option for a DreamColor display panel, ideal for color critical work including final color approval. If you’re involved in color grading, compositing, visual effects or any discipline where color is important, consider a DreamColor display more than just a standard option – it’s crucial.
The HP ZBook 15 also has an option for a super-high-resolution QHD+ (3,200px X 1800px) display — very useful if you are working in 2K and 4K. While you might find a larger monitor better suited for the task, such a display is also great if you are painting high-resolution texture maps and digital matte paintings.
If you’re serious about on set production, you’ll also like that you can hold so much of your work in one place as the ZBook 17 holds up to four internal hard drives or SSDs. That’s up to a maximum 3TB of storage. Put your OS on one drive and RAID the other three together. Pretty awesome, in my opinion.
The Z series are unique for their tool-less serviceability and the ZBooks continue with this tradition. Opening the machine, changing hard drives, upgrading memory and so on is easily done with no tools needed.
There is a lot to like in the ZBook 15 and 17, especially if you crave power and speed. However, as mentioned, the ZBook 14 is worth considering for its easy to handle weight and size.
If you’re looking for a machine that you can tuck under your arm and take it to the coffee shop, or along on a long weekend without weighing you down, you’ll find it in the HP ZBook 14, the Mobile Workstation Ultrabook. At just 3.5 pounds, you’ll be able to take this amazingly light machine with you everywhere you go and still get serious work done. With the ZBook 14, you’ll never have to wrestle with that old question “I wonder if I should take my computer with me”, you’ll just take it.
Thin and sleek, the ZBook 14 is a welcome addition to the Z series, and represents an innovative new class of machine, the WorkStation UltraBook. In addition, the ZBook 14 comes with an option for a touch-enabled panel, an attractive option for people who may be looking for a tablet-like experience.
HP’s flagship Z series of desktop workstations–the HP Z420, Z620, and the top-tier Z820–receive a fair share of enhancements and upgrades. You’ll find these as the machines of choice in high power environments such as motion picture production studios, color houses, editing facilities and animation companies.
The Z Series Workstations have been upgraded to the latest Intel Ivy Bridge processors, the Xeon E5-1600v2 and E5-2600v2 families. Like the Haswell series, these feature more power efficient 22nm pathways, as well as features like new gen turbo technology (extra processing power instantly as needed).
In addition the machines now use 1866 MHz RAM, which runs 16 percent faster than before, a decent bump in performance.
Another really hot feature of the desktops are its Thunderbolt 2 ports. While the previous version of Thunderbolt was fast at 10 Gbs, Thunderbolt 2 virtually screams at 20 Gbs. That’s outrageously fast folks, and a whopping 4X faster than the latest more generic interface, USB 3.0
As HP mentioned during their presentation, Thunderbolt 2’s speed is practically like having another external PCIe bus. With T2, you can work more easily in high-res cinematic formats, attach multiple GPUs in external boxes, attach RAIDs, you name it. Want to play back uncompressed 4K? Not a problem.
The new Xeons feature 12 cores, or a whopping 24 physical cores of processing power in a dual socket Z820. Again, apps have to be threaded efficiently to make use of all of these. The Z820 will also support up to 512 GB of ECC memory – you should be so rich — and up to 15 TB of high-speed storage.
If you’re involved in graphics and effects, you’ll be most impressed the Z820’s ability to trick out with up to two of Nvidia’s latest Quadro K6000 graphics cards. The new Quadro K6000 doubles the graphics performance of its previous top Nvidia 6000 GPU and deploys a stunning 12 GB, DDR5 RAM frame buffer, Kepler technology, and four display outputs at up to 4K. These days, the GPU is becoming central to the workstation computing and the ability to put two K6000s in a Z820 is enough to make me, well, downright giddy.
The new HP Z27i and Z30i IPS Gen 2 Displays are well suited to the demands of HP’s Z series. At, you guessed it, 27- and 30 inches, they are good bets for all kinds of creative work, and provide HP’s usual rugged reliability and excellent color image accuracy. Not only do the Z27i and Z30i provide 100 percent coverage of the sRGB color space, but the Z30i also covers 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color space (used in professional photography and production workflows).
The IPS Gen 2 technology delivers a power savings of up to 37 percent less than HP’s IPS Gen 1 displays without sacrificing quality across wide viewing angles. Desk jockeys will like that the displays feature a four-way adjustable stand with a quick release.
HP does workstations right and that’s probably why they are number one in the market. They are the only leading manufacturer still putting in the time, money and effort to deliver workstations for the demanding challenges that face those of us who require the utmost in power and performance and is dedicated to making the Z family of desktop workstations, mobile workstations and displays evolve to meet those challenges.
Rather than shrinking from the high end, HP seems to be boldly taking it on and seems to be saying: bring it on baby. Bring it on. I like that.
The HP ZBook Mobile Workstations 15 and 17 are available today. The HP ZBook 14 is planned to be available in late October. The enhanced HP Z420, Z620 and Z820 Workstations are planned to be available worldwide in October. The HP Z30i Display is available today and the HP Z27i is planned to be available in October.