If you asked me to define what a workstation is, I’d say heavy duty professional computers specifically designed to perform the most challenging jobs which usually boast the latest and greatest processors and GPUs. In addition, workstations undergo many hours of testing and certification to make them as hardy and reliable as possible and are used in many different industries such as scientific analysis, engineering, visualization, architecture and, most importantly to us, the creative world of high-end media production and post production.
Often when picturing a workstation in your mind’s eye, you might imagine a big-iron workhorse of a machine containing things like bulky graphic cards and big disk arrays. However, in the new Z2 Mini Workstation, HP has redefined what a workstation could be by creating a tiny machine that is a fraction of the size of other workstations setting out to prove that bigger is not always better.
In fact, in many cases, smaller (and lighter) is better, especially for those who have a compact workspace, or might want to throw their workstation into their bag and take it with them for the weekend. Try doing that with your current workstation.
I’ve created an in-depth unboxing and review video of the HP Z2 Mini which you can view below (watch it now or after you finish reading).
Truth is, while many people do need the expandability and i/o options found in a large workstation tower like the HP Z840, others will never need to add multiple GPUs or capture cards into their machines. Instead, they may wish for a workstation that is as small as possible, yet one still capable of handling challenging work. With the HP Z2 Mini, you can have the best of both worlds — a little speed demon that doesn’t take over half your desk. If there was ever a machine that could be considered the sports car of the workstation world, the HP Z2 Mini would be it. Small, sexy and fast.
You can even hide it from sight completely by mounting it onto the back of a display creating a kind of “workstation all-in-one” if you will, only one that you can easily change the display, RAM and hard drive.
Input, Output and Accessories
I started by unboxing the Z2 Mini’s accessories. Because it is such a small computer it has some features that almost resemble a mobile computer such as an external power supply. That’s smart, since it reduces the size of the computer while reducing internal heat. It also makes replacing it easy.
Also included in the box was a wireless mouse and keyboard. That’s new, since most workstations that I’ve reviewed in the past came with wired mice and keyboards. With a small, even portable machine like the Z2 Mini, a wireless mouse and keyboard is a good idea. By the way, batteries are included.
The wireless keyboard is thinner that previous keyboards I have seen from HP and includes a full size numeric keypad. It’s also quieter so there’s less clicking and clacking while typing and has a firm touch and feel.
On the Outside
Next, I unpacked the Z2 Mini itself. My first impression of it was, besides being very small, very elegant and modern. The front of the machine has an emblazoned HP logo as well as a power button. On the left side are two USB 3.0 Type A ports as well as a headphone/microphone combo jack.
The back of the machine, however, contains most of the ports and connections including four display ports which allow you to connect four 4K displays or six 2K displays (through a system of daisy chaining). That’s impressive. While I have seen systems with more than two displays, the most I have ever connected to a machine is two. I wonder what it would be like to have four, no less six. One for my favorite 3D program, one for compositing, one for color grading, one for editing, one for YouTube videos… Well, you get the idea.
There’s also an RJ-45 ethernet port on the back of the machine. That’s great for direct connection to the internet or a network router. However, there is also a wireless networking card in the machine for easy and wire-free connection. That’s smart. With a machine as small as the Z2 Mini, you might take it anywhere (you might even take it with you on vacation), somewhere where a hard-wired connection to the net is not available.
The back also contains two USB 3.1 type C ports as well as two more USB 3.0 Type A ports. That’s a total of six USB ports (if you count the other two on the side). There is also an optional serial port on the back.
On the Inside
The top of the HP Z2 Mini can be removed easily without fuss. On the back of the cover you’ll find a handy diagram which helps to identify the key components of the machine and provides other important information.
Airflow was a major design consideration in the Z2 Mini. Upon opening the cover, two fans are immediately apparent: the relatively large CPU fan and a somewhat smaller GPU fan. Those fans, combined with vents on the four corners of the machine helps the air circulate through the machine, keeping things nice and cool. The attractive looking vents, which cut 45 degree corner angles, are designed to keep the air flowing, even if the machine is pushed flush against the corner of a wall.
Speaking of airflow, the Z2 Mini is a remarkably quiet, virtually silent machine when it is turned on, something I’m told was important in the design of the machine. Because of this, the workstation will be a great fit for those doing audio recording and music production.
The CPU fan flips up giving you access to the 2 soDIMM slots which, together, support up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM. That’s an ample amount of memory for most tasks. Just in front of the memory slots, you’ll find the wireless card which is plugged into one of the two M.2 slots.
Behind the soDIMMs is the CPU. The machine I reviewed had a 4 core Intel Core i7-6700, but you can also opt for high powered Xeon processors as well.
To the left of the CPU fan is another fan which sits right above the GPU and helps to keep it cool. For graphics, the HP Z2Mini features a 2 GB NVIDIA Quadro M620.
This so-called mobile graphics card is 20% faster than a “desktop” NVIDIA K620 and features 2 GB of GDDR 5 memory and 512 CUDA cores. It provides enough power to handle many complex modeling challenges and is suitable for 3D animators and modelers across the spectrum, including entry level and intermediate users as well as students.
For storage, the HP Z2 Mini can support up to 1.5 TB of storage. My review unit featured a 1 TB SATA Hard Disk Drive in a 2.5” bay as well as a speedy NVMe 256 GB Z Turbo drive which connects to the PCIe bus through an M.2 connection. The Z Turbo Drive contained the operating system.
On the bottom of the machine, there is a standard VESA mount which can be exposed by removing the rubber feet of the workstation. This means that you can mount the machine on any VESA mount including the back of a display, under a desk, or on a wall.
After I plugged everything in, I paired the HP Z2 Mini with an HP DreamColor display and turned it on. I’m not sure how HP was able to get the HP Z2 Mini to boot up so quickly, but only after a brief pause, the machine was up and running. It was perhaps the fastest boot up time I have seen on a workstation.
To test the performance of the CPU and GPU in the machine, I ran CineBench 15. I started with the GPU test which measures the performance of the 2 GB NVIDIA Quadro M620 by running a real-time 3D animation of a street car chase and measuring the frame rates. The results were excellent, coming in at 96.46 fps. That’s really fast, much faster than many other graphics cards in its class (see below).
For the CineBench CPU test which creates a final quality 3D render of a sample scene with lights, shadows, reflections and anti aliasing, the Z2 Mini’s Intel Core i7-6700 with its four cores running at 3.41 GHz came in at a score of 823, also a good showing.
To measure the read and write speed of the drive, I used CrystalDiskMark. On the left is the speed in Megabytes per second of the HP Z Turbo Drive NVME solid state drive and on the right, is the 2.5” SATA Hard Disk Drive. If you’ve never experienced the speed of an HP Turbo drive, you might be shocked at the how much faster it actually is. Yes, you’re reading it correctly. In the sequential read and write tests, the Z Turbo Drive is up to 21 times faster than the 7200 RPM 2.5” SATA Hard Disk drive when reading and 11 times faster when writing. Other tests reveal even better scores.
The Z2 Mini, and indeed all of HP’s workstations, also comes with HP’s own Remote Graphics Software (RGS) which allows you to control your machine from other workstations, PCs, Macs, thin clients or even tablets. That means you can leave the Z2 Mini at the office and still be able to use it anywhere your physical body happens to be.
What do I think of the Z2 Mini Workstation? I’m excited about it. It represents a new category of workstation from HP: The “mini workstation”. While some people may need a huge machine like the Z840, which I’ve reviewed here, and all the power, i/o and expandability it offers, others will never need to install multiple GPUs or disk arrays. Nor do they plan do work with 4k or 8k media files.
The HP Z2 Mini is an elegant machine and its design makes it easy to gain access to its internal components and it runs practically silently, perfect for small recording studios and music producers.
The HP Z2 Mini will also appeal 3D animators and is a great match for graphic designers, motion graphics artists, photo-retouchers, illustrators, matte painters and concept artists, . 3D artists who work on extremely complex productions or need multiple GPUs may still want to step up to one of HPs bigger workstations, but that doesn’t mean the HP Z2 Mini isn’t up to some high level production challenges.
While the HP Z2 Mini will handle HD editing, those looking to work with 4k or 8k video may wish to look to HP’s larger workstation brethren for more i/o options and faster graphics cards though I would imagine you could handle 4K files decently well if you store them on the Z Turbo Drive.
The configuration used for this review which contained these options will cost you around $1,698. That is a decent price for an innovative workstation class machine which has undergone 368 thousand hours of reliability, can drive up to six displays yet can still fit in your shoulder bag.
More information about the Z2 Mini Workstation can be found here.