In the cutting-edge world of high-power, industrial strength computers known as workstations, HP commands a special place at the front of the class. Their renowned Z Series of workstations are used extensively in professional media production, engineering, energy, finance and healthcare. You might even say HP Z Workstations are out of this world, and that wouldn’t be an exaggeration since NASA chose HP workstations for use on their International Space Station.
The ZBooks are HP’s line of mobile workstations and there’s one for every kind of user. For example, for those who desire a thin and light machine with moderate power needs (and an attractive price tag), there’s the super slim ZBook 14u and 15u which HP calls their “workstation ultrabooks”.
Taking a step up in power and performance is the capable ZBook Studio which, though more powerful than the 14u and 15u, is nevertheless still remarkably thin.
However, for those seeking the most powerful and expandable machines in the ZBook line, there are the mighty ZBook 15 and ZBook 17, unquestionably two of the most powerful mobile workstations available today.
In this review, we’ll look at the more powerful of the two, the ZBook 17, the latest generation of which, the G4, has recently been released. The King of the ZBooks, this machine sits regally at the very top of the ZBook line and lords over practically every other mobile workstation out there.
I’ve created a video review of the HP ZBook 17, which closely mirrors this story. Grab some popcorn and kick back and watch it. Or if you prefer, read on. Then again, you’re free to do both. It’s up to you. Here’s the link:
A portable powerhouse, the HP ZBook 17 G4 offers the highest levels of performance and expandability for those who simply do not want to compromise power for mobility’s sake. With it’s extreme level of power, the HP Zbook 17 G4 can easily serve as a desktop replacement, whether you’re on the road or in the studio.
When it comes to resource-hungry multimedia projects or high resolution visual effects work, bigger is often better and with the ZBook 17 G4’s 17.3 inch diagonal screen, it’s the largest machine in the ZBook line. Its spacious design and expandability is made for people looking for a big rig. That’s kind of the point of this machine, It’s a big and expandable machine with a big screen. The dimensions of the machine are 1.3 inches high x 16.5 inches wide x 11 inches deep.
However, while large is okay with me, heavy is not. Thankfully I found the Zbook 17 had a reasonable starting weight of 6.9 pounds. That’s not the weight of an ultrabook, but it is easy enough to carry around on long journeys.
The Zbook 17 G4, though roomy, nevertheless feels sleek and streamlined. It’s attractively designed and handsomely encased in a chassis of aluminum and magnesium with a large, backlit keyboard that feels solid and sturdy. The keyboard also features a full numeric keypad as well as an integrated point stick. The ZBook 17 also has a large multi-gesture touchpad with left, middle and right buttons located on the top and bottom. These buttons come in handy when working with 3D apps.
On the left side of the machine is a security lock slot, An RJ-45 Ethernet port, three USB 3.0 ports, one of which is a charging port and an SD Card reader which comes in handy when transferring footage and stills from your digital camera.
On the right side of the ZBook 17 G4, right next to the power connector are two very speedy Thunderbolt 3 ports which provide amazing transfer rates of 40 Gbps making them perfect for connecting external GPUs, vast storage arrays, or large HP Dreamcolor displays such as HP’s new Z24x or the advanced Z31x, a great new display for serious, high end color applications. Thunderbolt 3 is a crucial connection these days and the Zbook 17 sports two of them. Also on the right side of the machine is a VGA port, an HDMI port for video output, another USB 3.0 port, a stereo mic, a headphone combo jack and a smart card reader.
Audio is designed by Bang & Olufsen which pumps out remarkably good sound with noticeable high end and bass response through two speaker grills on the front of the machine. The front also has status lights for wireless, power, AC adapter, battery and hard drive activity. The HP ZBook 17 G4 also includes a 720p webcam and an internal microphone.
One great thing about the HP ZBook 17 is that you can get it with a large 17.3 inch UHD 4k Dreamcolor display. DreamColor is HP’s line of color-calibrated displays, a technology which earned them no less than an Academy Award. With DreamColor, you get a precise 10-bit color-calibrated display with over a billion vivid colors and deep, rich blacks making it a must-have for colorists, artists, animators and filmmakers.
Power, Storage and Memory
On the bottom of the machine is a convenient latch which allows you to open a door for easy, tool-less access to the key internal components of the machine.
Inside you’ll find a 96 Whr Polymer battery pack which, depending on usage, can last 14 hours and features HP Fast Charge technology which charges the battery to 50% capacity in 30 minutes. That’s a useful feature when you’re on the run or between meetings and you don’t have a lot of charging time.
For storage, the HP Zbook 17 G4 features two internal M.2 connections where you can install two blazing fast NVMe PCIe SSDs or as HP likes to call them, Z Turbo drives. My review unit came with two 512GB NVMe Z-Turbo drives, one of which included Windows 10. However, 1TB NVMe drives are also available and I, for one, would recommend getting both of them on a Zbook 17 from the get-go.
The ZBook 17 G4 also features two SATA 2.5 inch drive bays where you can install two more hard disk drives or, preferably in my opinion, two SATA SSDs at 1TB each. Together with the two 1TB NVMe drives, that would bring the amount of storage on the machine to 4TB which is the total storage capacity of the HP Zbook 17 G4. That’s more than enough space for several concurrent hi-res projects.
The memory capacity of the Zbook 17 G4 is a walloping 64GB of DDR4 2400 MHz RAM, an impressive amount for a mobile computer and comparable to what can be found on many desktop computers. With 64GB of RAM, you’ll be able to have several apps open at once, without worrying about running out of memory.
CPUs and GPUs
The CPU options available in this mother of all workstations, are no less than the latest quad core 7th generation Intel Core or Xeon processors.
In the Zbook 17 that I reviewed, there’s a powerful four core Xeon E3-1535M v6 CPU which has a base frequency of 3.1 GHz, a turbo frequency of 4.2 GHz and an 8MB cache. That’s muscle enough to handle extreme production challenges including 4K video editing jobs and complex 3D modeling tasks.
While the CPU packs a powerful punch, the GPU in the Zbook 17 is equally jaw-dropping, if not more so. The HP ZBook 17 G4 I reviewed had no less than an NVIDIA Quadro P5000 GPU, an extremely powerful graphics card based on NVIDIA’s latest Pascal architecture. This awesome GPU brings new levels of performance to visual computing for a mobile machine, and makes the HP Zbook 17 G4 a true graphics powerhouse.
The NVIDIA Quadro P5000 boasts an unprecedented 16 GB of GDDR 5 memory and a whopping 2560 CUDA parallel processing cores. That’s an impressive statistic for any graphics card.
As the rendering of final production ready frames shifts from the CPU to the GPU, the NVIDIA Quadro P5000, aside from making the ZBook 17 G4 a great machine for third party GPU production renderers such as Redshift or Octane, is also a key factor in earning the Zbook 17 the official designation of being “VR Ready” by HP and NVIDIA. That’s important if you are planning to get into making VR content and are seeking new ways to create immersive 360 degree environments for things like VR games, movies, product designs or architectural walkthroughs and makes the ZBook 17 G4 the machine to get for that kind of work.
In fact, recently HP has been getting more serious about VR with new product announcements and strategic alliances with leading VR companies. More on that some other time.
There are other, less powerful and less expensive GPU options from NVIDIA that are available on the HP Zbook 17 G4 which I could tell you about, but, in my opinion, if you’ve already decided to get a top of the line Zbook 17, why wouldn’t you also get the top of the line P5000 graphics card as well? That’s what I would do.
After pressing the power button, the computer quickly booted into Windows 10 in a matter of seconds. The first thing that jumped right out at me was the ZBook 17’s stunning 4K, 10 bit DreamColor display. This panel looks outstanding and images and animations viewed on it look simply look gorgeous. It’s a great screen to have if you’re an artist, animator or a colorist.
The only thing that would be better than having a DreamColor display built into the ZBook 17, would be to attach a second external DreamColor display via Thunderbolt 3, especially the Z31x. Due to appear in Q4 2017, the Z31x is one of HP’s latest and most advanced DreamColor dislays which, aside from having DCI 4K resolution of 4096 x 2160, and a host of really cool functions, has, get this, a built in colorimeter making it an ideal display for high-end color grading pros working in DaVinci Resolve or Lumetri. For more information about the Z31x, check out this video about it:
Pre-loaded on every HP Workstation is the HP Performance Advisor, a useful tool which gives you deep insight and analysis of all the various components that make up your machine from the CPU to the GPU to the memory configuration to the nitty-gritty details of every other component in your machine.
Also included on every HP Workstation is HP Remote Graphics Software (RGS) which lets you securely operate the ZBook 17 remotely using any other PC, Mac or even tablet even if you’re nowhere near it.
The HP ZBook 17 G4 Mobile Workstation is an elite, high-end, computational workhorse that achieves a level of workstation power that was once available only on higher-end desktop machines. While not everybody needs that level of power, post production professionals and VR content creators who are looking for extreme levels of performance will find in the Zbook 17 G4 an almost irresistible machine.
It certainly made my mouth water when I first took it out of the box, turned it on and beheld Its gorgeous 17.3 inch 4K DreamColor display. Learning about its other advanced features, escpecially its NVIDIA Quadro P5000 GPU with its 16 GB of on-board memory, as well as its storage options and memory capacity made me an even bigger fan of this machine.
The Zbook 17 G4 is a natural choice for those who work in media and entertainment such as filmmakers, colorists, visual effects artists, animators, video editors, illustrators and photo-retouchers as well as VR developers who require a powerful GPU to design their alternate realities. If you’re involved in any of those fields, or just want the most powerful machine you can get, I’d put the HP ZBook 17 G4 at the top of my list.