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HP Z1 Workstation review

HP's Z1 Workstation is a well-designed, powerful and upgradable all-in-one PC suitable for a range of professional power users. Although not without its flaws, the Z1 is well worth considering if you want something different from the traditional desktop form factor.
Written by Charles McLellan on

HP Z1 Workstation

  • Large, high-quality screen
  • Clever flip-open design
  • Solid build quality
  • High-end components
  • Bulky and heavy
  • Awkward screen adjustment mechanism
  • Some inaccessible ports
  • No eSATA or Thunderbolt ports

Apple's all-in-one iMac has a lot to answer for, not least the fact that the PC market is now awash with AIO designs with more than a nod to Cupertino. At first glance, HP's 27in. Z1 Workstation looks a fairly standard example of its type, but closer inspection reveals plenty of interesting features. For a start, this is no slimline, elegant system: it measures 66.04cm wide by 58.42cm high by 41.91cm deep and weighs from 21.32kg. That's a lot of desk space, and a non-trivial lifting job.

Inside that large chassis, which opens cleverly like a suitcase, is found a powerful and easily upgradable spec including a quad-core Xeon E3-Series processor, an Nvidia Quadro graphics adapter and a 1TB hard drive. This is no 'knowledge worker' system, but a powerful (and pricey) tool aimed at professionals such as web designers, video editors and financial analysts.

As an all-in-one system, the Z1 Workstation is largely defined by its screen, which is an impressively sharp and bright LED-backlit 27in. IPS panel with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. Viewing angles are good, at 178 degrees in both vertical and horizontal planes, but not everyone will appreciate the screen's glossy coating. Beneath the edge-to-edge glass is a speaker grille, while the top bezel houses a 2-megapixel 1080p HD webcam and a dual microphone array.

Seen from the front, the system is largely black, while the rear of the system unit has a brushed aluminium finish. It's not the most stylish-looking AIO we've seen, but it's certainly imposing.

HP Z1 Workstation
HP's 27in. Z1 Workstation ranges in price from £1,405 to £2,574 (ex. VAT); our review unit cost £2,047.

The 27in. monitor/system unit is a lot of weight for the stand to carry. The stand is dual-hinged, making the Z1 height-adjustable, which is admirable, but the system unit's weight makes it a struggle to manoeuvre. On the plus side, you can fold the monitor flat against the base if you need to carry it (not something we advise you do often); a green push-button in the base unlocks it from this configuration.

If you really can't get on with the desktop stand, the system unit can be mounted on a VESA arm of your choice — perhaps alongside a second 27in. monitor for those requiring serious amounts of screen space.

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The best aspect of the design is the way the system unit opens up (from the flat position described above), and the modular construction that's revealed within. There isn't a trailing wire to be seen, and green-labelled components — including the hard drive, graphics card, optical drive, power supply and cooling fan — can all be removed and replaced without the need for tools.

HP Z1 Workstation
The Z1 can be folded flat against the base and then opened using a pair of latches at the foot of the screen. Inside, it's tidily laid out, with several clearly marked removable components (no tools required).

One other awkward design feature is the placement of the rear-mounted ports (3 audio ports, 4 USB ports, an S/PDIF connector, a network port, a DisplayPort connector and the power input): because these are centrally located, they're hard to even see, let alone access, with the monitor in its 'working' position, thanks to the stand mechanism getting in the way. It might not be symmetrical, but putting these ports to one side (as on the iMac) would make things easier.

HP Z1 Workstation
The rear ports on the Z1 are tucked away in the middle, beneath the screen hinge, and are tricky to access.

Our review sample of the Z1 Workstation was based on Intel's Xeon E3-1280 processor, a quad-core CPU running at 3.5GHz with a maximum Turbo frequency of 3.9GHz. It's supported by the Intel C206 chipset and, in our system, 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM. Up to 32GB of RAM can be accommodated by the system's four DIMM slots. The operating system on our review unit was Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, but Linux (SUSE Enterprise Desktop 11 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux) is also supported.

The graphics card is an Nvidia Quadro 1000M, with 2GB of dedicated video memory. This is a mid-range workstation-quality adapter that supports Nvidia's latest GPU-acceleration technology, CUDA 5, and comes with ISV certifications for a range of professional applications in areas such as CAD, 3D modelling, video editing, animation and data visualisation. Z1 models are available with more powerful Quadro 3000M and 4000M cards, or less capable Quadro 500M or integrated Intel HD Graphics P2000 and P3000 GPUs.

HP Z1 Workstation
The hard drive is easily removed using the provided handle; note the internal USB port (for a wireless keyboard/mouse receiver, for example) in the foreground.

Storage in our review unit was provided by a 1TB SATA III Hitachi hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm. HP's website lists a model with a 160GB SSD, and the chassis will accommodate two 2.5in. drives rather than a single 3.5in. unit, so you could set up the system with an SSD for the OS and a hard drive for your data, or a RAID array for enhanced data protection. On the right-hand side there's a slim slot-loading optical drive, and also a 4-in-1 (xD, MMC, Memory Stick, SD) media card reader.

As well as wired Gigabit Ethernet, the Z1 has wireless connectivity in the shape of Intel's Centrino Advanced-N 6230, a half-length Mini PCIe card offering dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0+HS.

Ports, connectors, buttons and LEDs are plentiful, if not always ideally located (see above). On the right-hand side, from top to bottom, is the power button, a hard drive activity light, an eject button for the slot-loading optical drive, the optical drive itself, the aforementioned media card reader, a 6-pin FireWire (1394a) port, two USB 3.0 ports and a pair of audio jacks (microphone and headphone). Hidden away at the back (see earlier comments) are the audio ports (line-in/out, subwoofer and S/PDIF), 4 USB 2.0 ports, the RJ-45 Ethernet port and a DisplayPort connector, along with the power input. The DisplayPort connector allows you to use the Z1's 27in. screen as a monitor for another system, if necessary. Conspicuous by their absence are eSATA and Thunderbolt ports, which some potential buyers may see as a drawback.

The Z1 is not overburdened with bundled software, coming with a collection of HP tools and utilities, Office 2010 Starter, Cyberlink YouCam and Corel WinDVD SD. Obviously the professional users at whom this system is aimed will want as clean a platform as possible for their particular applications.

With a quad-core Xeon CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 2GB Quadro 1000M GPU, we expected good performance from HP's Z1 Workstation, and that's what we got. Its Windows Experience Index (WEI) is 5.9 (out of 7.9), with the lowest-performing subsystem (which corresponds to the WEI) being Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate). The remaining scores are all very good or excellent: 6.7 for both Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) and Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance); and 7.6 for both Processor (calculations per second) and Memory (RAM) (memory operations per second).

HP Z1 Workstation

Although these are good scores, it's worth noting that the ultraportable Eurocom Monster 1.0 that we reviewed recently delivered a slightly better set of WEI scores (5.9 for hard disk, 7.1 for both graphics tests, 7.6 for processor and 7.9 for memory). If disk performance is a particular priority, you'll probably want to specify an SSD in place of the 7,200rpm hard drive in our review system.

We also ran Cinebench 11.5 to get a more detailed feel for the Z1's CPU and OpenGL performance. In the CPU test, a scene containing some 2,000 objects, which in turn contain over 300,000 polygons, is manipulated. A score of 6.97 is extremely good for a quad-core processor — scores above 7 are usually only delivered by CPUs with more cores and threads.

HP Z1 Workstation
The Cinebench 11.5 CPU benchmark

In the OpenGL test the system runs a complex 3D scene depicting a car chase in which the GPU handles a huge amount of geometry and textures, plus a variety of effects including environments, bump maps, transparency and lighting. The Z1's top score of 26.17 frames per second (fps) isn't that spectacular (the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M in the ultraportable Eurocom Monster 1.0 scored 49.02fps, by comparison).

HP Z1 Workstation
The Cinebench 11.5 OpenGL benchmark

If you require better graphics performance, you'll need to specify a Z1 model with a faster Quadro 3000M or 4000M card, although of course this will increase the cost.

As far as power consumption goes, you'd expect a large-screen, high-spec system like the Z1 to draw more than a few watts, and it does. Tested with a Voltcraft VC940 Plus multimeter, the Z1 drew, on average, 129.2W when idling at the windows desktop, rising to 213W when running Cinebench 11.5's demanding CPU test:

HP Z1 Workstation
This graph shows the average power consumption of the Z1 Workstation when (from the top) idling at the Windows 7 desktop, running Passmark Software's Performance Test 7 benchmark, running the OpenGL test from Cinebench 11.5, and running the same benchmark's CPU test.

By way of comparison, a 2010-vintage 12-core Apple Mac Pro with a 30in. Dell monitor drew 133.5W when idling and a massive 379.2W running the Cinebench 11.5 CPU test.

In use, the Z1 is impressively silent, despite the presence of fans for the CPU (2), GPU and memory.

HP's Z1 Workstation is a well-designed, powerful and upgradable all-in-one PC suitable for a range of professional power users. A range of models are available on HP's website, from entry level to high end, and although not without its flaws, it's well worth considering if you want something different from the traditional desktop form factor.


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