HP ZBook 15u G2 review: A Windows ultrabook workhorse

  • Editors' rating
    8.4 Excellent
  • $1,699.00

Pros

  • Runs high-performance apps with minimal difficulty, doesn't run the fan too hot
  • Despite it's size, the ultrabook surprisingly light and sturdy.
  • In-built fingerprint reader works well, helps to boost security

Cons

  • The price is difficult to swallow, particularly compared to similar models
  • Aesthetically unpleasing and noticeably hefty, thanks to its large display
  • 1080p screen resolution could be sharper, clearer for graphics-based tasks
HP's newest ZBook ultrabook, the 15u G2 (Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive)

NEW YORK -- It's hard to be productive when you're chained to your desk. HP reckons it has a safe middle-ground, by combining mobility and a low cost for businesses while still providing workstation-class performance.

Announced at this year's CES show in Las Vegas, HP's ZBook 15u G2 is a Windows-based ultrabook that balances portability with performance, while retaining a simple design and customizability based on a person's needs.

HP has pegged these notebooks for users of the heavier professional apps: graphic design, engineering, and product development.

The ZBook 15u G2 is not a consumer-oriented ultrabook, nor should it be. It stumbles on high-end games, but it's wasted in the entry-level media and entertainment category.

The ultrabook has that mid-range sweet spot often missed in the enterprise. It's not as glamorous as some of its rival devices on the market. It may be thicker and at the heavier end of the ultrabook spectrum. But it's capable of running high-performance applications without breaking a sweat (or, in computer terms, running a hot fan.)

CPU

Intel Core i7-5500U (dual-core)

GraphicsAMD FirePro M4170
Storage 256GB solid-state Z-Turbo drive
Memory 16GB 1600 MHz (2 x 8GB)
Display 15.6-inch LCD (1,920 x 1,080 resolution)
Networking 802.11 ac wireless networking; Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system

Windows 8.1 Pro Update 64)
(can be downgraded to Windows 7 Professional)

Price (at publication)

$1,549.00 upwards

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The ZBook 15u G2 is thinner, lighter, and cheaper -- three important marked improvements on its sibling rival, the 15 G2. But it's no MacBook Air, nor is it an Acer Aspire S7, or a Lenovo ThinkPad Helix., or an HP Spectre 13 -- none of which need a "u" in the name to tell you they're ultrabooks (or some variant thereof).

Compared to its bulkier sibling, the HP ZBook 15 G2, it's almost half the thickness and about one-third lighter, starting at just 4.2 pounds. It's also cheaper than its predecessor. (The model we tested was the mid-tier model landing in at around $1,549.)

Granted the earlier model wasn't exactly a "toss in a bag" notebook. Where it could probably leave a hole in the ground if dropped, the ZBook 15u G2 fits snugly in a large satchel bag. But make no mistake its large 15.6-inch display adds to the device's noticeable heft. (You can thank HP's decision to bump out the outdated and near-defunct optical drive, it still packs in a great deal of power.)

Hands-on with the new HP ZBook 15u G2 ultrabook

The 15.6-inch non-touch LED is acceptably so-so, but it's hardly revolutionary, and borderline disappointing. It lands in a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, a fully-fledged 1080p high-resolution screen. It's noticeably better than a MacBook Air's display, but it's nowhere near as sharp and clear as a Retina display, which has dark contrasts and deep color depth. It's not a bad screen, but if it's got graphic design in mind, those extra pixels count. There is a perk: the display is anti-glare display the screen easy to read in bright environments.

Its innards are fairly impressive. The laptop lands with Intel's latest Broadwell processors, which require far less power than the Haswell range. The low-end model comes with 8GB of RAM, while the mid-tier and upper-tier models come with up to 16GB of RAM.

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The ZBook 15u G2 comes Windows 8.1, but you can downgrade to Windows 7 Professional for those who need to run legacy apps. The new graphics engine replaced Nvidia with an AMD FirePro M4170 graphics card. (The ZBook 15 G2 still comes with a range of AMD and Nvidia graphics cards).

But its speed and performance prowess can mostly be attributed to the solid-state disk, which offers 256GB of flash storage. The drive offers a significant performance boost over ordinary hard drives (the top-tier model comes with a traditional 500GB drive). HP calls is the Z Turbo Drive. The operating system is markedly faster compared to similar ultrabooks.

The slimmed-down notebook also comes with three USB 3.0 devices, one DisplayPort slot, an Ethernet connection, and a VGA output for legacy displays and projectors, and a smart card reader.

Embedded in the bezel around the edge of the screen is a 720p-resolution webcam for video-calling on select models. There's also a SIM card tray under the rear-cover for mobile broadband on the go.

HP's also included a swipe-over fingerprint sensor (which activates with HP's built-in security software) that's positioned to the right-hand side of the trackpad. The ultrabook also comes with a trusted platform module, which Windows will detect and offer additional security features, like BitLocker full-disk encryption.

The ZBook 15u G2's battery life, like its predecessor, isn't great, but there has been an improvement. In mid-to-heavy use on a medium display brightness setting, the battery lasted just over six hours. (At the time of writing, HP was still finalizing the battery benchmarks).

Conclusion: A drab design, but a good effort

It's a good performing Windows-based laptop, but it lacks aesthetic appeal. To call this an ultrabook (at least compared to its rivals on the market) might be a push. But for the price you pay, it's a solid entry-level workstation on-the-go.

Bottom line? There are probably better devices out there for a cheaper cost and better performance. But you'll struggle to find one for the power and its size.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Recommended Use corporate business, small business
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition (available through downgrade rights from Windows 8.1 Pro) + Windows 8.1 Pro License
Preinstalled OS Windows 7
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i7 (4th Gen) 4710MQ / 2.5 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 3.5 GHz
Number of Cores Quad-Core
Cache L3 - 6 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Chipset Type Mobile Intel QM87 Express
Features Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
Cache Memory
Type L3 cache
Installed Size 6 MB
Memory
RAM 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)
Max Supported Size 32 GB
Technology DDR3L SDRAM
Speed 1600 MHz
Form Factor SO-DIMM 204-pin
Slots Qty 4
Empty Slots 2
Storage
Interface Serial ATA-600
Optical Drive DVD±RW (±R DL) / DVD-RAM removable - tray
RAM
Memory Speed 1600 MHz
Configuration Features 2 x 4 GB
Technology DDR3L SDRAM
Installed Size 8 GB
Display
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Widescreen Display Yes
Monitor Features Full HD standard-viewing angle (SVA) eDP anti-glare
Type LED
Diagonal Size (metric) 39.6 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation Full HD
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 10 - 90% (non-condensing)
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor NVIDIA Quadro K610M
Video System Features NVIDIA Optimus
Integrated Webcam Yes
Sound Stereo speakers, two microphones
Audio Codec Realtek ALC3228
Hard Drive
Spindle Speed 7200 rpm
Type HDD
Capacity 1 TB
Input
Type DualPoint, keyboard, pointing stick, touchpad
Features spill-resistant, touchpad with gesture support, volume control
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Bluetooth Class Class 2
Wireless Controller Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 - PCI Express Half Mini Card
Wired Protocol Gigabit Ethernet
Features Wake-on-LAN (WOL)
Processor
CPU Type Core i7
Processor Number i7-4710MQ
Generation 4
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2.5 GHz
Optical Storage
Drive Type DVD SuperMulti
Type DVD±RW (±R DL) / DVD-RAM
Form Factor removable
Load Type tray
Card Reader
Type card reader
Supported Flash Memory SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC Memory Card, SDXC UHS-II Memory Card
Battery
Technology 8-cell lithium ion
Capacity 83 Wh
Cells 8-cell
Technology lithium ion
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 150 Watt, 19.5 V
Connections & Expansion
Expansion Bays 1 x Upgrade Bay
Slots 1 x ExpressCard/54 (1 free)
Interfaces VGA
DisplayPort
Thunderbolt 2
Headphone/microphone combo jack
Battery
Dock
LAN
3 x USB 3.0
USB 2.0
Memory Card Reader Yes (SD Card, SDHC Card, SDXC Card, SDXC UHS-II Card)
Header
Brand HP
Product Line HP ZBook
Model 15 G2 Mobile Workstation
Localization English
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.0, Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Remote Management Protocol SNMP 2
Compliant Standards IEEE 802.11i, IEEE 802.1Q, IEEE 802.3x, Wi-Fi CERTIFIED, IEEE 802.1as, IEEE 802.1p, IEEE 802.1x, IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.3ab, IEEE 802.3ae, IEEE 802.3az, IEEE 802.3u
Interface (Bus) Type PCI Express Half Mini Card
Ethernet Controller(s) Intel I217-LM
Wireless NIC Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 1 TB
Dockable Yes
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip
Security Devices SmartCard reader, fingerprint reader
Miscellaneous
Color graphite, hematite
Case Material aluminum, magnesium alloy
Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip, fingerprint reader, SmartCard reader
Features 1 USB 3.0 charging port, BIOS Absolute Persistence, HP SpareKey, HP SureStart, Hybrid Boot, Intel Active Management Technology (iAMT), Master Record Security, Measured Boot, One-Step Logon, Power On Authentication, Pre-Boot Security, SecureBoot, HP 3D DriveGuard, HP Automatic Drive Lock, HP BIOS Protection, HP DisplaySafe, HP Drive Encryption, HP DriveLock, HP DuraCase, HP DuraFinish
Compliant Standards ACPI, CSA, Common Criteria EAL4+, FCC, ICES, UL
Included Accessories power adapter
Manufacturer Selling Program HP Smart Buy
Theft/Intrusion Protection security lock slot (cable lock sold separately)
Security Slot Type Kensington security slot
Monitor
Diagonal Size 15.6 in
Dimensions & Weight
Width 15 in
Depth 10.1 in
Height 1.4 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards DTS SOUND+, DTS Studio Sound, High Definition Audio
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 3 years warranty
Mainboard
Chipset Type Mobile Intel QM87 Express
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 6.46 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 41 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition
Type Box.net 50GB storage, CyberLink Power2Go, HP PageLift, HP Recovery Manager, HP Secure Erase, HP SoftPaq Download Manager, HP Spare Key, HP Support Assistant, HP Validity Fingerprint Driver, HP ePrint, Microsoft Security Essentials, Skype, CyberLink YouCam BE, Cyberlink PowerDVD, Foxit PhantomPDF Express, Getting Started guide with Windows 8, HP Client Security, HP DigitalPersona Fingerprint Driver, HP File Sanitizer, HP Hotkey Support
Preinstalled OS Windows 7
Video Output
Discrete Graphics Processor Yes
Graphics Processor NVIDIA Quadro K610M
Graphics Processor Series NVIDIA Quadro
Video System Features NVIDIA Optimus
Video Memory
Technology GDDR5 SDRAM
Installed Size 1 GB
Notebook Camera
Integrated Webcam Yes
Input Device
Numeric Keypad Yes
Backlight Yes
Expansion Bays
Total Qty 1
OS Provided
Preinstalled OS Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition
Service & Support
Type 3 years warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Service Included parts and labor
Location on-site
Full Contract Period 3 years
Shock & Vibration Tolerance
Shock Acceleration (Operating) 40 g
Shock Duration (Operating) 2 ms half-sine pulse
Shock Acceleration (Non-operating) 200 g
Shock Duration (Non-operating) 2 ms half-sine pulse
Vibration Acceleration (Operating) 0.75 g
Vibration Frequency Range (Operating) RMS (random)
Vibration Acceleration (Non-operating) 1.5 g
Vibration Frequency Range (Non-operating) RMS (random)

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