HP's Z1 Workstation in Review

September 9, 2013 12:49 am

Tags: HP, Workstations, Z1



HP has long maintained the highest standards in their products, which is especially evident in their workstations. HP's Z Workstations, a 5-tier line-up, which is the broadest available, is backed with extensive research and innovation, and most importantly, HP's customer-centric approach. HP puts great care and effort into making workstations for for the needs of their customers in a great many fields.

So, as I recently had the opportunity to work with HP's unique Z1 All-in-One workstation, I'm sharing a bit of my experience here. Now, while there are other all-in-one machines out there, the Z1 is the only all-in-one workstation. And what a beauty it is, in design, functionality, and practicality!


Sleek, beautiful, and imposing, the Z1 takes full command of your workdesk, yet allows you freedom from the extra presence of a tower. It looks killer cool, with a 27-inch LED backlit display that gives you grand-scale space for your creative expression. The display is certainly a beauty, with a native resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels and a wide, 178 degree viewing angle.

But, let me tell you, the Z1 is heavy! Weighing in at almost 50 pounds, you won't be moving this baby around too much. And for the weight, the stand that comes with it does an excellent job of supporting it. Not only that, it is extremely well-designed, with two hinges, allowing good tilt positioning.

There are plenty of ports on the Z1, in the back of it and along the side. On the back, and angled upward, basically where the stand connects to the unit, you'll find the ethernet connection, 4 USB 2.0 ports, Display in/out, S/PDIF, line-in and line-out, etc. I've heard it said these ports are awkward to reach, but I found no problem in tilting the display to get at them with ease. Along the one side of the unit, you'll find a four-in-one card reader, FireWire port, headphone/microphone jacks, and 2 USB 3.0 ports.

The test unit I received for review came loaded with a quad-core Xeon E3-1280 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and NVIDIA Quadro K4000 graphics card, which was plenty good for my purposes, and certainly much better than what I currently use. But, of course, there are plenty of options in configuring a Z1 set-up that fits your needs, and depending on your budget. But, the real beauty is the fact that it is so easily upgradable.




Toolless Design

The really cool part about HP's Z workstations is their amazing toolless design. The inner components of HP's Z-series workstations are modular and fast and easy to remove and replace, without tools, and without messing with wires.

HP has really innovated this toolless design in their workstations, and the Z1 really shows this off in that its well-designed compact interior can offer component switching and repair at the ultimate convenience of the user. In the review unit I received, I was told to go ahead and take it apart to see this first-hand, which, of course, I did (don't have to tell me twice to take something apart!).

First, of all, just opening the Z1 was one of the neatest experiences I had with it. Just maneuver it back on the base to a horizontal position, slide two latches on the bottom and pop the cover like the hood of a car. What I found is pictured below:




So, as you may be able to see in the above picture, there are several green tabs inside the Z1. These indicate the handles that allow you to pop out most of the main parts, like the power supply, graphics card, and hard drive. No need for a screwdriver, just lift the green-tabbed handle and pull...easy-peasy. And closing it up is really cool, as there is a hydraulic arm that allows it to close slowly, avoiding getting your fingers caught into it in the process.




Calm and Cool

The HP Z1 workstation was designed with 4 cooling zones, which allows cool air to flow in through the bottom and is directed upward through these zones, which are (from left to right): the main power supply zone, MXM graphics zone, processor and hard drive zone, and memory and display power zone. And, there are 9 temperature sensors that monitor and control the 6 fans within the Z1's case. Crazy, right?

In what HP describes as their workstation "Z-DNA," or the 3 A's: Appearance, Accesibility, and Acoustics, the acoustics have been the most challenging in the process, as the workstation is very close to the user. And while the Z1 makes its presence known when it boots up, it is really very quiet while working. Even with all the power you'd expect from this workstation, and all the fans running to keep it cool, most of the time I would barely know it was even running.




In Use

While I had the Z1 in my possession, I ran it through its paces, utilizing Adobe's new After Effects CC and some heavy particle animations via Red Giant Software's Particular 2 plug-in for After Effects. In what would certainly be overnight renders on my own machine, all went quick and smooth on the Z1. Oh, what a sweet machine!

I also used the excellent MAXON Cinebench to better measure how well this Z1 set-up fared. MAXON's Cinebench does a great job of measuring performance through a CPU test that renders a photo-realistic scene with over 300,000 polygons, procedural shaders, lights, etc., basically testing the full processing power and displaying the results in points. Then there's the graphics card test (OpenGL), which renders out a highly detailed car chase animation, with results displayed in frames per second (fps). In both cases, the higher the number, the faster the CPU or graphics card.

The results I got on the Z1 are pictured below:


The Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL and CPU benchmarks


Also, here is a look at the Windows performance rating, which you can see the Z1 I tested rated an excellent 7.6:




One last thing to mention is the excellent HP Performance Advisor, which comes pre-installed on all of HP's workstations. What this software does is help you get the most out of your workstation, by keeping you up-to-date with the latest drivers and updates to all of your main applications. It also guides you through ways to optimize system performance and even helps to identify potential problems and track all of your system resources.

End Notes

Performance expected, performance received. HP's Z1 All-in-One Workstation performed extremely well in my play with it. The only thing I could possibly complain about is the price for one of these.

While there are plenty of options available across the Z Workstation line-up, depending on how you configure your workstation choice, it can quickly get pricey. But, as the saying goes, 'you get what you pay for.' And, if you are in need of a professional, solid, and dependable workstation, with the ability and ease of upgrading, you should definitely have a look at HP's Z Workstations. If I could justify the purchase for my own work, the Z1 is what I would be looking at...no question. What an outstanding and beautiful machine...oh, how I hated to part with it.

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Nick C. Sorbin is a digital artist, sculptor, writer, and Managing Editor for Renderosity's CG Industry News. With a keen interest in motion graphics, Nick's weekly Motion Corner column highlights the tools and techniques in this vast area, as well as spotlighting current motion designers and software developers.
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