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HP Z1 Workstation review: HP Z1 Workstation

The Z1 workstation really brings HP's engineering skill to the fore. However, the large markup on workstation parts means that a significantly cheaper machine will outperform it, and high-end graphics cards are left out in the cold.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
6 min read

HP's Z1 Workstation all-in-one is quite the chunky, unwieldy bit of kit. It's a whole 7kg heavier than Dell's all-in-one, and despite being designed like a monitor, it doesn't swivel. The ports at the back aren't really accessible unless you tilt the screen back 90°. It's not even clear at first that the tilting back serves a real purpose, until you notice the two tabs on the bottom.


HP Z1 Workstation

The Good

User serviceable all-in-one. Good display.

The Bad

No high-end graphics SKU. Stand mechanism is clunky. Ports on the rear are incredibly difficult to get access to. Better performance on consumer all-in-ones for considerably less.

The Bottom Line

The Z1 workstation really brings HP's engineering skill to the fore. The large markup on workstation parts though means a significantly cheaper machine will outperform it.

Special mention goes to the stand; while the monitor can be locked flat into place, there's a decent range of motion incorporating height and tilt, and the chunky weight should mean smooth movement. It's clunky to use, and more than once when adjusting we ended up lifting the monitor off the desk.

Suddenly, it all became clear: the 27-inch, 2560x1440 IPS display latches off like the bonnet of a car, revealing the splendid interior of a fully serviceable all-in-one. You can even do this while the machine is running.

Mmm, goodies. Hard drive, RAM, graphics card, fan unit and power supply can be easily removed. The processor requires a bit more creativity.
(Credit: HP)

Not your standard laptop in a box, this all-in-one has a desktop Xeon processor (you can get a Core i3, if you wish to evade the Xeon tax, but interestingly no other consumer-level processor), non-ECC desktop RAM and a type B MXM graphics card inside. The latter is technically upgradeable, although you'll likely have to eBay something.

In true HP Z style, a lot of this can be removed by a simple lever, tool-lessness being the order of the day.

There's another reason, besides service and upgrading, that you'll want to access the interior: there's a USB port in here to attach the adapter that you'll need for the wireless keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse themselves are mostly inoffensive, doing the job they were designed to do. We say mostly, as HP's decision to duplicate the pipe/backslash key and put it next to a reduced-length left shift key had us swearing more than a few times.

Upgradability is excellent beyond the desktop parts; the quick-release drive caddy in our machine could take two 2.5-inch drives, while you've got two spare mini PCI-E slots up the top. Four DIMM slots in total are available to the user. The 400W power supply isn't redundant, and you'll have to go back to HP for replacements, but it is quickly removable.

To a power user, it's just a little bit sexy. We'll be curious to see how production houses react to the unit, compared to traditionally kitted-out desktops.

Flip it to the side, and you're treated to a DVD&plusm;RW, an SD card reader, a FireWire 400 port, two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone and microphone jack.

The incredibly inaccessible ports on the back include power, DisplayPort, Intel gigabit Ethernet, 5.1 sound via 3.5mm jacks or optical and four USB 2.0 ports.


Choose a benchmark: Handbrake | iTunes | Photoshop | Multimedia

It is a little alarming that this AU$3999 workstation is outclassed by an AU$2499 consumer-level Dell, but then everything in this machine uses workstation-quality parts, rather than consumer. Still, we can see the temptation of saying "to hell with it", and just getting the consumer part for the savings and power.

Gaming performance

While the Quadro is a professional graphics card, we were curious to see how its gaming performance stacked up to the consumer cards out there.

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Playable on:
1366x768, 4x AA, Detail level: Low, PhysX off.
Metro 2033
1366x768, DirectX 9, 0x AA, Quality: Low, PhysX: Off.
The Witcher 2
1366x768, low spec.
Playable on:
1366x768, low detail

We require a 30fps minimum to deem something playable, except on Metro; regardless of the power we've thrown at it, we've always had ~9fps troughs creep their way in. Here, we refer to the average frame rate for guidance.

It doesn't look good. While we don't have the facilities to test the Quadro's chops in 3D creation utilities, its gaming performance shows that it's quite the low-end card. Alienware's X51 could be had with a 27-inch monitor for less, and perform significantly better. Once again, it's not Quadro or Xeon supported, but the market that requires such parts is becoming exceedingly small.

The fact that HP has opted for a bottom-tier Quadro 500M is puzzling, given that there's a 1000M, 2000M, 3000M, 4000M and even 5010M it could pull from, and has done so with its mobile workstations. Regardless of the thought process, it certainly tarnishes the Z1's reputation as a workstation.

There is an SKU that's higher specced than our review sample, although we don't have any comparative data on how the Quadro 1000M would do, compared to the 500M.

SKU Processor RAM HDD Graphics RRP
B4F76PA#ABG Intel Core i3 2120 8GB - 4x2GB (DDR3-1600 nECC) 500GB 7200rpm Intel HD Graphics 2000 AU$2499
B4F77PA#ABG Intel Xeon E3 1245 8GB - 4x2GB (DDR3-1600 nECC) 1000GB 7200rpm Intel HD Graphics P3000 AU$2999
B4F78PA#ABG Intel Xeon E3 1245 8GB - 4x2GB (DDR3-1600 nECC) 1000GB 7200rpm Nvidia Q500M Graphics AU$3499
B4F79PA#ABG Intel Xeon E3 1245 8GB - 4x2GB (DDR3-1600 nECC) 160GB SSD Nvidia Q500M Graphics AU$3999
B4F80PA#ABG Intel Xeon E3 1245 8GB - 4x2GB (DDR3-1600 nECC) 160GB SSD Nvidia Q1000M Graphics AU$4999


The fact that you can open up a Z1 is brilliant, with HP's engineering skill really coming to the fore in both layout and tool-less maintenance.

It's disappointing, then, that considering the massive markup for workstation parts, it doesn't perform anywhere near as well as a significantly cheaper consumer-level machine. Yes, you're paying for added reliability, and not just performance, but it's hard not to feel a little crestfallen. Given that HP isn't shipping the Z1 locally with a fast graphics card, it'd make more sense to get a separate tower and monitor.

It's a fascinating concept, and one that we hope bleeds down to consumer all-in-ones from here. Who knows; maybe then MXM might finally take off. Until then, we look forward to the next revision.