If God needed a computer, this is the one he would build. In fact, you don’t need to even read the rest of this review – if you’re looking for a computer for your home, or 100 for your office, the HP Z1 Workstation is the right computer. Period.
Oh, so you want to hear more? “Amuse me Mr. Geek Man,” you say? Well fine. I can go all day talking about the Z1, so go get some popcorn or something. Because this is gonna be a long one.
Unboxing the HP Z1 Workstation
When the Z1 Workstation arrived, it came in one of the biggest boxes ever! The packaging was actually impressive! Here’s what happened when we unboxed it.
HP Z1 Workstation Details
The first thing to keep in mind is that the HP Z1 doesn’t come in just one flavor. You need to broaden your thinking and consider the Z1 as more of a platform that you can build upon.
The Z1 can be optioned lean enough to come in at a starting price around $1,800 – perfect for light home use or maybe something for the secretarial pool (do those even exist any more?), all the way up to a bank-breaking $8,700+ for your hard-core multimedia intensive users like architects, artists, and multimedia professionals.
HP Z1 Workstations Include
- A fantastic 27″ 2560 x 1440 LED IPS display
- DVD or Blu-ray writer
- Up to 32GB of RAM
- Either ONE 7200 RPM or 10k RPM 3.5″ drive, or up to TWO SSDs
- 4 Video choices from a base integrated video card up to the NVIDIA Quadro K4000M
- Ports galore – 2 x USB 3.0, 4 x USB 2.0, mic/headphone/Optical out/Subwoofer out + a Card reader
- Up to a 5-year warranty from HP
- An integrated 1080p 2.0MP webcam, which is rotatable to disable
Yeah, that last little point is worth calling out. HP has an elegantly simple method of closing off the camera! Just swivel it. Why doesn’t EVERY camera do this?
HP Z1 Acoustics
One area that really deserves some special attention is the acoustics associated with the Z1. In fact, there basically aren’t any!
You know how most machines sit on your desk and you hear the fans spinning away. LOUDLY. Well, the Z1 uses no fewer than nine thermal sensors to control six separate fans which only cool the various parts when necessary.
The internals on the Z1 are broken up into four distinct cooling zones:
- The Processor
- Optical / Memory / Display Controls
Each area can essentially cool itself as needed. In addition, HP uses larger than normal cooling fans, which allow them to spin slower while still moving the same amount of air.
See what I mean when I say the engineers spent a lot of time on this one!
A Few Nitpicks
We’re always the most critical of those we love. And I do love thee Z1! So why can’t you be perfect? Here’s what I don’t like.
- A truly rotten keyboard. The massive keys, combined with the excessive travel and a clicking noise that would drive anyone mad.
- No Thunderbolt ports. I don’t care that they are only found on Macs! Get some!
- The four USB 2.0 ports on the back. Why can’t they all be 3.0?
- The base is a little weak, sometimes letting the monitor sag from a higher position.
- A DisplayPort for external monitors? I don’t even know where to find an adapter for that. How about HDMI instead?
HP Z1 Professional Construction
The HP engineers who designed the Z1 put a lot of thought into how each of the pieces would lay out within the chassis in order to ensure that not only did everything fit, but it had plenty of room for adequate ventilation as well as ease of replacement.
Throughout the internals it’s incredibly easy to spot the green tabs which allow each and every component to be swapped out. Need to put in a new video card? 5 seconds and you’re done. Hard drive? DVD Burner? RAM? Check. Everything you might need to replace can be done so in seconds. Check it out, I swapped out a DVD drive and it was so easy I actually thought it should have been harder!
The ease of repair must be taken into account when you consider the life span of these machines and the fact that most will make their way into enterprise environments. It would dramatically speed up the mean time to repair for IT environments who could simply roll a cart to a user’s desk, pop open the lid and change a part in seconds, as opposed to needing to take a computer back to the lab where the chassis would need to be disassembled and the internals would have to become externals just to get to the part you need to replace.
HP Z1 Workstation Options
If you’re going to choose how to option up the Z1 it helps to understand which things make for the biggest price jumps.
HP Z1 Processors
The Z1 comes with a pretty good choice of processors ranging from the Intel i3 line, up to the quad core Xeons. But what are the real differences?
Well… Xeon processors – have more cache, run cooler and at lower voltages, and are designed for 24/7 continuous usage. They can also be used in multi-socket motherboards so this is the same processor type you’ll find in Apple’s Mac Pros. The processors, and the motherboards that support them, cost a lot more than the consumer-oriented i3 – i7 line of Intel processors.
Having said that, if the workstation is not destined for heavy computational use (like graphic design, massive number crunching, etc.) one of the i3 or i5 processors would work just fine for things like email, word processing and web surfing. And there’s a $1,000 price difference between the entry level i3 and the high end Xeon processor, so that’ll save some major coinage.
HP Z1 Video Cards
At the bottom end of the range, the HP Z1 Workstation basically includes a video card that is integrated directly into the CPU. The video is certainly capable of driving the 27″ high resolution screen, as well as powering an external monitor, and it will play movies and games, etc.
Having said that, if you upgrade to the NVIDIA Quadro K4000M it will provide 800% faster performance in terms of smoothing out motion video and drawing complex things on screen. People working in applications like AutoCAD, or doing heavy multimedia editing will dramatically benefit from the much faster video processing, though the $1,400 price differential makes this about the most expensive upgrade you can make to the machine.
For full disclosure, if you were to purchase a Quadro 4000 video card for any other computer it would be closer to an $800 card. So there is definitely a premium to fit it into this chassis. But again, keep in mind that HP is warrantying this part for years, and servicing it is much easier.
HP Z1 Drive Choices
The hard drive you select is probably the single most important factor in terms of making the machine “feel” snappy. Most laptops or consumer grade computers come with drives that spin at 5,400 rpms or slower. That works well for conserving power, but it makes for a very s-l-o-w experience. The Z1 however starts with 7,200 rpm drives as its base option (normally the high end on other machines), and moves up from there.
You’ll notice that the machine I tested came with the 10,000 rpm drive, which is very fast indeed (for a hard drive). These drives, like the Xeon processors, are reserved for machines that are destined to see duty 24/7. They are fast, reliable, and expensive, adding over $250 to the base price. But in this machine I wouldn’t want anything less.
In fact, if you want maximum performance, the optimal configuration for the HP Z1 would be to upgrade to a pair of 500GB SSD drives configured in a RAID 1 striped array. This would allow the machine to take full advantage of its dual 6GB SATA controllers and really, really scream. Doing so would add nearly $2,000 to the price of the Z1, which is more than double what it would cost to slap a pair of SSDs in a traditional computer if you did it yourself. But again, the extra $grand or so you spend saves you down the road if you ever need any repair.
HP Z1 Memory Choices
When it comes to things like the video card, and probably the hard drives, I think it makes sense to go with the more expensive OEM installed options. You just don’t want the problems associated with plugging in things that aren’t certified and warranted to go with that machine. But when it comes to RAM? Skip it.
In order to upgrade the RAM all the way to the chassis maxing 32GB it would cost $1,700+, but you can head right on over to Crucial and purchase 32GB for this machine for just over $400. And since the Z1 is so simple to service, all you literally need to do is open the screen and plug in the RAM. You’re done!
HP Z1 Final Comments
Having said all that, I’m not sure what else you might want to know, so ask questions below and I’ll answer them in the comments. But in the meantime, we’re handing the HP Z1 Workstation a Geek Beat Editor’s Choice award.
Heck, this machine is so awesome that I’d give it a Nobel Prize if I could… but HP will just have to settle for our Editor’s Choice.