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July 2014
Issue: August 1, 2012

Review: HP's all-in-one Z1 workstation

By: Dariush Derakhshani
PRODUCT: HP’s Z1 all-in-one workstation

WEBSITE: www.hp.com

PRICE: Starting at $1,899. This review unit, configured, $5,673
- Gorgeous display
- Nvidia Quadro 4000M graphics
- Easily expandable

Oooh, nice monitor.” Vicki peeked in my office door. “Wicked isn’t it,” I replied rhetorically. I knew it was wicked. She brushed her fingers across my keyboard, “Wireless, nice. You must get the big bucks? But where’s the tower?” She’s impressed; here’s my shot. “Tower? Ha! It’s in there.” I pointed to the HP Z1 all-in-one workstation. 

“What? Come on?” She looked under my desk; nothing but empty Amazon boxes. “No really, my workstation is all right there behind the screen.” She leaned on the edge of my table, squinting at me and said, “Don’t play me Koosh, you do 3D and stuff, don’t you need more than an iMac? “No, really, this is my new 3D workstation, the entire thing is in the display unit — it’s an all-in-one workstation.” 



She leaned in, my heart fluttered. She grabbed my shirt sleeve, pulling me in. “Yeah, right, nice try …” she whispered and walked out, “…. I have to feed the fish up front. Nice screen.” Oh, come on!

And with that fleeting flutter, I began my journey into the guts of the HP Z1. I was on a mission to prove that this machine can live up to what I need, or at least what Vicki thinks I need. Sitting just over two feet high on my desk, the platform reminds me of the lab of iMacs where I teach Maya in the evenings. I like the easy looks, simple and sleek, a lovely gloss on the screen with a black glass bezel around, and a couple inches of black metal speaker grill lining the bottom strip, all sitting on a sturdy, albeit, somewhat large footprint stand. Once it’s set up, the screen/unit is easy to maneuver and position to taste, despite its hefty weight.

The most immediately striking feature of the Z1 is the remarkable screen. Backed by a 10-bit IPS LED backlight 27-inch panel, the Z1’s default resolution (as configured) was an amazingly sharp 2560x1440. It felt like a giant third-gen iPad with Retina display to me; it was crisp and vibrant. Colors were rich, and the blacks were fabulous, deep. Having a DisplayPort, the Z1 could function as another system’s display. But the way this unit is configured, I wouldn’t want to connect it to anything else.

UNDER THE HOOD

This Z1 is powered by an Intel Xeon E3-1280 Sandy Bridge quad-core 3.5GHz CPU, 16GB of DDR3 memory (expandable to 32GB), and an impressive 2GB Quadro 4000M graphics card. My tower has far less than that, so out of sheer envy I decided to punish the Z1 until I saw tears rolling down its side-mounted USB 3.0 ports. So I immediately started burning in the machine for a week nonstop by rendering a 1000-frame 1080p resolution scene in Mental Ray, flip booking a repeating cycle of 500 HD frames in memory, running graphics intensive SPECViewPerf 11 benchmarks, and all of those running concurrently with a grueling Prime95 stress test of system memory and all four CPU cores (8 cores with hyperthreading).

This ordeal is meant to massively stress the machine’s stability and to see how the hardware performs at its hottest, and to make it look like I was busy working at the office. After running this stress test for a week straight, the Z1 did not experience any severe crashes or lock-ups. The unit got a bit hot to the touch at the top center of the chassis, but the case’s design was able to keep the machine relatively cool without sounding much louder than a workstation laptop; it is certainly quieter than my home-built tower.

Graphics testing proved this machine capable. SPECViewPerf benchmarks were taken at 1920x1200, a lower res than the Z1 handles, to be comparable to previous tests. The Z1’s graphics system was a solid performer, bringing in ViewPerf scores that on average were 15 percent higher than last year’s tests on a beefy notebook workstation with similar Nvidia graphics. This is perhaps due to a larger power draw the Z1 is able to enjoy since it’s not a notebook and also sports a strong Xeon CPU. It also destroyed my home built system’s graphics performance (equipped with an older ATI FirePro V8750) in ViewPerf. There’s no doubt the Z1 can handle pro-level graphics.



Subjective use was awesome. I have to say that 10-bit display and app/OS support needs to be simpler to enable in this day and age, but that is no fault of Nvidia or HP. Once enabled, Adobe Photoshop CS5 ran at 10-bit and showed wonderfully smooth RGB and grayscale gradients with absolutely no banding. The 10-bit OpenGL playback was also fantastic and the screen showed wireframes with great detail and clarity. Large texture maps at 8K panned around with aplomb and refreshed quickly. Colors stayed true and clean. The dual 300GB SSD drives were zippy fast. You can opt to stripe them in RAID-0 or mirror in RAID-1, or even go for a mechanical HDD, though that would just be medieval. An abundance of ports (USB 2.0 and 3.0, FireWire, Media Card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, DisplayPort in and out, optical audio) allows for a wide array of connection options on the unit’s sides and running along the bottom, and the integrated Webcam and pretty nice sounding speakers make it suitable for all sorts of general use computing. A wireless keyboard and mouse are a nice addition to the package.

Expandability in an all-in-one can be sketchy, but HP makes it easy to access the innards of the Z1 by simply folding it over its stand and opening up the unit like a briefcase. You can access and upgrade memory, hard drives, even the Nvidia Quadro 4000M graphics using standard Mobile PCI Express Module (MXM) interface. That’s great news for longer-term longevity. Machines in production need to stand up and stay relevant after at least a few years of use, and I think the Z1 can pull that off.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A workstation machine has to stand up to the bully in the courtyard. It needs to be able to withstand a gauntlet of demands and be able to deliver on them all flawlessly for me to consider it a worthwhile workstation. The Z1 meets that standard in a convenient package. It’s a highly capable workstation and shouldn’t be underestimated due to its iMac-ishness. And did I mentioned the gorgeous display?