Tag Archives: Intel

Review of the HP ZBook 15u G4 Mobile Workstation

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When we think about workstations for serious production and post work, HP’s line of Z Workstations immediately come to mind. And we’re not talking the huge desktop workhorses such as the towering Z840 (which I have reviewed here), but also HP’s highly esteemed line of ZBook Mobile Workstations which offer intense power in a mobile footprint and are great when you want workstation performance on the go.

The biggest machines in the ZBook line are the ZBook 17 and 15. They’re the ones you want to get if you’re looking for a muscular mobile workstation and don’t mind carrying around some extra weight.

However, for those who don’t want to lug around the extra pounds, HP makes two slimmer mobile workstations which they call their “Workstation Ultrabooks”. The premium of the two is the ZBook Studio which offers remarkable power for its size.

The other ultra light mobile workstation in HP’s ZBook line is the HP ZBook 15u G4 Mobile Workstation which has just been released and updated from it’s predecessor, the G3.

I’ve created a video review of the machine which includes an unboxing and thorough examination of the machine. So check out the video and read on when you’re done:

The ZBook 15u G4 is HP’s super slim entry level Workstation Ultrabook. That means not only does it deliver high performance in a very small footprint, but it does so at an extremely attractive price tag.

As soon as I pulled the 15u G4 out of the box, I was immediately impressed by how truly slim and light it was for a workstation class machine. It weighs just 4.18 lbs and 19.9mm wide.

The ZBook 15u G4 is HP's Workstation Ultrabook
The ZBook 15u G4 is HP’s Workstation Ultrabook

Next, I installed a variety of software such as Adobe Creative Cloud, MAXON’s CINEMA 4D and others and set about doing a bunch of tasks such as 3D modeling, rendering, painting and video editing, all of which the 15u handled very well thanks to the new 7th generation (KabyLake) dual core i7-7600U CPU in the heart of the machine. Running Cinebench gave me a result of 371 for the chip. That’s an impressive score for a dual core CPU and an improvement over the previous generation Skylake processors.

Ports of Call

The HP ZBook 15u G4’s I/O ports include a newer USB 3.1 port as well as the more standard USB 3.0 ports (one of which is a charging port). In addition, there is a DisplayPort 1.2 to connect a high resolution external display. Also included is an SD card reader, VGA port, RJ45 Ethernet, media card reader and a headphone/microphone combo jack. Don’t forget to watch the video for a complete examination of the ports.

The 15u G4’s backlit keyboard features a full numeric keypad, something that I prefer to have on a keyboard. It’s got a spill resistant design as well as pointing device built into it. There’s also a 720p webcam and microphone over the display.

The backlit keyboard includes a numeric keypad and a pointer
The backlit keyboard includes a numeric keypad and a pointer

Speaking of the display, the machine I reviewed had a full HD (1920 X 1080) Touchscreen display. You also have the option of getting a UHD display (3,840 X 2,160). If you plan on showing your screen to large groups of people, I suggest that you buy the ultra wide viewing angle option when you purchase the machine, otherwise image quality will not be optimal when looking at the screen from extreme viewing angles.

I usually cover high end machines for production and post. As a result, I’ve never reviewed a machine with a touchscreen. While I don’t consider it a must-have on a mobile workstation, the touchscreen is a nice addition. Besides allowing for tablet-like functionality, it can also be helpful for production work. In Photoshop you can use it to pinch, move or rotate your image and it’s also comes in handy when doing 3D or video editing. Of course it’s a great to have when browsing through web pages or skimming through YouTube videos.

Looking inside

While the 15u G4 is not meant to be the most expandable machine in the ZBook line, it’s capable of a total of 32 GB of dual-channel DDR4-2133 memory in the form of two 16 GB SODIMM slots (by the way that’s double the amount that a top of the line MacBook Pro is capable of supporting). That’s a lot of memory for a machine that bills itself as an ultrabook. The machine I reviewed came with 16 GB of RAM, it had two 8 GB DIMMs installed.

The HP ZBook 15u G4 is capable of supporting 32 GB of memory.
The HP ZBook 15u G4 is capable of supporting 32 GB of memory.

For discrete graphics, the 15u has an AMD FirePro W4190M which features 2GB of memory. The W4190M is an ISV-certified professional graphics card with support for OpenGL. It also supports multi-monitors. CINEMA 4D users will appreciate the use of AMD FirePro graphics now that MAXON is incorporating AMD’s Radeon ProRender realistic rendering engine natively into CINEMA 4D R19. For those who prefer NVIDIA graphics, check out the premium ZBook Studio.

For primary storage, the ZBook 15u G4 contains HP Z Turbo Drive G2 (M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD). These super fast SSDs connect directly to the PCIe bus through an M.2 connection and are capable of speeds more than four times faster than a SATA SSD drive. CrystalDiskMark gave me a result of 2,590 MB/s for the Read and 1,410 MB/s for the Write. If you haven’t used HP’s Z Turbo PCIe based storage yet, do yourself a favor and try it out. The PCIe Z Turbo Drives come in 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB configurations.

The HP 15u G4 contains a screaming fast Z Turbo Drive for primary storage
The HP 15u G4 contains a screaming fast Z Turbo Drive for primary storage

For additional storage, the HP ZBook 15u G4 also includes an internal 2.5 inch bay for an additional SATA HDD. That’s handy for storing large files such as video clips, texture maps, 3D renders and more. Between the HP Z Turbo Drive and the SATA drive, the total storage capacity of the machine is 2 TB.

Long Life and Endurance
Battery life on the HP is long thanks to the 51 Whr battery with HP Fast Charge which provides up to 50 per cent battery life after just 30 minutes of charging time. Audio quality is also noticeably good on the 15u G4 thanks to the built in Bang & Olufsen audio system and the HP Clear Sound Amp.

The 51 Whr battery provides long life and charges to 50 percent capacity in only 30 minutes.
The 51 Whr battery provides long life and charges to 50 percent capacity in only 30 minutes.

Being a professional workstation class computer, the HP ZBook 15u G4 has passed 14 Mil-STD tests, more than any workstation in its class, and has undergone 120,000 hours of testing.

The results of the CineBench CPU test
The results of the CineBench CPU test

 

The results of the CineBench GPU test
The results of the CineBench GPU test

Conclusion

The HP ZBook 15u G4 is extremely thin and light for a workstation-class machine. As such, it deserves its Workstation UltraBook moniker. Being HP’s “entry level” mobile workstation, it will appeal to entry-level animators and production artists that need the reliability and performance that a true workstation offers. However, media pros who might be looking for a light workstation to take on long trips may also find the 15u G4 attractive. For those who have more money to spend yet still want a thin and light machine (or in case you want NVIDIA graphics), be sure to check out the ZBook Studio.

However, whoever you are, the HP ZBook 15u G4 Mobile workstation is super slim, light enough to take anywhere, easy on your wallet and packs a powerful punch when it comes to performance. I would recommend this machine.

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Lenovo Unveils Powerful New Mobile Workstations

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Lenovo is getting serious about workstations. Earlier this year, the computer company rebooted their ThinkStation line of workstation towers, two of which I’ve reviewed. The top-of-the-line ThinkStation P900 is a powerhouse of a machine that’s capable of handling the most intense and demanding production challenges. It contains dual Xeons packed with 20 physical cores (that’s 40 virtual cores), as well as lots of other features to dazzle you. For those just starting out, the ThinkStation P500 is an entry level workstation with a single Xeon processor that provides solid performance at a price everyone can afford. In between the two are the P500 and P700.

To add to these powerful desktop machines, Lenovo is announcing two new mobile workstations at Siggraph 2015 that will deliver serious production power on the go. We recently had the chance to meet with Lenovo executives in New York to get a close look at these new machines and were were duly impressed. These machines, in my opinion, will deliver the level of performance needed to run the most demanding production and post software today and compared to Lenovo’s previous mobile workstation offerings are a major leap forward.

According to Lenovo, these new machines are among the most powerful notebook computers ever available. Of course we’re curious to test them out and see how they fare in real world production environments, but after a look at the specifications, I’m inclined to agree.

The ThinkPad P70

Let’s start with the ThinkPad P70, a 17 inch mobile workstation which, according to Lenovo, is capable of containing the most memory and storage ever found in a mobile unit, 64GB of DDR4 ECC memory and the ability to contain up to four storage devices. A quick check of the memory capacity in comparable offerings from HP, Dell, Boxx and Apple seems to confirm this. HP and Boxx offer up to 32GB of RAM while a MacBook Pro seems to top off at 16GB.

The ThinkPad P70 offers 64GB of RAM, PCIe storage, a 4K display and Thunderbolt 3
The ThinkPad P70 offers 64GB of RAM, PCIe storage, a 4K display and Thunderbolt 3

For storage, the ThinkPad P70 is capable of up to a terabyte of SSD storage that connects directly to the latest PCIe technology for speeds up to five times faster than a SATA connection. For those interested in external RAIDs, the ThinkPad P70 comes with two blazingly fast Intel Thunderbolt 3 ports for an astounding 40Gbps transfer rate. That should easily handle 4K editing.

On the display side, the ThinkPad P70 comes a 4K UHD display, a remarkable thing to have on a mobile computer. Now that Windows 10 is out, you don’t have to worry about tiny fonts in menus and control palettes either. Screen fonts will scale to the proper size and remain readable irregardless of the pixel size of the display. If you prefer, you could optionally get an FHD (1920 X 1080) touch display. I’d personally stick with the 4K display, however.

All in all, the ThinkPad P70 is an superbly designed and engineered product and is one of the most advanced and highest performance mobile workstations available.

The ThinkPad P50

For those who prefer a smaller and lighter machine, the ThinkPad P50 is Lenovo’s thinnest and lightest full-function mobile workstation yet. The P50 has an attractive 15.6 display and, like its big brother the P70, the resolution of the display is 4K.

The ThinkPad P50 has lmuch of what's good in the P70 including the 4k display, only in a smaller footprint.
The ThinkPad P50 has lmuch of what’s good in the P70 including the 4k display, only in a smaller footprint.

That kind of just makes me want to giggle since, in my opinion, the more resolution the better. This means you can work on high resolution cinematic effects shots without having to constantly zoom in and out. Remember when laptop displays used to be 800 X 600?. Now we’ve got 4k resolution on a 15.6″ laptop. Heck yeah.

Other Considerations

The ThinkPad P70 and P50 are the first machines equipped with the new Intel Xeon Processor E3-1500M v5 product family which delivers tremendous performance for workstation class performance. Both systems feature NVIDIA Quadro GPUs, which are also best in class and have been mil-spec tested for maximum durability.

One of the features that I really like on the Lenovo mobile workstations is the X-Rite Pantone color calibration system, which I first discovered when I reviewed of a previous Lenovo mobile workstation, the ThinkPad W540. I was glad to see that it included in the new breed since this cool and innovative feature will automatically color calibrate your monitor, keeping colors accurate on that 4K monitor. Just fold down the display, and a small sensor built into the chassis of the computer does the work. No need to purchase additional hardware or software.

To help keep things running cool, both the ThinkPad P50 and P70 feature a unique and innovative FLEX Performance Cooling System, a dual fan design that allows for cooler, quieter and faster performance. Less heat means the ability to push the system harder and comes in handy for those long rendering jobs.

Conclusion

The new ThinkPad P Series mobile workstations from Lenovo will be available starting in Q4 2015. The P50 will start at a price of $1,599 and the P70 will start at 1,999. Companies and facilities can sign up for a variety of service and support services.

If you’re involved with high-end production and post such as 3D animation, editing, compositing, color work or matte painting, the new ThinkPad P Series of mobile workstations is definitely worth checking out and may be a perfect balance of price and performance for professional and aspiring artists, filmmakers and animators.

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Review of the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 Workstation

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I expected that Lenovo’s new top of the line ThinkStation P900 was going to be a hot machine when I first heard about it, and when it finally arrived for review, I can’t say I was disappointed.

While I don’t always make a video for every product I review, I often do when a new product is significant. Thus, I hope you enjoy the following video review I made describing the features of the P900:

In case the video’s not enough for you, and want more information about the P900 in written form, read on.

First Impressions

Sitting at the top of Lenovo’s ThinkStation family, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a large machine at 7.87″ x 24.4″ x 17.5″, and while smaller might be better in some things, when it comes to workstations, bigger is usually better. The reason is simple. You need space to store all the good things that make a workstation what it is such as loads of hard drives, memory, heavy duty power supplies and beefy Graphics cards.

Even so, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900’s sleek lines and clean design give the workstation an elegant appearance. The case is matte black with a hexagonal grille on the front which is designed to provide maximum airflow through the machine. The ThinkStation logo on the front can be rotated ninety degrees if you wish to mount the machine horizontally, a nice touch.

Sleek lines characterize the design of the P900.
Sleek lines characterize the design of the P900.

The front of the machine has 4 speedy USB 3.0 ports, and an integrated 9 in 1 card reader. There are also three Flex Bays on the front with a DVD writer installed in one of them. You can also choose to add other i/o components to the Flex Bays such as an optional 29 in 1 card reader, an ultraslim ODD or even eSATA or Firewire drives. More on the Lenovo’s Flex system later.

The back of the workstation.
The back of the workstation.

The back of the machine contains most of the basic ports and connections that you might expect on a workstation including audio jacks, two Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0 ports as well as two DVI connections and two Display Ports for hooking up your displays. There are six more PCIe slots in addition to the ones being used by the GPU.

On the inside

Opening the workstation is done via a handle on the side of the chassis. Once the side was removed, I was struck by the clean and well ordered design of the interior of the machine which has red touchpoints to guide your hands to the internal compenents of the machine that can be easily removed without the need for tools. See the video for more about removing and replacing parts.

The inside of the P900 with the air baffle in place.
The inside of the P900 with the air baffle in place.

The Lenovo ThinkStation P900 has a tri channel cooling system that guides air from the fans through the workstation via a large air baffle which is easily removed. Beneath it you’ll find the dual Intel Xeon E5-2600 V3 Haswell processors running at 3.1 GHz with a total of twenty physical chords and 40 threads. A powerful pair, and good for those heavy duty rendering and dynamics simulations projects.

Above and below the processors are the 16 memory slots and when you use 32 GB memory sticks, you can cram a half a terabyte (512 GB) of DDR4 ECC RAM into the P900. I’m also told that that the system was designed to take 64GB DDR4 memory modules once they are released in the future. That will boost the total memory capacity of the computer to one terabyte.

The interior of the machine with the CPUs exposed.
The interior of the machine with the CPUs exposed.

There’s space for two NVIDIA Quadro K6000 or K5200 GPUs in the machine in addition to an NVIDIA Tesla K40 GPU graphics accelerator. This is great for interactive visualizations, GPU rendering, as well as 4K and beyond video editing, compositing and color grading. You can also put other NVIDIA graphics cards in it if desired. The machine I reviewed had an NVIDIA K5200, a nice choice that combines value and power.

Flex, you say?

When I first read about Lenovo’s new Flex system, it got me a little confused, so I’ll explain to you what it is. Flex is comprised of four things, the Flex Bays (on the front of the machine), the Flex Module, The Flex Tray and the Flex connector.

The Flex drive trays inside the workstation connect directly to the motherboard without the need for messy cables. and can each support a 3.5″ drive, two 2.5″ drives or a 2.5″ and 3.5″ drive. The onboard Lenovo RAID controller supports configurations of 0, 1, 5 and 10. Once again see the video to see how the Flex trays are removed and replaced.

There are two Flex Connectors located directly on the motherboard, each one controlled by one of the dual CPUs. The Flex Connectors support SATA, SAS, PCIe and have advanced RAID solutions. This allows for more storage and i/o without using up your PCI slots needlessly.

Benchmarks

For benchmarking, I ran the software I usually run to evaluate the performance of a new workstation, MAXON’s CineBench, which tests the speed of the processing power of the CPUs as well as the Graphics card.

Cinebench results. GPU on top, CPU on bottom.
Cinebench results. GPU on top, CPU on bottom.

The results for both the CPU and the GPU were remarkable, and pretty much at the head of the class. The P900 had a CPU score of 2224 and 99.72 for the GPU. You can see in the graphic above how this stacks up compared to other systems. For example, in the CPU department, it’s almost double the performance of a 12 core (24 threads) Xeon X5650 system. You can also see how well the GPU fares compared to other offerings from NVIDIA.

CineBench is free, so you can download it and run it on your current rig for comparison. There is also a comprehensive CineBench online database with results from many other configurations you can check.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to like about the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 and it is unquestionably one of the top machines in its class. I focus on high end post production, animation, visual effects and editing projects and if you’re like me, and your work is high resolution and render intensive, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a great choice. Oh, and just in case you missed it, don’t forget to watch the video.

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