Last week, after much anticipation, HP rolled out their fleet of new ZBook mobile workstations to an assembled audience of journalists and industry analysts at their Global Workstations Event on the West Side of Manhattan. Aside from this article all about the new machines (and the event), there is a link to a video I made about it at the end of the article.
Professionals know that HP is the world’s leading manufacturer of workstations, consistently pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with both tower and mobile units. HP workstations offer among the highest levels of performance in the industry often with surprisingly attractive price tags — performance that often leaves competitors like Apple and Dell far behind.
The New ZBook Studio
As executives from HP’s workstation division including Jeff Wood, Jim Zafarana, and Josh Peterson began to describe the new machines to us at the announcement, it was clear that they were about to introduce something special. Though they gave mention of the recently introduced Z240 workstation, which I wrote about here, this time, however, the rollout was not about big-iron workstation towers and desktops, but new mobile workstations (though several products related to desktop workstations were also introduced which we’ll discuss below).
The new mobile workstations are not just refreshed models of previous models. They’ve been completely redesigned and not only offer unparalleled power in a mobile unit, but the latest technological innovations as well.
In the case of the HP ZBook Studio, a brand new mobile workstation which HP is calling the world’s first quad core Ultrabook (which means ultra slim design, ultra portability and ultra high battery life), HP has introduced a machine that could very well revolutionize the market and is their thinnest and lightest full performance portable machine to date.
The ZBook Studio starts at just 4.4 lbs with a thickness of only 18mm. My last portable machine was around 8 lbs, much less powerful and was a real drag to lug around. Suddenly airline flights will become a lot easier for those who want to do serious work on the road.
In addition to being extremely thin and light, the ZBook Studio features not only Intel Core processors, but Intel’s industrial strength Xeon processors, which is the first time I have heard of them being put in a laptop. Another thing I really like is the fact that you can put dual 1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2s for a total of 2 TB of storage. For those of you aren’t familiar with HP’s turbo drive technology, it is basically solid state storage that goes right into the PCIe bus delivering performance levels much faster than SSDs.
If you need more disk space to work with, you can connect external storage to the two built-in Thunderbolt 3 ports. Thunderbolt 3 was introduced in June and offers incredibly fast transfer speeds of 40 Gbps. It wasn’t all that long ago that I gushed about Thunderbolt 2’s speed of 20 Gbps, double the speed of the original Thunderbolt’s 10 Gbps. Naturally, with a speed of 40 Gbps, Thunderbolt 3 is great for external storage, as well connecting external video cards for GPU 3D rendering, a technique that has, in the past year or so, become a popular alternative to brute force CPU rendering. One Thunderbolt port can also support two 4K displays and according to Intel’s website can transfer a 4K movie in 30 seconds (even with compression that is very fast).
The ZBook Studio also allows for up to a hefty 32 GB of ECC memory as well as powerful new NVIDIA GPU options such as the NVIDIA Quadro M1000M 2 GB GDDR5. Of course you can opt for integrated Intel HD graphics 530, though it’s not such an attractive option for graphics pros.
In addition to these features, the ZBook Studio also offers an optional HP award-winning DreamColor UHD or FHD display (available as a touch display). The ZBook Studio also includes dual cooling fans.
The ZBook Studio will be available in December starting at $1,699.
Besides the ZBook Studio, HP also introduced three more ZBook Mobile Workstation models, which contain the latest innovations in GPUs, CPUs and displays, but also are dramatically thinner and lighter than their predecessors.
The HP ZBook 15u is a workstation Ultrabook and is a nice combination of mobility and affordability. This low-cost compact machine can be configured with up to 32 GB of RAM, AMD FirePro professional graphics with a 2GB frame buffer, HP Z Turbo Drive G2, 1.5 TB of total storage, and an FHD touch display (1920 X 1080 pixels). The ZBook 15u is planned for availability in January starting at $1099.
The HP ZBook 15 is the next generation of the world’s top selling mobile workstation, according to IDC Worldwide workstation tracker for Q2 2015. HP has redesigned the ZBook 15 inside and out and the result is that it is 27 percent thinner and 7 percent lighter than the previous generation. In addition the ZBook 15 boasts an impressive 27 percent increase in battery life over the previous generation. It’s got a 15.6 inch diagonal display and can be configured with Intel Core or Xeon processors, an impressive 64 GB ECC memory, two 1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2s with (a total of 3 TB of storage), two Thunderbolt 3 ports and optional HP DreamColor UHD or FHD touch displays. Pricing is not yet available.
The HP ZBook 17 represents the utmost in power and performance in HP’s mobile workstation line. The latest incarnation of this 17.3 inch powerhouse features a whopping 67 percent increase in battery life. It is also 11 percent lighter than its predecessor. You can configure this machine with Intel core or Xeon processors, up to 64 GB ECC memory, two 1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2s (for a total of 4 TB of storage), two Thunderbolt 3 ports and optional DreamColor UHD or FHD touch displays. Something that really sets the HP ZBook 17 apart from its siblings is its ability to support an NVIDIA M5000M Quadro graphics with an 8 GB frame buffer. That is serious graphics performance for a mobile workstation. Pricing is not yet available.
Actually, the ZBook Studio, ZBook 15 and 17 all feature new NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics which provide nearly two times the performance of previous generation graphics. These systems also offer a choice of Intel Iris Pro Graphics P580, Intel HD graphics P530 or Intel HD graphics 530 for those with less serious graphics demands.
Other ZBook Considerations
HP makes sure their new workstation designs undergo strict tests by independent third parties such as MIL-STD 810G, a rugged United States military standard that tests environmental conditions such as pressure, temperature, shock, moisture, dust, atmosphere, humidity, vibration and others including a 30 inch drop test performed 36 times. All in all there are over 15 grueling tests.
All HP ZBooks also come preloaded with HP Remote Graphics Software, a useful application that allows for effective remote collaboration, especially handy for graphics applications. With it, you can harness the raw power of advanced graphics workstations over a network. ZBooks also come with HP Performance Advisor, software that gives you all sorts of insight into the internal components and performance of your machine, as well as HP Velocity for more reliable and fast network performance.
Also introduced at the Global Workstation Launch Event was the new ZBook Dock with Thunderbolt 3. This new mobile workstation dock allows users to link up to 10 devices at once through ports that include Thunderbolt 3 (with support of DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.1 Gen 2, and PCIe), four USB 3.0, RJ-45, VGA, combo audio, and two additional DisplayPorts. A useful thing to have around.
While the big news at HP’s event was mainly about the new ZBooks, there were some other interesting product announcements for desktop workstations. The HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro combines up to four super-fast HP Z Turbo Drive G2 modules into one PCIe x16 card, can support up to 2TB, and delivers sequential performance up to, wait, you might want to sit down for this one, 9.0GB/s. That is basically 16 times faster than a standard SSD drive, an unprecedented level of performance that is perfect for today’s high resolution workflows of 4K and beyond. The HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro can be used with HP Z440, Z640 and Z840 Workstations. A card with four 256GB modules will cost $1,376.
HP also introduced the new HP Z Cooler, an ultra quiet cooling solution designed to reduce system noise in HP Z Workstation environments which is perceived as being 40 percent quieter to the human ear compared to previous generations. This is an important development, not only to cut down on distracting noise, but is an absolute necessity for sound studios and music producers who need absolute silence during recording. The HP Z Cooler works with the HP Z440 and Z840 Workstations. It’s available now for a price of $120.
On the display side, HP also introduced the HP Z22n and HP Z23n Narrow Bezel IPS Displays. These are the narrowest three-sided displays from HP, and are nearly borderless on three sides. They’ve got a 178-degree viewing angle IPS technology and the color gamut is calibrated to 95 and 96 percent sRGB for optimal color quality. The HP Z22n and Z23n are available now and priced at $209 and $229 respectively.
HP’s new ZBooks are perfect for filmmakers, post-production professionals, video editors, music producers and creative artists of all kinds who need serious mobile power. 3D animators, visual effects artists and colorists have longed recognized the power of HP workstations. They’re being used in top studios like DreamWorks Animation and many others on countless blockbuster movies. Video editors and music producers who may have traditionally used Apple MacBooks have also recently come on board, recognizing the superior performance HP offers both in their tower and mobile workstation designs.
This may have something to do with the perception that Apple has lost interest in the pro market. It is a reasonable assumption. With droves of kids (and adults) streaming into their stores for the latest phones and gadgets to play their favorite pop songs or for Netflix binge watching, it looks like the Cupertino company has enough work on their hands without worrying about the needs of the professional market.
If you think about it, the consumer, rather than the professional, has always been important to Apple. Even going back to the original Macintosh 128K, if you look at its original marketing materials, was aimed at common people, housewives, and students and was originally designed to be an appliance computer. When it was adopted by the desktop publishing industry and then the video industry, it wasn’t really due to Apple that people started thinking of it as a “graphics” machine. It was due to the efforts of companies such as Adobe and Avid who developed applications for it like Photoshop, After Effects, Pro Tools and Media Composer. These applications are all easily available on both platforms today.
HP’s products, on the other hand, have long enjoyed a solid technological reputation as being designed by and for engineers. So it’s no surprise that their machines excel at high-end, industrial strength environments. That’s why serious 3D computer graphics and animation pros (as well as scientific applications) have always been, for the most part, the province of Windows (and Unix) machines and why artists today are also choosing them to run Adobe’s Creative Suite, Pro Tools and other critical creative applications.
On that note, at HP’s event last week, an interesting presentation was given by Stephen Hunter who works at NASA. He discussed how HP’s mobile workstation are relied upon by the International Space Station. Hunter stressed that any piece of equipment that goes into space must not only be technologically advanced, but must be extremely rugged and reliable. The lives of the astronauts depend on it.
By the way, I also made a video version of this article on YouTube that has more images of the machine, as well as a few other things. Click here to watch the video.