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Review: HP Z1 All-in-One Workstation

How does the all-in-one that's won over the workstation crowd stack up against laptop form-factor workstations for speed, power, and upgradability for streaming media producers?
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We first covered the HP Z1 in February 2012, just after HP launched its first all-in-one workstation. At that time, the Z1 received plenty of industry attention, primarily for its unique upgradeability—a feature not found in other all-in-one Windows or Macintosh machines.

In the intervening 18 months, HP has been hard at work introducing a number of upgraded desktop- and mobile-workstation models across its Z lineup. Just a few weeks ago, the company announced three laptop form factor workstations, the larger two of which come complete with Thunderbolt 2, as well as several desktops and two very impressive DisplayPort-centric monitors (one of which we will review in the next few weeks).

That brings us back around to the Z1, though, which was not updated. While anything’s possible in terms of update schedules, we wanted to review the Z1 on its own merits in light of continuing advancements in the desktop computing space. After all, the Z1 fits into a unique niche between those who use fully portable systems and those who require the top-of-the-line computing afforded in a much more expensive desktop computer.

I’m writing part of this review on the Z1 itself, using both Windows 7 and Windows 8. Each are certified for the Z1, although the current upgrade (Windows 8.1) is too new yet to receive certification.

Certification is a key point across all of HP’s workstation line: from components to operating systems and key applications, HP spends the time to test integration of all the parts so that its machines function with the speed of a thoroughbred and the stamina of a workhorse.

Form Factor and Weight

The Z1 has the appearance of an oversized monitor, partly due to the IPS panel’s actual size (27”) and also due to the fact that the entire computer, in all its upgradeable glory, resides behind the IPS panel.

To access upgradeable computer components, which we’ll discuss in detail below, the monitor sits on an industrial-size base. We found the base quite a bit deeper and heavier than other all-in-one machines, making it a bit awkward to fit on a standard-sized writing desk. In one location, where the desk was positioned against a wall, this had the effect of bringing the monitor forward towards the user about three inches, shifting the monitor’s perceptive size a bit too close for extended writing. When we shifted to an open-office environment, on a deeper desk, the effective distance was much better suited for the Z1.

Weight for the computer itself, including the base, starts at 47 lbs. The base itself accounts for 12.4 lbs according to our weight test, meaning any VESA mount should be rated above 35 lbs. The Z1 uses a standard VESA 100mm dimension for wall mounting.

Maintenance and Upgradability

Why have such an oversized base? Accessibility. The internal scissor-jack hydraulics in the base both lift the computer into place as well as slowly lower it down to a locked position for maintenance mode. Once the Z1 has been guided into its maintenance mode position by the scissor-jack base, a flick of the thumbs on two spring-loaded clips is all that’s needed to access internal components.

The genius in the design is evident if you’ve ever tried to install RAM on another popular all-in-one machine, and found yourself fighting the pedestal base while trying to get a hand or two into the hard-to-reach RAM slots.

So what can you do inside the Z1 if you’re out in the field on a streaming media shoot, but don’t have a screwdriver or other tools handy? Turns out quite a bit. RAM, internal USB connectors, graphics cards, hard drives, and even the power supply can all be replaced by clicking one or two buttons (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. The Z1 under the hood. Click the image to see it at full size.

The Z1’s lid is even held open by a vertical pneumatic hinge, akin to the kind you find on a screen door, so that both hands are free for maintenance work.

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