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Review: HP ZBook 17 Mobile Workstation

Who says hefty laptops can't be nimble and quick?

The first thing you notice about the HP’s ZBook 17 Mobile Workstation is its heft. This isn’t an ultraportable system, even in its second-generation (G2) configuration. On the other hand, it does things no ultraportable laptop can do, fitting for a mobile workstation.

The HP ZBook series has been around for several years, following the design, aesthetics, and can-do attitude of the desktop Z-series workstations. The brushed aluminum and overall lines of the ZBook 17 G2 are familiar to anyone who has used the HP Z1 G2 all-in-one workstation we reviewed for Streaming Media Producer in 2014.

Price, CPU, and Operating System

The ZBook 17 G2 starts at $1,699, but the configuration price for the HP ZBook 17 G2 that we reviewed cost a bit more, coming in at $4,986 after taking into account the 30% discount HP offers to mobile workstation buyers on its HP online store.

Our review unit came with Windows 7 Professional, running Service Pack 1. Unlike the HP Z1 G2 all-in-one workstation, which has a touchscreen and uses Windows 8.1, there’s no significant benefit to using Windows 8.1 on the non-touc-screen ZBook 17 G2. Like the Z1 G2, though, this mobile workstation operates best in 64-bit mode, so our Windows 7 Professional is 64-bit enabled.

Our review unit was equipped with an i7-4940, which is nominally clocked at 3.1Ghz but can be run at up to 4.0 Ghz as well in Turbo Mode. For most of our testing, the unit automatically overclocked to 3.3Ghz. Between the i7 processor and 16 GB of DDR 3 RAM, we were comfortable that the specs of the workstation could handle almost any task.

Based on that comfort level, though, two areas stood out that exceeded our expectations.

Speed

The first area that stood out in our reviews was the pure processing and data path speed that the HP ZBook 17 G2 possesses. Like the shift in the Z1 between the G1 and G2 versions, the inclusion of a solid-state drive (SSD) on the G2 version of the ZBook 17 represents a sea-change in terms of data throughput on a mobile workstation. HP calls this their Z Turbo Drive, with the emphasis on Turbo.

Our first test was the traditional Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test, which we’ve used for a number of video reviews on Streaming Media Producer—most recently for the G-Tech RAID and the G-Tech Speed hard-disk arrays—to test a drive’s potential to record and play back content at various data rates.

Each of our tests use a 4GB bloc, as we’re interested in what it takes to deal with large files that we’d typical encounter in streaming media production or archival.

After our first test, I stopped and checked to make sure all the software updates were on the machine. I did so because the test results seemed too fast, but after checking for software updates and rerunning the test, the results were consistently good.

How good? On the write side, the internal SSD yielded write speeds of 422 MB/sec. That means 52 fps of 2K content at 10-bit YUV. Even at 12-bit RGB, 2K content on the internal drive still wrote in at 23 frames per second (Figure 1, below).


Figure 1. Write speed DiskSpeed test performance for the internal SSD.

To compare these write speeds, let’s consider our recent 2- and 4-drive G-Tech RAID and Speed drives. The 2-drive RAID writes in at 300 MB/sec, yielding 38 frames of 2K 10-bit YUV (versus the ZBook’s 52 frames) and only 16 frames of 2K 12-bit RGB (versus 23 frames per second). Not too shabby.

The G-Tech Speed, with its four drives working synchronously, did outpace the ZBook 17 G2’s internal drive, turning in write speeds of 522 MB/sec, or about 100 MB/sec higher. On practical levels, this means 58 fps for 10-bit YUV 2K content writes and 26 frames per second for 12-bit RGB 2K content (Figure 2, below).


Figure 2. For comparison, the write speed performance of the G-Tech Speed RAID system with the same 4GB file.

Still, for an internal drive, the ZBook 17 G2 performed very well on writes, and absolutely blew away the competition on reads.

While the G-Tech Speed comes in at 385 MB/sec reads, the reads on the internal ZBook 17 G2’s SSD clock in at a whopping 680 MB/sec. That stat alone was what drove me to check for software updates, but the next round of tests yielded the same results, with less than 2 MB separating the two read tests.

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