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Review: HP ZBook 17 Mobile Workstation

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

4K Monitor Support

As a mobile workstation, the ZBook 17 G2 is not light, and it feels heavy in the hand if you’re used to an ultraportable. On the flip side, that solid feel is equally at home on a desk or in your lap, providing an easy transition from personal use in the field to desktop office use, including the use of a larger external monitor.

Speaking of which, we ran several tests with 1080p, 2560x1440, and 4K monitors. Using the ZBook’s DisplayPort connector, we connected a 4K monitor via a DisplayPort to HDMI dongle, and ran tests with the 17" DreamColor internal display opened or closed. In both instances, we were able to power the external 4K monitor, although it seemed that we were getting better results with the lid down on the ZBook 17 G2, which makes sense in that the Nvidia GPU is able to point all its processing power towards the external 4K monitor.

For 2560x1440 and 1080p monitors, we were able to easily run both the internal DreamColor display and the external monitor side by side. This provided an added benefit for color calibration and color matching, since the Oscar-winning DreamColor display is one of the best in the industry for accurate color representation.

Was there anything that stood out as needing improvement? Yes, we would two areas.

Power Consumption

With any large laptop or mobile workstation, power consumption is always an issue. Even with the SSD drive, the ZBook 17 G2 consumes about 200 watts of power from the 19v power inverter brick (and we use that term accurately since it’s the biggest 19v AC-to-DC power inverter we’ve ever seen).

At 200 watts of power consumption, though, the ZBook 17 G2 is still as efficient as a desktop computer, and more efficient if you take into account the fact that the 200 watts includes the a 17.3" DreamColor display as well as additional connectivity like Thunderbolt 2 and a Blu-ray Disc burner.

HDMI or Mini DisplayPort Connectivity

While we appreciate the ability of the DisplayPort connector, especially when it comes to high-end graphics monitors sold by HP and other computer manufacturers, the truth is that a majority of 4K monitors at lower refresh rates—such as the frame rates used for digital cinema—can be equally driven from newer HDMI connector sporting the latest HDMI spec.

The lack of a direct HDMI connector, and the inclusion of a VGA monitor connector, is a mystery. It’s not easy to find an adapter for DisplayPort-to-HDMI or even a DisplayPort-to-Mini DisplayPort adapter at your local Radio Shack, so the need to carry an extra adapter in your bag is a necessity if the client boardroom or office display monitor only has HDMI connectivity.

As for the VGA port, consider the fact that a smaller HDMI-to-VGA dongle fits much more compactly into a laptop bag. We challenge HP to consider putting the DB-15 VGA analog connector to rest, and replacing it with an HDMI connector.

Conclusion

This brief review of the HP ZBook 17 G2 barely scratches the surface of the brushed aluminum exterior.

HP gears this mobile workstation towards a number of industries, including design/CAD, oil and gas, media and entertainment, 3D animation, engineering, architecture, healthcare, education, and even government. But we think it has the makings of a very sweet live-encoding 4K streaming encoder, given the speed and capabilities of the Z Turbo Drive and DreamColor monitor.

In addition, with its ability to power an external 4K monitor, the ZBook 17 G2 makes an ideal post-production mobile editing platform, with enough graphics and general purpose processing horsepower to run applications like Adobe’s Creative Cloud Premiere Pro and its accompanying Adobe Media Encoder. I didn’t test AME against the ZBook 17 G2, as I don’t have an Adobe CC license, but based on the read-write tests, it’s fairly obvious to say that the ZBook would probably shave 15-22% off a typical mobile transcoding session.

The bigger question, though, is whether a 17" laptop or mobile workstation is worth the extra weight and cost? I would normally say no, but a week of testing with the ZBook 17 G2 changes my response to an unmitigated yes.

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