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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?

We tested ease-of-maintenance by replacing the discrete graphics cards, which itself is a bit of a technical marvel: In order to maintain the shallow depth of the all-in-one configuration, HP worked with NVIDIA to design a PCI Express card that mounts sideways. The end result is a full-length graphics card lying on its side, using an MXM port, at a surface height not much more than that of the CPU heat sink or RAM.

Replacement was simple: squeeze a release latch and remove the card from its MXM slot and then pop in the replacement graphics card with a satisfying click. In addition, the auxiliary power is positioned at a corner of the graphics card housing, so that it easily and automatically snaps into place when the replacement board is correctly seated.

On the hard drive front, HP ships the Z1 with either a single 3.5” HDD or two 2.5” drives, the latter offered as either SSD or traditional drives. Our test unit came with two traditional 2.5” drives, in a RAID 0 configuration, held in place by a removable mount that offsets the two drives slightly atop each other so that the bottom one fits in the primary SATA slot while the upper one fits into a slightly recessed secondary SATA connection (Figure 2, below). We were able to easily replace drives in the field, using an external USB 3 drive to restore a pre-defined Windows image.

Figure 2. Accessing the internal SATA hard drives. Click the image to see it at full size.

One important note when it comes to RAM choices. HP states that the Z1 will support both ECC (32 GB) and non-ECC (16 GB) of unbuffered DDR3 RAM at 1600 MHz, but “the CPU determines the speed at which the memory is clocked.” In other words, a CPU that’s only capable of 1333MHz RAM support will under clock 1600MHZ RAM to run at 1333MHz.

Finally, unlike the majority of other all-in-one units, the processor on a Z1 is fully upgradeable. It sits in a standard zero-insertion-force (ZIF) slot on the main board, so removal and replacement only requires a screwdriver to remove the heatsink and dual fans.

Performance and Ports

HP builds the workstations to specification of customer need, based on a wide range of third-generation (3xxx) i3 and i5 processors, as well as the Xeon E3 series processor.

For our build we requested a Xeon E3-1280v2 processor rather than the i3 or i5 processors that come with integrated graphics. We did this for two reasons: first, the i3/i5 processors shipping with the Z1 aren’t the newer Haswell processors; second, we weren’t necessarily concerned about power consumption, and the Xeon allowed us to do discrete performance tests between the CPU and GPU.

Our discrete graphics card setup used NVIDIA Kepler-based graphics, which can be easily replaced, so HP sent us both the Quadro K3000 and K4000. Not only do each of the graphics card support the internal IPS panel at full resolution—2560 x 1440, at up to 1.07 billion colors when using 10-bit color space—but they also supports an additional monitor via an external DisplayPort connector.

The DisplayPort connector is tucked away at the lower middle section of the Z1’s rear connector panel alongside a Gigabit Ethernet port, several USB ports, and the power cord connection. The right-hand edge of the Z1 also has a Blu-Ray burner, a 1394a port, two USB ports, and an SD card slot for additional media ingestion.

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