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Review: HP Z1 G2 All-in-One Workstation

In this review, we'll look at four key new features that make the Z1 all-in-one idea an even better toolset for those who need super-fast connectivity to external storage, coupled with touch capability and an all-solid-state-drive (SSD) configuration.

GPU

One of the hallmarks of any of the HP Z-series workstations is the ability to perform almost all maintenance without a toolbag handy. For instance, we demonstrated on a recent video review of HP’s flagship tower workstation—the HP z820—that even the power supply can be removed with a single flick of the wrist.

In the case of the Z1 G2, like its predecessor, even the graphics processing unit (GPU) can be removed with a single twist of the combination handle-latch mechanism. As such, we were able to test several NVIDA GPUs by just flipping open the monitor/lid and replacing the GPU (after shutting the unit down, of course).

The Z1 G2 comes with an upgrade to the K4000 Mobile GPU we tested in the inaugural G1: the Z1 G2 ships with the K4100M (Figure 2, below), which adds a higher number of cores at a faster processing speed.

Figure 2. The HP Z1 G2 ships with an NVIDIA K4100M Mobile GPU. Click the image to see it at full size.

How much faster is this new K4100M? We wanted to know the answer to that question, to so we ran one of our previous tests to compare.
On the original Z1, we’d transcoded the movie Tangled, which had been copied bit-for-bit from a Blu-ray Disc, for playback on a series of iOS devices. We did the tests using Adobe Media encoder, and we compared times for both the stock K4000M GPU and the Xeon processor, the latter of which lacked any of Intel’s QuickSync hardware-assisted transcoding assistance.

In other words, we did one hardware- and one software-based test. Here’s what we came up with during the original Z1 testing: Tangled for Apple iPad 2,3,4 mini 1080p at 23.97 frame per second (fps) on the original Z1: 2 hours 25 minutes for K4000M hardware-based transcoding) and 2 hours 37 minutes for Xeon processor (software-based transcoding)

On the Z1 G2, we asked HP to supply us with an Intel Core i7 processor, which does contain QuickSync capabilities: For testing purposes, we chose the i7-4790 at 3.60 GHz. The machine comes with 16GB of DDR3 RAM, filling four of the four DIMM slots in a 4 X 4GB configuration.

Here are the results:

Tangled for Apple iPad 2,3,4 mini 1080p at 23.97 frame per second (fps) on the updated Z1 G2: 1 hour 22 minutes for K4100M and 1 hour 27 minutes for i7­4790 processor. Oncthe latter, we forced it to use the software­-based Mercury Playback Engine, despite Intel’s QuickSync technology in the i7 processor, to see whether software or hardware had the edge here. In other words, we saw the transcoding test times cut in half, in part thanks to the HP Z1 G2 and in part thanks to more efficient core usage in Adobe Media Encoder CC 2014.

Thunderbolt 2

When we did our First Look for the Z1 G2 in early 2014, HP when they took issue with one of our statements around Thunderbolt 2. At the time, HP was claiming to be the first workstation vendor to market with Thunderbolt 2 (Figure 3, below). We pointed out that the Mac Pro, which has six Thunderbolt 2 ports, had begun shipping in late 2013. From HP’s perspective, though, the company stood by the claim for its workstations, hinging on the word itself. “It’s not that HP does not consider the Apple products like the Mac Pro to be workstation class products,” an HP spokesperson said, adding, "it’s actually [Apple’s] own distinction--Apple does not classify their products as workstations and neither do industry reports from analyst firms like IDC." As such, the HP spokesperson said, "HP simply follows the industry’s lead in this classification."

Figure 3. HP claims to be the first workstation vendor in the market to offer Thunderbolt 2. Click the image to see it at full size.

With that point of distinction behind us, one thing we find quite curious about the Z1 G2 configuration is that it doesn’t come standard with Thunderbolt 2 unless you’re willing to give up something else. It’s a case of “giving up something to get something” that we don’t think needs to be a tradeoff.

What HP has done for the G2 version is offered an interim solution, allowing it to offer Thunderbolt 2 while at the same time keeping the exact form factor and number of backplane connectors as the original Z1: HP will sell the Z1 G2 without a Blu-ray or DVD burner in place. Instead of the Blu-ray burner (Figure 4, below), for those who want Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, there will be two Thunderbolt 2 ports in a DVD-module-shaped connector plate.

Figure 4. Thunderbolt 2 ports and the inclusion of a Blu-ray burner are an either/or proposition on the Z1 G2, although you can easily swap in a Blu-ray burner as needed. Click the image to see it at full size.

The good news is that it’s not permanent: If one wants to swap back to the Blu-ray burner in the field, it only requires lifting the monitor/lid, disconnecting two cables, and then pulling the Thunderbolt 2 module out. The Blu-ray burner then snaps into the same location, and its cabling connects to the appropriate location.

It’s not the best solution in the world, but it is elegant, and at least allows HP to equip almost all of its Z-series workstations with Thunderbolt 2, save for a few of the mobile workstations. Our opinion is that those are the ones that need it most, but HP has chosen to allow only data connections through its Thunderbolt 2 ports—rather than using Thunderbolt as a mini DisplayPort connector as is done on some other laptops—so perhaps there’s a method to the Thunderbolt 2 madness after all.

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