HP Z1 workstation (B4F79PA) review

HP Z1 review: This all-in-one workstation has a great screen, fast performance and is easy to maintain

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HP Z1 workstation (B4F79PA) review
  • HP Z1 workstation (B4F79PA) review
  • HP Z1 workstation (B4F79PA) review
  • HP Z1 workstation (B4F79PA) review

Pros

  • Performance
  • Screen
  • Design

Cons

  • Can be hard to manoeuvre
  • Rear ports hard to access

Bottom Line

The HP Z1 workstation is about as far from an unappealing old box as it gets. It has a neat, all-in-one design that houses high-end performance parts behind a beautiful, 27in panel and it's very easy to open up the unit to access all those parts. Definitely a desirable unit.

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The HP Z1 workstation is one of those products that people immediately want when they first see it. It's a 27in all-in-one PC that has two important features: a high-end, workstation-class configuration, and a design that makes it very easy to service the internal components should they ever need replacing or upgrading. It's a PC that's designed for animators, photographers, videographers, engineers, and it has a steep price that only those who make their living using this type of equipment will be able to justify.

Specifications and performance

What's inside the HP Z1 workstation varies depending on the configuration you choose. We tested the B4F79PA model, which has an Intel Xeon E3-1245 CPU. This is a Sandy Bridge chip that has four cores plus Hyper-Threading, and a standard frequency of 3.3GHz. It supports error correction code memory and ships with 8GB off DDR3-1600, ECC memory (via two 4GB modules). The graphics adapter is an NVIDIA Quadro 500M, which is an entry-level adapter designed for all-in-one use — it's not an adapter for gaming, but for running specific design applications.

Storage in the B4F79PA is handled by a single solid state drive (an Intel SSDSA2BW160G3H), which is a 2.5in, 3Gbps SATA2 drive with a 160GB capacity. Up to two, 2.5in SSD drives can be installed in the Z1's sole drive bay, or it can be used to house one 3.5in hard disk drive. The interface for these drives supports a speed up to 6Gbps, but the SATA interface for the optical drive supports up to 3Gbps.

In CrystalDiskMark, the solid state drive notched up a read rate of 236MBps (megabytes per second), and a write rate of 173MBps. In our own file transfer tests, where we duplicate data on the disk, the drive averaged 117MBps. These are good results overall, especially the write rate. However, there are even faster solid state drives out there, such as Crucial's m4, for example.

The removable drive bay with a single SSD installed.

SATA port placement is staggered and allows for either one 3.5in hard drive or two 2.5in drives to be installed.

In our Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the Z1 recorded times of 18sec and 38sec, respectively, which are typically results that a high-end consumer PC can achieve, such as the Dell XPS One 27, which, coincidentally, is also an all-in-one, but based on Intel's third generation Intel Core i7 CPU. Media transcoding tasks were performed efficiently, with the Z1 taking 35min to convert a DVD file to an Xvid file using AutoGordianKnot and 7min to convert a DVD file to an MKV file using Arcsoft Media Converter 7. Again, these results are similar to what the Dell all-in-one achieved.

The Quadro 500 graphics adapter in the Z1 wasn't as good in 3DMark06 as the mid-range GeForce GT 640M in the Dell. The Quadro 500 recorded 7378 in this benchmark, whereas the GeForce 640M GT got 12893. However, the latter is tuned for gaming, not for productivity applications like the Quadro adapter. The Quadro 500 drives a screen that has a native resolution of 2560x1140 and it looks superb. Photographers and users who edit videos should appreciate its high brightness, contrast and clarity, and its viewing angles are also very wide (it's an IPS panel). The unit doesn't swivel, but it does tilt, and this can be helpful in trying to rid the screen of reflections — the glossy panel is susceptible to reflections from room lights in particular.

The NVIDIA Quadro 500 graphics card module.

When the Z1 was idle, it consumed about 131W of electricity, while at a full processing load it consumed up to 199W. It's important to remember that this is an overall figure that includes the large screen and the computer.

Design and ease of use

The all-in-one design of the Z1 workstation makes it supremely neat. It only requires one cable to set it up, and that's the regular, jug plug power cable. However, the power port is located in an area at the back of the panel that can be quite difficult to access due to the stand being in the way. The same goes for plugging in the Ethernet, DisplayPort and any USB cables at the back. But once you plug in any cables and USB devices at the rear of the unit, you're unlikely to do it again. For things like USB keys, portable external hard drives and SD cards, not to mention headphones and microphones, there are facilities conveniently located on the right side of the unit.

The rear ports are hard to access.

One other thing needs to be plugged in before the unit can be used properly, and that's the USB dongle for the cordless keyboard and mouse. You can plug it in to the rear of the machine if you wish, but there is actually a USB port on the inside of the machine that's there just to house that dongle and make sure that none of the external USB ports are wasted on it. This is perhaps the only reason you'll ever need to open up the Z1's case apart from upgrading or repairing it, but if you buy this unit, you'll want to open it anyway, just to see the way it has been designed and how well all the components fit together.

Opened up and proudly displaying all of its components.

To open the unit, you first need to lay it down flat as low as it will go. If you open it while it's still sitting high on its stand, then the centre of gravity will be off and the weight of the screen will just make it tilt back — that could be disastrous. Two clips on the underside of the screen can then be manipulated to pop open the case. A gas-filled hinge helps the screen lift and then keeps it securely in place while you work on it. There is no fear of the screen slamming back down onto the unit when you start to close it; the gas-filled hinge slows the rate of descent effectively.

Don't attempt to open the unit when it's in this position.

Push it all the way down before opening it, or the weight of the screen will make it fall back.

The lid doesn't close all the way on its own if you left it drop, and you'll have to give it an extra little push, especially on the left side, to make sure that it gets locked in place before you lift the screen back up to its proper desktop position. Lifting the screen back into position is where things can get tricky — and it's something you'll first notice when initially setting up the machine anyway. There is a green button on the stand that needs to be pushed in while the screen is lifted at the same time. It's easily the hardest part of setting up the unit and you'll need to make sure no fingers are crunched.

Almost all of the components in the Z1's chassis can be removed without the use of any tools. This includes the power supply, graphics adapter, storage bay, and optical drive. These are all held in place with clips. The cooler for the CPU is screwed down and can be removed with a flathead screwdriver. A high level of customisation has ensured the power supply and graphics adapter — and indeed all of the components — fit into the Z1's case in a modular fashion, but the layout of the components has also been thought out so as to maximise heat dispersion. There are no components on top of each other and fans with ducts push the generated heat up through the vents at the top-rear of the screen.

With all of the components removed.

The CPU cooler.

Other features

The Z1 comes with a slot-loading DVD burner (model number DL8A4SH) that's installed on the right side of the screen and there is a quad-speaker setup just below the screen. Music sounds decent, albeit flat through these speakers. If you're serious about your work, you'll want to plug in a good external pair of speakers, or connect the PC to a sound system using the optical audio output. You get FireWire on the right side, a 2-megapixel webcam at the top of the screen, and network communications are handled by an Intel Centrino Advanced N-6230, dual-band, 802.11n wireless adapter in addition to the Gigabit Ethernet port.

The speakers.

Conclusion

HP has put a lot of effort into the creation of this workstation, and it has succeeded in building something attractive, powerful and desirable to use. The Z1's screen is excellent, its performance is fast, it has a decent set of features, and it's a neat solution that's easy to set up. From a maintenance perspective, the way the unit can be opened up to have its components replaced or upgraded is a thing of beauty. We found ourselves opening it up every now and then, just to look at its "engine" — the workstation equivalent to popping your car's bonnet for your mates.

Related slideshow: In pictures: HP Z1 all-in-one workstation PC

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