Review – HP ZBook Studio G4 Mobile Workstation Laptop

The recently released HP Studio Z laptop is a screamingly fast, svelte, 15-inch, workstation class laptop built to take a beating. With it’s Nvidia graphics care, Xeon Processor, and Dreamcolor Display, the HP Studio Z is a powerhouse nestled in a beautiful black aluminum and magnesium case. Is this the graphics workstation for you?

First the specs. The model we tested is the HP 1HQ68AA#ABA, equipped with a quad-core Intel Xeon E3-1535M v7 generation processor, Nvidia’s QuadroM1200 (4GB) discrete mobile graphics chip, 32GB of DDR4 memory (2x16GB), and 512GB of storage using a 512GBHP Z TURBO DRIVE PCIe(MLC) SSDThe operating system was Windows 10 (64 bit), and it came equipped with a 92Whr Fast Charging Battery, Intel vProWLAN, Backlit Keyboard, and a Fingerprint Reader. The display is the 15.6-inch UHD DreamColor UWVA IPS anti-glare display at 3,840x2,160 (4K) resolution. The display offers 10-bit color, with a wide color gamut, capable of displaying 99 percent sRGB, and 95 percent of Adobe RGB spacesIt’s not an overly bright display, but accurate for color critical work. We calibrated our unit to D6500 @ 2.2 Gamma, with the luminosity set to 120 cd/m2, which was a good match for prints from our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 17" Professional Photographic Inkjet Printer.

According to HP the unit features a “Meticulously crafted with a fully-machined aluminum and die-cast magnesium body, diamond-cut edges.” It has MIL-STD 810G certification, so it’s supposed to be capable of surviving a series (26) of drops without too much damage. So, compared to say an Apple MacBook Pro, it’s a tough customer. We didn’t drop it to test it, so we will trust HP’s certification. It does run hot when playing games, or intensive processing and graphics applications. While running Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC, we were glad to have a thermal pad under the unit. For gaming and image editing, we used an external mouse, which offered more precision then the trackpad. The weight is 4.6 pounds and measures roughly 3/4-inch thick.

It sports just about every port you might need, a gigabit Ethernet port, three USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A ports, SD card reader, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, HDMI 1.4 port, Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, AC wireless up to 867Mbps, and finally a combination microphone/headphone jack. The keyboard is solid, with nice travel, and your hands have a lot of room to so it never feels tight or cramped. It has keyboard illumination, with two levels, helping out typing using the black keys. Using the backlit keys didn’t seem to affect battery life that much. The trackpad is listed as a precision device under Windows 10 and we found it a capable input device. The built-in Bang & Olufsen HD audio system is fine for most uses, with a nicely balanced audio footprint. But for serious audio, most would employ a set of outboard speakers. We are big fans of Thunderbolt, so having three ports eliminates a host of daisy-chained cable runs. And we are always hoping that Apple will learn from HP how to incorporate a full-sized Ethernet jack, without bulking up the profile, with HP's expanadable jack design. Compared to a MacBook Pro, that's one less dongle to purchase and lose.

Our review loaner HP ZBook Studio G4 Mobile Workstation utilized an Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6 quad-core processor. Rated at 3.10GHz, with a speed boost to 4.20MHz, amazingly it only consumes 45 watts of power at peak performance. And as powerful as the Xeon processor is, what interested us most was the inclusion of a discrete Nvidia 640 cores, 1,093MHz, and 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory Quadro M1200 graphics chip. While the computer wasn’t designed for gaming, it was a solid performer for that use. It’s primary audience is for graphics, CAD, 3D, and design work. There are other systems out there that are optimized for games, but if you choose to play some games, this isn’t a slouch.

The graphic card drivers are centered around design work, so they might not be updated with an eye on gaming as would be more specific gaming GPUs. We found that Adobe Photoshop CC ran wonderfully, but initially we had some latency and speed issues with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC with Nikon 850 RAW files. Other file types were speedy, so our experience might be related to those particular file types. Since we started testing the unit, Adobe has released three updates, with the last release targeted at speeding up the application, and testing with it revealed that Adobe achieved a significant speed boost, and the latency issues we had with Lightroom Classic CC vanished, so it’s important to keep the app updated to the current version.

HP ZBook Studio G4 Mobile Workstation has a limited three-year parts, three-year labor, and three-year on-site service warranty. So, some warranty bang for your buck. Our unit was roughly $3,500, but HP offers significant discounts on their site, and if you skip the DreamColor display, less RAM, and processor speed, you can bring the price down to the two grand level. Battery life varied between 4 and 9 hours, depending on the tasks and amount of graphics processing required. So, with a bit of tweaking of the energy settings, you could work on a typical cross-country flight and not run out of battery power.

Aesthetically, it’s beautifully designed, with high-quality fittings and details throughout. Gone are the days of loosely fitted plastic bits, closed, this feels like a solid block of metal. Tough, smooth, with a lovely dark gray finish, and shiny polished edges, it’s an elegantly designed and executed laptop. For security purposes there is a small fingertip biometric reader on the top plate, which in our testing was reliably accurate. With the lack of innovation from Apple, coupled with their high-prices, it’s little wonder that graphics professionals are migrating to Windows 10 Pro machines. For those users, who want the power of a desktop system, in a laptop that is portable and versatile, along with style, elegant design, and drop protection, for graphics professionals, the HP ZBook Studio G4 Mobile Workstation laptop comes highly recommended.

Harris Fogel with editorial input from Jonathan Fogel. Posted 3/4/2018

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