Review: HP ZBook Studio

04 March 2016

HP’s new ultra portable laptop boasts a no compromise quad core CPU but, for 3D CAD, the display needs to be carefully matched to the GPU, writes Greg Corke

Product HP ZBook Studio
Company name hp.co.uk
Price Estimated cost £2,700 + VAT

Dell re-wrote the mobile-workstation rulebook when it launched the Precision M3800 in late 2013. With a powerful-quad core CPU, capable professional-GPU and a stylish, slimline 1.9kg chassis the 15-inch CAD-class laptop was like-none that had come before.

At the time, HP was selling the now discontinued ZBook 14. This 14-inch mobile-workstation was exceedingly portable,-with superb battery life, but was worlds apart from the M3800 when it came to performance. With a dual core low voltage CPU and basic pro 3D graphics, this so-called workstation Ultrabook was really just for very entry-level 3D CAD.

HP has been playing catch up ever since and, in Spring 2015, looked like it had-earmarked a gaming laptop derivative-to be its M3800 killer. But the HP OMEN Pro mobile workstation turned out to be a stopgap solution, quickly brought to market to seal a large deal with a major engineering customer.

Now, with the ZBook Studio, HP has-finally delivered a mobile workstation to go shoulder to shoulder with the Dell Precision M3800 (or more accurately, its-replacement, the Dell Precision 5510).

With a quad core CPU, mid range GPU, NVMe PCI storage, security and docking-station this slimlime laptop not only has the performance, but the enterprise features that were lacking in the OMEN Pro.

HP pitches the ZBook Studio as the world’s first quad core workstation Ultrabook.

The quad core CPU is not only good-for CAD but gives it good acceleration in multithreaded applications such as ray-trace rendering and simulation.

The machine gets its Ultrabook status by meeting a number of criteria set by Intel for-ultra portable laptops, the most prominent-being thickness, fast storage (SSD) and-good battery life. But this doesn’t mean compromises have been made by offering slower clock speed CPUs. In fact, the ZBook Studio features the exact same 45W quad-core processors found in the HP ZBook 15 ‘desktop replacement’

Models include the Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz up to 3.5GHz); Intel Core i7-6820HQ (2.7GHz up to 3.6GHz), Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 (2.8GHz up to 3.7Ghz) and the Intel Xeon E3-1545M v5 (2.9GHz up to 3.8GHz).

Considering how thin and light the ZBook-Studio is, having this class of CPU is mightily impressive. Our test machine’s Intel Xeon E3 1505M v5 made light work of our number crunching benchmarks.

Indeed, in 3ds Max (ray trace rendering) and Delcam PowerMill (CAM toolpath calculations) it was less than 20% slower than the desktop-Intel Xeon E3 1270 v5 (3.6GHz up to 4.0GHz)-that powered the HP Z240 Tower we reviewed in January 2016.

With 32GB of Error Correcting Code (ECC) or non-ECC memory spread across two-16GB SODIMMs, the Studio has more than enough capacity for most CAD workflows. Non-ECC memory will be fine for most users, but ECC memory (which can only be-matched with the new Xeon CPUs) could be useful to protect against crashes during-long simulation or rendering runs.

The Studio also packs in a respectable GPU, in the form of the Nvidia Quadro M1000M. A step up from Nvidia’s true entry-level GPU, the Quadro M600M, this special edition graphics processor-with 4GB of memory instead of the usual 2GB, should offer plenty for most CAD-users - at least when using HD resolution-displays, that is.

Unfortunately, the same isn’t always true at higher resolutions and we sometimes found the M1000M unable to keep up with the demands of our test machine’s 4K (3,840 x 2,160) panel.

With four times as many pixels as FHD-(1,920 x 1,080), 4K displays can put a huge-additional load on the GPU when rendering-interactive 3D graphics. While the Book Studio performed well in PTC Creo 3.0 at 4K, it stuttered in SolidWorks 2015, running-the SPECapc benchmark up to 50% slower-than it did at HD resolution.

This 4K issue is not unique to the HP-ZBook Studio - we experienced a similar-slow down last year with the Dell Precision M3800. However, as the display image on the Dell UltraSharp IGZO 4K panel still looked perfectly crisp at 1,920 x 1,080, we concluded that, to minimise the impact-on 3D performance, we would be happy to swap between resolutions as and when workflows dictated.

With our HP ZBook Studio’s 4K IPS display, however, we would be less inclined to do this. The image wasn’t sharp in HD, much like you’d expect it to be at any non-native resolution.

The good news is that the HP Book Studio can also be fitted with standard-and Touch-enabled FHD panels and a 4K Dreamcolor panel that may or may not-render perfectly at HD resolutions.

The Studio’s internal storage is all about performance, with HP standardising on one or two M.2 NVMe Solid State Drives-(SSDs).

While these Samsung SM951 SSDs-(branded as the HP Z Turbo Drive) are great for moving big files around quickly, CAD-users with massive datasets may be a little disappointed that there is no room for a 2.5-inch hard disk drive (HDD), as Dell offers in its Precision 5510.

Standardising on tiny M.2 form factor-SSDs obviously helps keep down weight and size and while this isn’t a problem if your-storage requirements are moderate, it does mean price per GB is high and capacity is-currently limited to 1TB (2 x 512GB drives).

1TB HP Z Turbo Drives are coming soon but-these will likely cost in the region of £400-£500. With 1TB 2.5-inch HDDs available for under £100 there’s a big difference here. Of course, when it comes to performance, the HP Z Turbo Drive wins hands down, with-our single 512GB SSD contributing to an-incredibly fast Windows 10 boot time of 13-secs and PTC Creo loading in 8 secs.

The impressive 1,800MB/s read and-1,250MB/sec write speeds achieved in our AS-SSD benchmark will certainly benefit-some workflows - think huge continuous-datasets such as those used in point cloud processing, simulation and video editing - but you are less likely to see a benefit over-SATA SSDs in standard CAD workflows.

With such powerful components packed-into a slimline chassis, the HP ZBook Studio is a little prone to fan noise. On test, the machine seemed quite trigger happy with its fans, kicking in even when performing some relatively moderate processing tasks.

The resulting noise isn’t too distracting, but if you enjoy working in silence, this is an important consideration.

The chassis itself is sleek and stylish - a far cry from the chunky mobile workstations of old. At only 18mm thick and weighing 2kg it slides effortlessly into a laptop bag, with the slender 150W AC power-adapter adding little to the bulk.

It’s not all about the form though: the Studio’s lightweight magnesium chassis-feels solid and well built, the backlit keyboard and glass trackpad comfortable to use. Dedicated mute and airplane mode buttons are a welcome inclusion, though it’s a shame there is no numeric keypad. An optional fingerprint sensor and several built-in security features are important for enterprises.

There are plenty of connectivity ports around the sides and the Studio is packed with the very latest technologies. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right perform multiple roles by supporting USB 3.1 Gen2 and PCIe Gen 3 devices as well as external displays via DisplayPort 1.2 over the USB-C port connector.

Older devices are not forgotten and there-are three standard USB 3.0 ports (one-always on), Gigabit Ethernet and HDMi.

With Thunderbolt 3 boasting such high bandwidth data transfer speeds (5 GB/sec) there is no need for a dedicated docking port. With a single cable, the Studio can be connected to the new HP ZBook-Dock, for charging and simultaneous linking-of up to ten devices through ports that include Thunderbolt 3, four USB 3.0, RJ-45 (Ethernet), VGA, combo audio, and two-additional DisplayPorts.

The wireless options are pretty standard with dual band 802.11 ac/a/b/g/n (2x2) WiFi-and Bluetooth 4.0.

Previous generation ZBooks scored highly when it came to serviceability thanks to an ‘HP Easy Access door’ on the underside of the machine. This impressive feature gave you ready access to key internal components, simply by removing an optional security screw and sliding off the door.

With its new generation ZBooks, HP has-done away with the ‘door’ and all of its-G3 machines require a Torx screwdriver-to get inside. Apparently this was done to help reduce the thickness of these new generation laptops, which is a shame, but an understandable compromise. While there will always be customers that like to tinker, the majority will probably prefer a more slender machine.

In saying that, you-can still get access to memory, storage and-fans (for cleaning) simply by removing two-panels and a total of 11 Torx screws.

Conclusion

With the ZBook Studio, HP has produced a very impressive mobile workstation that marries the performance and enterprise features of a modern CAD class laptop with the portability of an Ultrabook.

The machine is incredibly advanced-throughout, with many new technologies ranging from NVMe PCIe storage and a 4K-panel to Thunderbolt 3 via USB-C. Cutting-edge is good but don’t be seduced by a beautiful 4K panel if it impacts performance in graphics hungry 3D applications.

Overall, The ZBook Studio is an exceptional ultra portable laptop for entry-level to-mid-range CAD, with power in reserve for multi-threaded rendering and simulation apps. Slimline mobile workstations used to be about compromises, and while some will find the GPU to be underpowered there is very little to separate the Studio from the larger HP ZBook 15.

However, with prices starting at £1,755 and our test machine coming in around £2,700 (HP couldn’t get us an exact price) the ZBook Studio doesn’t come cheap.

Specifications

»Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 (2.8GHz, Turbo to 3.7Ghz) (Quad Core) processor
» 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4 ECC SODIMM 2133MHz memory
» 512GB HP Z Turbo Drive (NVMe PCIe SSD)
» Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU (4GB GDDR5) (354.61 driver)
» Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64
» 375 (w) x 255 (d) x 18 mm (h) mm
» From 2kg
» Limited 3 years parts, 3 years labour, and 3 years onsite service (3/3/3) warranty

CPU benchmarks

(secs - smaller is better)
CAM (Delcam PowerMill 2016) i) 120 ii) 192 iii) 266
Rendering (3ds Max Design 2015) - 228

Graphics benchmarks

(bigger is better)
CAD (SolidWorks 2015- SPECapc graphics composite noFSAA) - (4K = 2.53)  (FHD = 3.83)
CAD (SolidWorks 2015 - SPECapc graphics composite FSAA) - (4K = 1.69)  (FHD = 3.41)
CAD (Creo 3.0 - SPECapc graphics composite) - (4K = 4.85)  (FHD = 4.88)

Comments on this article:

“little prone to fan noise” is an understatement. The fans will kick on with so much as 10% CPU utilization for mere seconds.  I can’t even stand to use the $3,000 laptop because of it.

Posted by Pec on Friday 04 2016 at 11:30 PM

Fans are loud, but I think new BIOS setup is better. I can work without being bothered most of the time. When gaming or handling big SW files, it will be loud.

Posted by Victor on Monday 28 2016 at 06:34 PM

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