Today, HP announced the next-generation versions of its entry-level Z2 workstations. I’m reviewing the small form factor (SFF) version. And … yikes.
This product isn’t typical of the PCs I’ve reviewed, recently or otherwise, though I have reviewed some desktop and portable workstations over the years. It’s not even the craziest hardware I’ve reviewed, as I at one time had a rack-mounted Windows Storage Server with redundant drives in my cellar, as one would. But this is an impressive package that ranks up there with the most powerful machines I’ve used.
For those unfamiliar with this slice of HP’s product portfolio, Z by HP is the firm’s workstation lineup, and the Z2 line represents the entry-level. This isn’t to say that these are underpowered PCs by any stretch of the imagination. Not even close.
The Z2 comes in two basic form factors—SFF and tower—and they are aimed at two primary customer types, professional creators and power users. And given the pandemic we’re still struggling with, you won’t be surprised to discover that the product line has also been updated to address the new normal of the hybrid workforce, where users will be working from home at least some of the time and yet may still need access to the more impressive computing horsepower that’s available in the office.
The latest-generation Z2s—named G8 to bring them in line with other Z-class products—are aimed at the high-end needs of its customers, who expect incredible performance, modular expansion capabilities for futureproofing, certified high reliability, and, of course, enterprise-grade security.
That I am not such a customer is, I assume, obvious: I was literally just shopping for a new Intel NUC, which is a truly small form factor PC that uses laptop parts. Aside from some forays into software development and OS virtualization, most of my day-to-day work consists of standard productivity work using software like Microsoft Office, Teams, and Affinity Photo. So I will struggle a bit to really put this machine through its paces.
Also, it’s been a while since I’ve used a traditional desktop form factor. My previous tower PC, coincidentally an HP with an H-series processor, was briefly put back into service for podcasts when I had my little podcast studio in Dedham in 2016-2017, but it’s been sitting in a box in the basement since we moved. But in unpacking the HP Z2 SFF G8, I was reminded of the things I really miss about desktop PCs, though the honking HDD reminded me of the things that I thought we’d moved past as well.
But let’s start with the core specifications. The review unit arrived with an 11th-generation Intel Core i7-11700K “Rocket Lake” processor, a 125-watt (!) part that provides 8 processor cores and a 3.6 GHz clock speed. If you’re not familiar with Intel’s K-series processors, and I wasn’t, these are the highest-performing parts in the product line, and they come with integrated graphics that can be paired with discrete graphics. No compromises here.
The Z2 review unit also shipped with 32 GB of DDR4-3200 RAM, a 512 GB Z Turbo PCIe-based M.2 SSD drive, a 1 TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.5-inch HDD, and an Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 graphics card with 6 GB of dedicated RAM. So, not your average Ultrabook.
As for the configuration possibilities, we don’t have the space or the time, but HP offers a dizzying array of microprocessors, RAM, graphics, storage, and expansion. Here’s a condensed version: You have a choice of 11th-generation Intel Core i5, i7, and i9 K- and F-series or Intel Xeon W-13xx processors. Up to 128 GB of RAM. And a variety of storage options up to a 2 TB HP Z Turbo Drive PCIe NVM SED Opal 2 TLC M.2 SSD. Intel UHD Graphics 730, 750, or P750 paired with AMD Radeon Pro WX 3200 (with 4 GB of dedicated GDDR5 RAM), NVIDIA Quadro P400 (2 GB GDDR5), NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000 (6 GB GDDR6), or NVIDIA T1000 (4 GB GDDR6).
As noted above, there are two different versions of the HP Z2 SFF G8, the SFF version I’m testing and a traditional tower. Based on the photos that HP supplied, the SFF is basically just a smaller version of the tower. That is, when standing upright, the SFF appears to be about two-thirds the width of the tower. Otherwise, they are the same basic form factor and the same height—or, when laid flat on the desk as I’m doing with the SFF, width—and depth.
It’s a handsome design that exudes power and performance. The Z2 has an all-black design, which I love, and a few angular design elements at the corners to give it a bit of flair and design symmetry with HP’s other modern PCs.
And it can be oriented horizontally, like a desktop, or vertically like a tower PC.
The Z2 SFF G8 is also bristling with ports, and it can be easily expanded to offer even more ports.
On the back, there is an audio-out port, Gigabit Ethernet, two DisplayPort 1.4 ports, two SuperSpeed USB-A (10 Gbps) ports, one SuperSpeed USB-A (5 Gbps) port, and three USB Type-A (480 Mbps) ports.
And on the front, you’ll find two SuperSpeed USB-A (10 Gbps) ports, a universal audio jack, two SuperSpeed USB-A (5 Gbps) ports, and one SuperSpeed USB-C (20 Gbps) port.
The HP Z2 SFF G8 features a completely tool-less design that I love: You just flip a switch and the side panel slides right off.
The front panel is even better: It’s a thin plastic covering that’s held on only by magnets, so it comes off even more easily. Nice! (And HP also offers a Flex IO option that lets you add an additional port of some kind, including a DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0b, or your choice of several others. I believe the second DisplayPort 1.4 port is what was added to the review configuration.)
Inside, you’ll find several expansion slots, including a PCIe 3 x4 (x16 connector), a PCIe 3 x4 (x4 connector), an M.2 2230 PCIe 3 x1, a PCIe 4 x16, an M.2 2280 PCIe 4 x4, an M.2 2280 PCIe 3 x4, and a PCIe 3 x1 (x1 connector).
Pricing is as varied as the configuration possibilities. The HP Z2 SFF G8 Workstation starts at $1169, and the tower version at $1179, but you can quickly spend several thousand dollars depending on your needs. I don’t have an exact price on the review configuration, but it’s somewhere between $2000 and $3000.
And … I’m looking for ideas for putting this workstation through its paces. Obviously, I could throw some heavy-hitting games at this thing, but that’s not really the point.
<p>Only a few months ago I finished building my own workstation with a Threadripper CPU, 32Gig DDR4 RAM and a 1Tb M.2 drive for $1600.00. It's far more powerful than I need, and wish now I'd seen this first. Could have saved some coin.</p>