HP ZBook Studio Hands-On: A Thin Powerhouse Workstation

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The headliner of HP's refreshed mobile workstation lineup, the ZBook Studio packs a 4K display, an Intel Xeon processor, up to 2TB of PCIe storage, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports into a package that's just 4.4 pounds and 18mm thick. I went hands-on with the ZBook Studio, which starts at $1,699, to see how it stacks up with the Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display, as well as other high-end workstations like the Dell Precision 15 5000 Series. Is HP's newest workstation the new go-to notebook for creative professionals?

Design

Unlike the other workstations in its portfolio, the ZBook Studio has a very svelte profile; the entire aluminum lid is covered in small dimples, while the underside has a triangular geometric pattern reminiscent of the HP Omen gaming notebook. It's a very good look, and compares nicely with the Dell Precision, which takes its cues from that company's XPS line. Both are more interesting to look at than the MacBook Pro, whose all-aluminum design, while attractive, hasn't changed much in several years. At 4.4 pounds, the ZBook is roughly the same weight as the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (4.49 pounds), but a bit heavier than the Dell Precision 15 (3.93 pounds).

Unlike the rest of the ZBook workstations in HP's lineup, the Studio lacks a trackpoint as well as discrete mouse buttons. Rather, it has one large clickpad that, fortunately, isn't like the one found on the Elitebook 1020 and 1040. The backlit keyboard sits in a slightly recessed deck, with two large speaker grilles on either side; it's reminiscent of older MacBook Pros. 

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Display

While the starting configuration of the ZBook Studio will have a 1080p IPS panel, consumers will be able to configure the notebook with a 4K (3840 x 2160) Dreamcolor display. By comparison, the Dell can also be configured with a 4K IGZO panel, while the Mac has a lower-resolution, 2880 x 1880 display. 

Processor and Hard Drive

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Here's where the ZBook could really shine. HP can outfit this notebook with an Intel Xeon E3-1545M v5 processor and up to 32GB of RAM. (This configuration won't be available until 2016, though). Currently, the highest-end CPU available for the Dell is the Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 and 16GB of RAM. The Mac tops out at a 2.5-GHz quad-core, Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM. 

Inside the ZBook Studio are two hard drive storage slots, capable of holding a total of 2GB of PCI-e storage. (One of the slots can hold more traditional mSATA SSDs). The Dell has a single PCI-e NVMe slot, capable of holding up to 1TB, as does the Mac.

Graphics

While Intel's newest Iris Pro Graphics pack plenty of muscle (the Iris Pro Graphics P580 option will be available in Q1 2016), those who need even more beef can opt for the Nvidia Quadro M1000M with 2 GB of GDDR5 memory; that's the same as in the Dell. Apple recently switched to AMD's Radeon R9 M370X, but it also comes with 2GB of GDDR5 memory.

Ports

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The ZBook Studio boasts two Thunderbolt 3 ports in addition to HDMI, Ethernet, and three USB 3.0 ports. The Dell has just one Thunderbolt 3 port, two USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI. The Mac has two Thunderbolt 2 ports, two USB 3, and HDMI.

Battery Life

HP expects that the ZBook Studio will last up to 9.5 hours on a charge; we're looking forward to testing that claim in our labs. However, if that estimate holds true, then it would fall well short of the Dell Precision, which can last up to 16 hours, according to Dell. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi with the screen at 100 nits), the Macbook Pro lasted just over 9 hours.

Value

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The ZBook Studio starts at $1,699. We're waiting for confirmation from HP, but we guess for that price, you'll get a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ with Intel HD Graphics 530, a 1080p display, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB mSATA SSD. By comparison, the MacBook Pro starts at $1,999, and comes with a 2.2-GHz, quad-core Intel Core i7  processor, 16GB of RAM, a 2880 x 1800-pixel display, Intel Iris Pro graphics, and 256GB of flash storage. The Dell Precision's starting price of $1,399 is the least expensive of the three, and comes with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ processor, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, a 1080p display, and Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics.

The ZBook Studio will be available in late December; we're certainly looking to see how well it performs against the competition.

 

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