HP ZBook 14 Review

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Pros: Powerful performance; Fast and large SSD; Robust security software; Comfortable keyboard; Sleek design

Cons: Expensive; Lackluster webcam

Verdict: HP's ZBook 14 is a high-powered and durable mobile workstation Ultrabook that can handle anything you throw at it.

HP's ZBook 14 is a business Ultrabook with the power to call itself a mobile workstation. With an Intel Core i7 processor, a monster 16GB of RAM, a 240GB SSD and a dedicated graphics chip, this 14-inch laptop can easily handle your most demanding tasks. But at $2,349 as configured (starting at $1,399), the Windows 7-powered ZBook 14 is almost as expensive as a similarly configured 15-inch MacBook Pro. Here's why it's worth the investment.

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Design

The HP ZBook 14 features the same design language as its larger sibling, the ZBook 15. Its lid is composed of a stylish brushed aluminum surrounded by a textured magnesium alloy. In the center is an inlaid, reflective HP logo that matches the magnesium's dark coloring. Inside, the ZBook 14 sports a sleek and sturdy aluminum keyboard deck.

Above the keyboard, and stretching from edge to edge, is the notebook's speaker grille. Just above sits the power button on the left, and Wi-Fi and mute buttons on the right. To the right of the ZBook's keyboard is a low-profile fingerprint scanner.

At 13.4 x 9.3 x 0.83 inches and 3.9 pounds, the ZBook is a hair thicker and heavier than Lenovo's T440s, which measures 13 x 8.9 0.80 inches and weighs 3.8 pounds. Acer's 14-inch TravelMate P645 also undercuts the HP, measuring 12.9 x 9.3 x 0.82 inches and weighing just 3.3 pounds.

 

MORE: Best Laptops 2014

 

At 13.3 x 9.1 x 0.83 inches and 3.6 pounds, the Dell's Latitude E7740 is similarly thin and light. Apple's MacBook Pro 15, which features a slightly larger 15-inch display, is thinner but heavier than the HP, measuring 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches and weighing 4.5 pounds.

The underside of the ZBook 14 features an easy-access bottom panel, which allows you to quickly replace internal components such as the notebook's RAM, storage drive and battery.

The ZBook 14 is MIL-STD 810G certified, which means it can withstand drops from as high as 4 feet. HP says the ZBook can also hold its own against dust, functional shock, vibration and both high and low temperatures. The notebook's keyboard is also spill-resistant, so you won't have to worry if you tip your coffee on it.

Display

The HP ZBook's 14-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution provided a crisp, clear picture. Text viewed on The New York Times home page was sharp, as was a high-definition image of a field overlooking a mountain. A trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" looked equally good, as the red-and-blue-clad wall crawler crisscrossed the Manhattan skyline. Fiery explosions appeared to jump off the ZBook's screen, while Electro's blue complexion looked stunningly bright.

When compared to the MacBook Pro 15's Retina Display, however, the ZBook 14's screen had a slightly tan tint. It's not something most users will likely notice, as we needed to look at both screens side-by-side, but it's certainly something to take into account.

At 255 lux, the ZBook 14's display just outshines the 251-lux thin-and-light-notebook category average. The Acer TravelMate P645's screen hit 235 lux, while the Dell Latitude E7440 registered 238. Both the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s and MacBook Pro 15-inch offered brighter displays, averaging 294 lux and 324 lux, respectively.

Audio

Chances are, you aren't buying the HP ZBook 14 for its audio capabilities, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by how good its speakers sound. Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle" was clear, even with the sound turned all the way up. Just make sure the included DTS Studio Sound software is switched on; otherwise, the audio sounds hollow and tinny.

On the LAPTOP Audio Test, which involves measuring a notebook's decibel rating at a distance of 23 inches, the HP ZBook 14 registered an impressive 86 dB. That blows away the Acer TravelMate P645 and the thin-and-light laptop category average (both 83 dB). The Dell Latitude E7440, however, offered the loudest speakers, registering 88 dB.

MORE: HP Best and Worst Notebook Brands Rating

Keyboard

Like any business notebook worth its salt, the ZBook 14 offers a quality backlit Chiclet-style keyboard. The keys' travel and lightly textured surface made typing this review a breeze. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor, we recorded an average typing speed of 80 words per minute, with a 1 percent error rate. That's better than our usual laptop typing speed of 78 words per minute.

Touchpad and Pointing Stick

The ZBook 14's 3.8 x 2.2-inch touchpad proved smooth and accurate during our testing. Gestures, such as two-finger scroll and twist-to-rotate, worked like a charm. The physical mouse buttons below the touchpad were similarly easy to use.

As with many other business notebooks, the HP ZBook 14 comes with a rubber pointing stick at the center of its keyboard, as well as two mouse buttons at the top of the notebook's touchpad. The pointing stick's rubberized textured surface made it easy to locate and use without looking. Overall, the pointing stick was accurate and offered smooth movement, comparing favorably to the one found on Lenovo's ThinkPad T440s.

Fingerprint Scanner and Security

The ZBook 14 comes with a biometric fingerprint reader for added security. To enroll our fingerprints, we simply swiped a digit across the scanner, automatically launching the HP Client Security setup program. After registering two fingers, we were asked to select three backup security questions. Once enrolled, we could set the HP Client Security program to require a fingerprint swipe to log in to our favorite websites. All told, the process took less than 5 minutes.

 

MORE: Mobile Security Guide: Everything You Need to Know

 

With HP Client Security, you can also manage your Windows passwords, encrypt your storage drives, wipe your hard drive and limit device access to the ZBook's ports, to prevent someone from stealing data via a USB drive. Additionally, you can sign up for Absolute Software's LoJack for Laptops, which lets you track your laptop and report it as stolen to the police. With HP Trust Circles, you can securely share selected files and folders with specific users via your email address.

Heat

After streaming a high-def video for 15 minutes, the ZBook's keyboard reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The touchpad was even cooler, at 77 degrees, while the underside topped out at 88 degrees. We consider temperatures of 95 degrees and higher to be uncomfortable.

Ports and Webcams

For an Ultrabook, the ZBook 14 has a good number of ports. On its right side are two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size DisplayPort, a dual microphone/ headphone jack, a dock connector, an Ethernet port and a microSD card slot. The left side features a third USB 3.0 port, a USB 3.0 power port, a VGA port, a Secure Card slot and a lock slot.

The ZBook 14z's 720p webcam captured noisy images that were full of artifacts. Fine details in our subject's face were nearly impossible to see, and colors were too dark, even under bright office lighting.

Performance

HP equipped the ZBook 14 with a 2.1-GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4600U processor, a whopping 16GB of RAM and a 240GB SSD. With that kind of power, this workstation can easily handle even your most demanding productivity tasks. We ran a system scan on our review unit while streaming a Hulu Plus video with eight tabs open in Chrome without noticing any slowdown.

On the PCMark 7 benchmark, which tests a laptop's overall performance, the ZBook 14 scored an impressive 5,378. That's higher than the Dell Latitude E7440, which scored 4,544 with a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i5-4300U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Acer's TravelMate P645 and its Intel Core i7-4500U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD scored 4,886.

The Lenovo ThinkPad 440s, which packs an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, scored 4,970. Each of the notebooks outscored the thin-and-light notebook category average of 3,614.

On the Geekbench 3 benchmark, the ZBook 14 notched 6,271. That's higher than the Lenovo T440s' score of 5,151 and the Dell Latitude's 5,259, both of which fell below both the category average (5,918) and the Tavelmate (5954). Apple's MacBook Pro 15-inch, which features an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of flash memory, however, outpaced the field, with a score of 13,652.

 

MORE: 15 Ways to Speed Up Your Boot and Shutdown Times

 

Thanks to its 240GB SSD, the HP ZBook 14 booted Windows 7 Professional in just 25 seconds. That's faster than the category average of 27 seconds, but slower than the Acer TravelMate P645's time of 23 seconds.

It took the ZBook 14 just 32 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 221 MBps, well ahead of the thin-and-light average of 44 MBps. The Dell Latitude E7440 copied the files at a rate of 130 MBps, while the Acer TravelMate P645 did so at 176 MBps. The ThinkPad T440s finished the task at a rate of 188 MBps. Apple's MacBook Pro 15, once again, kicked the competition in the pants, with a transfer rate of 309 MBps.

The ZBook 14 performed very well on our OpenOffice test, matching 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in just 4 minutes and 10 seconds. That just beats out the MacBook Pro's time of 4:15. The Acer TravelMate P645 completed the test in 4:42, while the Dell Latitude E7440 finished in 4:46. The Lenovo ThinkPad T440s took the longest, finishing in 5:14. All of those notebooks, however, were much faster than the category average of 6:13.

Graphics

With its discrete AMD FirePro M4100 graphics chip, the HP ZBook 14 can easily handle demanding video-editing software and some mainstream games. On the 3DMark11 benchmark, the laptop scored 1,770. That's far better than the Latitude E7440's score of 801, as well as the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s' 930. The category average is 988. Still, the Acer TravelMate P645's AMD HD 8750M graphics chip edged out the HP, with 1,783.

While playing "World of Warcraft" with the graphics set to autodetect and the display resolution at 1280 x 1024 pixels, the HP ZBook 14 averaged 73 frames per second. That's more than twice the category average of 35 fps. The Acer TravelMate P645 hit 47 fps, while the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s came in at 39 fps. The Dell Latitude E7440 reached just 23 fps. It's worth noting that only the ZBook 14 ran at a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels. The rest of the notebooks ran at a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.

MORE: HP: Tech Support Showdown Rating

Bump the graphics up to their highest, and the resolution drops down to a playable 33 fps. Move up to 1080p, and the HP's frame rate falls to 26 fps. That still beats the Acer's 24 fps and the category average of 23 fps.

The graphically intensive "Bioshock Infinite" ran at a respectable 34 fps with the graphics on low and resolution set to 1280 x 1024p. Just don't expect full-HD gameplay to be smooth; setting the graphics to max and the resolution to 1920 x 1080p dropped the frame rate to 10 fps.

Battery Life

The HP ZBook 14's 3-cell battery lasted 7 hours and 34 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the display brightness set to 40 percent. That runtime is better than that on the Dell Latitude E7440 (5:52) and the thin-and-light laptop category average (6:51). However, other systems lasted longer, such as the MacBook Pro 15-inch (8:57), the Acer TravelMate P645 (9:46) and the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s, which ran for 14:36 with its high-capacity battery pack.

 

MORE: 10 Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

 

Configurations

With a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i7-4600U processor, 16GB of RAM, a 240GB SSD and AMD FirePro M4100 graphics chip, our $2,349 HP ZBook 14 is the most powerful preconfigured version of the system available. If that's not good enough, you can customize the notebook with a 512GB SSD and all of the aforementioned components for $3,641.

If you don't want to shell out that much cash, you can opt for a base model of the ZBook 14 for $1,399. That version includes an Intel Core i5-4200U processor with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and AMD FirePro M4100 graphics chip.

Software

HP kept the ZBook 14 expectedly clean of bloatware. The workstation comes loaded with the aforementioned security software, as well as the CyberLink YouCam software. You also get the HP Performance Enhancer, in addition to CyberLink PowerDVD 12. Further software offerings include Skype and the AMD Catalyst Controller.

HP offers ZBook 14 users a three-year limited warranty. On-site service and extended service contracts are also available beyond the standard warranty period via HP's website. See how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands Report.

Verdict

The sleek HP ZBook 14 isn't just a powerful mobile workstation; it can also serve as a very capable multimedia laptop during your downtime. Its keyboard is comfortable enough to use during long workdays, and the machine's MIL-STD 810G certification means it can stand up to the bumps and bruises of everyday life.

If you're in the market for a low-cost business notebook, we suggest checking out the Lenovo T440s or Acer TravelMate P645. If you're interested in a workstation, you should also consider Dell's 15-inch Precision M3800. That slim speedster packs a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and Nvidia Quadro K1100M graphics, as well as a higher resolution, touch-enabled QHD+ display, all for $100 less. (Stay tuned for review.)

Most mobile workstations don't come in 14-inch models, making the HP's portability a win for business users on the go. If you want a high-powered system and don't mind dropping a chunk of change, the ZBook 14 is an excellent choice.

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Author Bio
Dan Howley
Dan Howley, Senior Writer
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media's Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Dan Howley, Senior Writer on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.1-GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4600U
Operating System MS Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
RAM 16GB
RAM Upgradable to
Hard Drive Size 240GB SSD
Hard Drive Speed n/a
Hard Drive Type SSD Drive
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 14
Native Resolution 1920x1080
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card AMD FirePro M4100
Video Memory 1.3GB
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260AN
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0+LE
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.8 x 2.2
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
Ports (excluding USB) Lock Slot
Ports (excluding USB) Docking Connector
Ports (excluding USB) DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) Combo Headphone/Mic Jack
USB Ports 4
Card Slots Smart Card
Card Slots SD memory reader
Warranty/Support 3-year standard parts and labor warranty 3/3/3. Includes HP Elite Premium Support
Size 13.4 x 9.3 x 0.83 inches
Weight 3.96 pounds
Company Website www.hp.com