HP promises portable power in its mobile workhorse, the ZBook 15u G2. This notebook features an Intel Core i7 processor, a multitude of ports and a durable design built to withstand tough conditions. Starting at $1,199 ($1,999 as reviewed), the ZBook 15u G2 is a solid work companion, but its graphics performance could be stronger.
The HP ZBook 15u G2 sports a suit in three shades of gray, a professional design that looks understatedly sleek and demure - the strong, silent type. The shiny HP logo in the center of the lid is the darkest, while the area surrounding it is a slightly lighter shade of brushed aluminum. It's bordered by another layer of aluminum whose smooth finish matches the rest of the notebook's magnesium-reinforced body.
The ZBook 15u isn't as bulky as its competition. At 4.23 pounds and measuring 14.78 x 9.98 x 0.84 inches, it's slightly lighter than the MSI WS60 (4.36 pounds, 15 x 10.5 x 0.78 inches) and the Lenovo W550s (5.47 pounds, 15 x 10.2 x 0.92 inches).
Durability and Security
Don't let its pressed-suit looks fool you - the ZBook 15u is a tough workstation. It passed MIL-Spec 810G testing, so it's protected against drops from up to 3 feet, altitudes up to 15,000 feet, as well as dust and shocks. It can also withstand extreme temperatures, performing regularly in minus-60 degree weather as well as in a boiling 160 degrees.
Even if your work doesn't take you into extreme environments, its spill-resistant keyboard deck will protect you from the occasional, panic-inducing coffee mishaps.
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To add another level of security, HP gives you the option to add a fingerprint sensor and a Smart Card reader. Other security options include TPM 1.2 and HP Sure Start, which checks the BIOS at startup, and will automatically self-heal if it detects any corrupted files.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The full keyboard on the HP ZBook is comfortable enough to use all day, and backlighting makes it easy to see even when the lights are out. The keys don't have a lot of travel -- just 1.42 millimeters -- and with 60 grams of actuation they are clicky yet soft. On the TypingTestOnline.Org challenge, I managed an average of 80 words per minute, a bit lower than my 90-wpm average.
The roomy and smooth 4 x 2.6-inch trackpad sits under the space bar, slightly to the left of center on the keyboard deck. The cursor reacted swiftly to all my movements, including pinch-to-zoom and scrolling. I also appreciated the two sets of left/right buttons at the top and bottom of the touchpad for giving me more click options, as well as the TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard.
The ZBook's 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display played the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer in crisp detail. I could see all the pieces of debris flying through the air from huge explosions, but colors were slightly dull on its matte display.
I appreciated how bright the ZBook's display could get, reaching an average of 307 nits on our brightness test. That's higher than the mainstream category average (250 nits) and the MSI WS60 (215 nits), and just outperformed by the Lenovo W550s (312 nits). It also has great viewing angles - I had to turn the notebook almost 90 degrees on either side before darkness disrupted the display.
It can also display a wide range of color, recreating 103.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut spectrum. That's much better than the category average (82.6) and the MSI WS60 (78.1), and slightly better than the Lenovo W550s (100.2).
The ZBook 15u also accurately displays its range of colors, scoring 1.68 on the Delta E test (closer to 0 is better). That's a little better than the category average (1.86), and much better than both the MSI WS60 (11.6) and the Lenovo W550s (2.72).
The DTS Sound-equipped speakers on the HP ZBook 15u G2 don't provide the best audio quality. Vocals in the Lumineers "Ho Hey" were clear, but the guitars and other mid instruments were weak, sounding like they were being played from miles away.
The ZBook stayed mostly cool during our testing. After streaming 15 minutes of video on Hulu, the touchpad reached 82 degrees Fahrenheit and the area between the G and H keys reached 86.5 degrees.
The underside exceeded our 95-degree comfort threshold slightly, at 96.5 degrees. The notebook's hottest spot, measuring 103.5 degrees, is just to the right of the HP logo on the monitor. Thankfully, it isn't an area you'd be touching often.
Ports and Webcam
The HP ZBook 15u G2 has enough ports to handle any work situation. On the left side is a VGA port and two USB 3.0 ports. The right side houses the headphone jack, a DisplayPort, a memory card reader, two additional USB 3.0 ports, a docking port, the power connector and an Ethernet port.
The notebook's 720p webcam captured my skin tone and the red ombre color in my hair accurately, but the overall image was dark and grainy.
Powered by a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-5500U dual-core processor, 16GB of RAM and a 256 GB PCIe SSD, my HP ZBook 15u G2 handled multitasking with ease. It never slowed even with 11 Chrome tabs and multiple PDF files open, while streaming music.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the ZBook 15u scored 6,892, slightly better than the Lenovo W550s (6,860, with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-5600U CPU), but lower than the mainstream notebook category average (9,259) and the monstrously powerful MSI WS60 (13,003, with a 2.5 GHz Core i7-4710HQ CPU).
The ZBook 15u completed the Open Office Spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses, in 4 minutes and 15 seconds. That's faster than the category average (5:10) and Lenovo W550s (4:42), but not as quick as the MSI WS60 (3:53).
The ZBook 15u was moderately fast in our file transfer tests, duplicating 4.97 GB of mixed media files with a rate of 175.5 MBps. That's faster than the Lenovo W550s (159 MBps), but the MSI WS60, which has dual 128GB SSDs in RAID 0, blew them both out of the water (365.52 MBps).
The HP ZBook 15u G2 comes with an AMD FirePro M4170 GPU, which is competent, but not the fastest on the market. On the 3DMark Fire Strike graphics benchmark test, the system scored 1,461, which is on a par with the Lenovo W550s (1,457 with Nvidia Quadro K620M graphics) but isn't nearly as good as the MSI WS60 (1,649 with Nvidia Quadro K2100M graphics).
In World of Warcraft, the ZBook 15u notched 22 frames per second at 1920 x 1080 on full settings. That's the worst of the bunch, with the MSI WS60 (44 fps) and the Lenovo W550s (36 fps) both performing better at the same settings.
The HP ZBook 15u G2 lasted 6 hours and 44 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). That's about half an hour longer than the mainstream category average of 6:12, and more than twice as long as the 3:05 battery life on the MSI WS60. However, the Lenovo W550s beats them all out with a crazy 15:54 life, thanks to its 3-cell and 6-cell 72 watt-hour batteries.
Software and Warranty
My review model of the HP ZBook 15u G2 came with Windows 7 Professional 64, but it's also available with Windows 8. It also has programs such as HP Client Security for software- and hardware-level protection of your information, and HP Drive Encryption. HP Performance Advisor lets you fine-tune your device's settings based on your most popular applications.
The ZBook 15u comes with HP's standard 3-year limited warranty, which covers parts, labor and online service.
HP offers four models of ZBook 15u G2, two with Intel Core i5 and two with Core i7 processors. Once you choose the processor you'd like, you can customize your RAM and hard drive, creating a machine with up to 16GB of RAM and 1.25 TB of storage. You can also opt to get HP's Z Turbo Drive, which, the company says, provides up to 40 percent better performance than regular SSD hard drives.
Our $1,999 review model was decked out with an Intel Core i7-5500U dual core processor, AMD FirePro M4170 graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB Z Turbo Drive hard drive.
The least expensive model starts at $1,199, and is powered by an Intel Core i5-5200U processor with AMD FirePro M4170 graphics. It comes with Windows 7 Professional installed, and sports 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.
There's no denying the HP ZBook 15u G2 is a competent workhorse of a notebook. I used it as my primary work computer for many days, and it was always quick in downloading files and smooth to use with multiple programs open. While bulkier, you can get the Lenovo W550s with comparable specs -- and its exceptional battery life - for about $200 less. But if you're looking for a workstation that you can take on the go, the HP ZBook 15u G2 is a strong choice.