Introduction, Design, & Features
Your average laptop shopper is easily satisfied compared to a mobile workstation customer. The former just wants light weight, good performance and battery life, and a decent screen and keyboard. The latter wants those things plus extra reliability for 24/7 runtimes, an array of independent software vendor (ISV) certifications of compatibility with demanding design and scientific apps, and more power and expandability than most desktop PCs.
So it’s no wonder that HP brags that IDC market watchers named its ZBook 15 the best-selling portable workstation—or that the company pulled out all the stops when crafting a new third generation of the model. Even with a few desirable options, such as a 4K high-resolution version of HP’s flagship DreamColor display, not due to arrive until May or June, the ZBook 15 G3 is a formidable choice for taking large datasets into the field.
By “formidable,” of course, we mean “expensive”: Even with a 1,920×1,080 instead of 4K display, the system starts at $1,852. Our Windows 7 Professional test unit rang up at $2,654, because by “formidable” we also mean “powerful”: It teamed an Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 CPU—a 2.8GHz member of the sixth-generation “Skylake” family—with 32GB of ECC DDR4 memory, Nvidia Quadro M2000M graphics, and a 512GB PCIe M.2 solid-state drive. (The ZBook can accommodate up to 64GB of RAM and two SSDs plus a hard drive for up to 3TB of storage.)
Indeed, the 15.6-inch HP held its own against the 17.3-inch Lenovo ThinkPad P70$1,432.60 at Amazon we recently tested with the same Xeon processor. It came out ahead in two of our workstation-specific benchmarks, rendering POV-Ray 3.7’s off-screen test in 168 seconds to the Lenovo’s 172 and posting 94 versus 75 frames per second in Cinebench 11.5’s OpenGL animation. Only in SPECviewperf, a benchmark that renders and rotates 3D and wireframe models using viewsets from popular workstation programs, did the Lenovo’s higher-rated Quadro M4000M graphics give it the edge (56 to the HP’s 41fps in Creo, 46fps to 35fps in Maya, 79fps to 73fps in SolidWorks).
According to HP, the ZBook 15 G3 is 27 percent thinner and 7 percent lighter than the previous generation. At 15.2 by 10.4 by 1 inches, it pretty much filled our slim briefcase, and at 5.7 pounds we definitely knew it was there compared to 15.6-inch civilian laptops that weigh 4.5 to 5 pounds, but it’s not too much of a burden to carry (and its AC adapter, though still brick-sized, is only half the weight of its predecessor).
HP says the workstation’s two-tone lid features a Space Silver hue, but it reminds us of Batman’s color choices in The Lego Movie, “black and very, very, very dark gray.” The chassis is magnesium and aluminum, with a patterned center area and solid border that resist fingerprints nicely. The sturdy screen resisted our attempts to torque or wiggle the corners, though there was a bit of keyboard flex when we pressed keys in the home row.
A glossy HP logo is centered in the matte lid, with the words “Mobile Workstation” in small type on the rear edge. Lift the lid, and you’ll see a good-sized bezel around the display. The Webcam centered above delivered impressively bright and clear if slightly blotchy images in low-light conditions. The speakers are optimized for voice conferencing, not music or games; they produce adequately crisp if somewhat muffled sound.
The keyboard is full-sized and includes a numeric keypad. There’s what looks like a speaker grille above it, though the speakers are actually on the laptop’s bottom, with the power button to the left and mute and Wi-Fi toggle buttons to the right. The sizable palm rest stars a large touch pad centered below the space bar; there are three mouse buttons both above and below the pad, the upper set intended for use with the pointing stick embedded between the G and H keys.
On the ZBook’s left side, you’ll find Ethernet and VGA ports, a USB 3.0 port that can charge handheld devices, and an SD card slot. On the right are a Smart Card reader, two more USB 3.0 ports, an audio jack, an HDMI port, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports with USB Type-C connectors that support the USB 3.1 and DisplayPort standards as well as high-speed docking stations and drive arrays.
As we said, the 15.6-inch non-touch screen offers full HD (1,920×1,080) resolution; full HD touch and 4K DreamColor non-touch models will be available later in the first half of this year. The panel is averagely bright if you stick to the top two or three backlight settings, with fairly wide viewing angles, but struck us as just a tiny bit washed-out; colors didn’t pop and text didn’t leap off the white background as on some displays we’ve enjoyed lately. Perhaps it was the lack of an onboard color calibrator like the Lenovo P70’s, but the screen seemed more suited for general use than demanding color gamut matching.
Once we got going, by contrast, the backlit keyboard rose above its small amount of flex to deliver a good tactile typing feel—slightly shallow, but with a satisfying thunk as each key hit bottom. Layout is good, except for HP’s confounded trademark of half-height up and down cursor arrows sandwiched between full-sized left and right arrows, rather than an inverted T of equal-sized keys. Keys on the top row, which include such necessaries as Esc, Delete, PgUp, and PgDn, are tiny.
Both the touch pad and pointing stick are easy to maneuver, and the former’s six buttons produce a soft but sure click. HP backs the ZBook with a commendable three-year warranty including next-day on-site service. The software installation is free of bloatware, though there are a couple of HP management and remote access utilities.