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HP Z1 Workstation review

Kat Orphanides
3 Aug 2012
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
2,431
inc VAT

Whether you're kitting out a design department or creating your own digital artist's studio, this powerful all-in-one will meet your every need

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Specifications

3.5GHz Intel Xeon E3-1280, 8GB RAM, 27in 2,560x1,440 display, Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

Desktop PC systems are rapidly becoming old hat, even when it comes to powerful systems for design, production and video editing work. A large part of the credit for that goes to Apple - its iMac all-in-one computers proved that a compact design needn't mean substandard processor power. However, we've recently seen major PC manufacturers step up their game to exceed the capabilities of even the most powerful iMacs. The HP Z1 workstation is just such a powerhouse.

The PC has a 3.5GHz Intel Xeon E3-1280 processor. This generation of Xeon processors is similar in terms of architecture to consumer Sandy Bridge Core processors and even uses the same LGA1155 socket. However, some features are present in the E3-1280 that Core processors lack and vice versa. The Xeon doesn't have an on-chip GPU but it does support up to 32GB of buffered ECC memory - RAM with Error Correcting Code that can reconstruct and correct data lost through memory errors.

The usefulness of ECC memory in a workstation is subject to some debate. Its parity checking can make it a little slower than equivalent non-ECC memory, although the effects are negligible given the speed of modern RAM. It's argued that the errors ECC memory is designed to correct are incredibly rare but a study carried out by Google indicates that 8% of DIMM memory modules are affected by errors every year. As such errors in non-ECC RAM generally result in a crash which can take out any unsaved work you have open, it could well pay to be on safe side and use ECC. This is the option HP has gone for, so the Z1 comes with 8GB of ECC RAM.

HP Z1 Workstation

This generation of Xeon processors also has support for trusted execution and VT-d, which comprise a proprietary Intel virtualisation and security layer. While this has uses in security terms, particularly if you deal with sensitive data, it's not of great relevance to a production workstation of this sort. Finally, Xeon processors have been subjected to more thorough testing than their Core siblings and can thus be guaranteed to run faster and more reliably for longer and at hotter temperatures. This is of interest to overclockers, but on a workstation processor running at factory clock speeds, it's just a further step to minimise the risk of unexpected crashes.

The Z1's performance is extremely good, with an overall score of 108 in our standard benchmark tests. That's a shade quicker than our reference Core i5-2500K-based system and means there’s plenty of power for any media production software you're likely to need. Like Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 consumer processors, the Xeon chip has four cores, so can take full advantage of multi-threaded applications.

HP has fitted an Nvidia Quadro 1000M graphics card with 2GB of memory. The Quadro range of mobile workstation GPUs is optimised for professional-grade 3D applications, although we'll note that it would be a good idea to add a bit of extra RAM to this all-in-one if you plan on doing much rendering. Although Nvidia describes the 1000M as a mobile GPU, a look inside the system reveals that it's the same size as a hefty desktop graphics card.

The 1000M is only just a shade above entry-level in the Quadro range but it's still a reliable GPU for use with CAD and visualisation applications, with drivers that are optimised for stability and OpenGL performance, as well as Nvidia's CUDA platform, which offloads mathematical processing onto the graphics chip. It's not brilliant for games - we got a not-quite-playable frame rate of 22fps in Dirt 3 at a resolution of 1,280x720 and high quality settings - but the card isn't intended for such use.

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