A Design Tour of the HP Z2 Mini, Part 227 Apr, 2017 Sponsored By HP
The project’s lead mechanical engineer discusses the achievements — and the challenges — of designing the world's smallest workstation.
No matter how unique or how innovative, every HP Z Workstation must meet the company’s high standards for quality and integrity. In the case of the new HP Z2 Mini — a professional CAD workstation measuring only 8.5” square — clearing that bar was an incredible feat for the mechanical, electrical, and thermal engineering teams.
What was it like to be in the center of Z2 Mini development? Adolfo Gomez, the project's lead mechanical architect, gave Cadalyst a first-hand glimpse inside the process of creating the world’s first mini workstation.
Cadalyst: What was your reaction to the concept of creating a miniature professional workstation?
Gomez: At first, the concept of creating a miniature professional workstation was a little intimidating. Clearly, the market and technology have been trending toward the miniaturization of electronics — but a workstation is a totally different beast, with performance and design demands that far exceed what is typical for a consumer product. But once we understood the challenges and opportunities ahead, we were eager to get our hands dirty.
The HP Z2 Mini Workstation.
Cadalyst: Do you recall a particular mechanical engineering challenge that was a first for your team?
Gomez: Figuring out how to fit workstation performance into such a small volume while keeping the system cool and quiet was the most difficult design challenge the team solved. Knowing that the Z2 Mini would garner a lot of visibility, we placed high value on the appearance of the product, which required us to get creative with the design.
Optimizing the system layout to meet our product requirements required more mechanical and thermal modeling than any of our previous projects. We began by using CAD to understand what was physically possible from a layout perspective. We needed to understand how to place major components where customers could easily access them for upgrades, while addressing the thermal design challenges and optimizing for component placement on the system board. We then ran our layout models through CFD [computational fluid dynamics] software to ensure we were meeting thermal and acoustic requirements. The process was highly iterative, requiring several tweaks along the way — but in the end, we were able to generate a layout that met our design objectives.
Cadalyst: With such a complex design, it seems inevitable that you had to make changes along the way when Plan A didn’t work out. ...
Gomez: Yes. For example, as we moved from concept to early test samples, we identified the need for improved cooling. At this point in development, there was already a lot of great feedback and momentum on the industrial design language, and we wanted to preserve those aesthetics. We used data gathered from thermal testing to refine our CFD models. Using our new models, we identified opportunities to reduce internal recirculation of preheated air. We updated our test units with strategically placed thermal barriers and were able to achieve our thermal and acoustics performance goals.
Although it measures just 8.5" x 8.5" x 2.3", the HP Z2 Mini incorporates every component necessary to power professional 2D and entry-level 3D CAD.
Cadalyst: Did you have to make any trade-offs along the way in the interest of functionality, cost, etc.?
Gomez: At the outset of the project, our product marketing lead went to great lengths to understand what features were needed to introduce a product that would disrupt the market. A lot of time was spent gaining insight from key customers in all of our major segments to better understand feature needs and priorities. Thanks to the concerted efforts in market research, the feedback from our valued customers, and the high level of engineering expertise on the team, at the end of the day we had a product definition that left no room for compromise.
Cadalyst: Were there any compromises you refused to make?
Our products see some of the most demanding workloads, environments, and deployment models in the industry — from the cutting-edge architecture and digital media customers to mission-critical deployments in 911 call centers and even the International Space Station. Uncompromised quality and reliability are paramount to the success of our customers, and are the tenets of all HP Z Workstations.
Cadalyst: If you had to pick a single favorite achievement of the HP Z2 Mini, what would that be?
It is difficult to identify a single favorite. There is definitely a gestalt quality to the Z2 Mini. The fact that we were able to wrap so much computing power into such a small and elegant space, without compromising on the pillars of HP Z Workstations design, quality, and reliability — is a huge achievement. Introducing the world’s first mini workstation is something that only happens once — ever.
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