CAD Tech News (#153)

18 Nov, 2021 By: Cadalyst Staff

HP's Z2 and Intel's 11th Gen Core:
Surveying Today's Quintessential
CAD Workstation Hardware


An opportunity to check out the state of the art in mainstream fixed workstations, as well as assess the CAD performance of Intel’s Rocket Lake CPU

With over three decades of evolution behind it, today’s workstation market is more diverse than ever. While the emergence of the mobile workstation back in the early 00’s has had the most notable growth force on the market — now contributing roughly half the market’s unit volume — the more traditional fixed side (a.k.a. deskside or desktop) has done more than its share of progression as well, growing into product portfolios far broader than the workstation’s early days. Technology drivers Dell, HP, and Lenovo now offer six or more models at a time, differentiated by virtually every metric possible: form factor, capacity, performance, and, of course, price. Each model is carefully crafted to appeal to the specific needs and wants of a user base dominated by CAD applications. Check outthis multi-part series for an in-depth look at today’s breadth of workstation market segmentation.

But while the number of model classes has grown over time, sales distribution among those classes has proven anything but uniform. Hitting the sweet spot of price and performance, the class I define as Entry 1S (single socket) dominates sales, commanding over half of all deskside workstations sold today. Within that segment are the two highest volume models, Dell’s Precision 3000 series and HP’s Z2 (and Lenovo not far behind with its ThinkStation P300 series). If you want a sense of what the core of today’s market is all about, you can’t do better than look at the HP Z2 — which is exactly what we’ll do with this month’s column.


The Z2: HP’s Offering In the Highest Volume Entry-Class Fixed Workstation Market

Packaged in a svelte chassis measuring 14” x 7” x 15” (hxwxd), the HP Z2’s form factor is best described as a mini-tower, a package that cuts down dramatically on the volume requirements of a traditional full-sized tower. If that’s too big for your space, the HP Z2 also comes available in an SFF (small form factor) chassis (13” x 4” x 12”) and even a Mini — small enough (8.5” x 2.3” x 8.5”) to be mounted and hidden behind a display. (Though bear in mind both smaller chassis choices come with compromises on power and capacity, especially so for the Mini, which preclude some configuration options in GPUs, memory, and storage).


HP's Z2 G8.


With a glance at the Z2’s datasheet and price points, its crosshairs on the meat of the market become clear. Its starting price around $1,200 puts it in the range of most any budget, yet it allows building up configurations that would satisfy the demands of the vast majority of users: up to an 8-core (8C) 11th Gen Intel Core i9, 128GB DDR-3200 memory (with ECC option), 4TB of storage, and GPU support up to NVIDIA’s ultra-high end RTX A5000.


Of course, our HP Z2 review unit didn’t skimp on components. With its 8C Core i9-11900K running at 3.5 GHz (base, with 5.3 GHz Turbo Boost), high-end NVIDIA RTX A4000 GPU, 32GB of non-ECC memory, and 1TB of max-performance NVMe SSD storage, our configuration left little room to improve upon, at least with respect to modestly-threaded workloads such as CAD modeling and 3D graphics. Those upgrades aren’t free, of course, bumping the cost up to around $3,400, no longer what I would deem an entry-level price tag, though still impressive when considering what comes inside (the RTX A4000 especially, as it retails for well over $1,000 alone).


So, what really makes a workstation a workstation? Find out how the HP Z2 fills the bill, plus dig into Rocket Lake S performance analysis and an introduction to Alder Lake.  


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