The Mini Fixed Workstation: HP's Z2 Mini Presents Another Compelling Proposition in Form Factor
Herrera on Hardware: The traditional fixed workstation platform continues to evolve to serve a wide range of preferences and demands.
Mention the word “workstation,” and the first image that will come to most — and perhaps especially those with a history during the machine’s hey-day of the late 80’s and 90’s — is the deskside tower. Today, despite the incursion of mobiles, the deskside, or fixed, workstation remains popular among professionals, especially those in the largest served market: CAD. Prior to the pandemic, fixed workstations outsold mobile workstations by nearly 2 to 1. (The rush to work from home pushed mobile shipments way up, but that trend now appears to be subsiding, though the current mix is closer to 50/50).
Despite its age, the fixed workstation platform has been anything but static. Evolving over time, the fixed workstation had until recently settled into a de facto standard of five base models across the industry, especially for top tier vendors Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Four towers, ranging from full size to mini towers, include the Premium 2S (dual-socket), the Entry 2S, the Premium 1S (single socket), and the Entry 1S. And beginning with HP’s seminal and legitimately game-changing launch of their Z workstation line in 2009, the Entry 1S model also often comes in a small form factor (SFF) version, far slimmer and capable of both deskside or desktop orientation. Since its introduction, the SFF has roughly split Entry 1S volume with its bigger, tower sibling.
HP’s recent set of five deskside models, left to right: Premium 2S Z8, Entry 2S Z6, Premium 1S Z4, and Entry 1S Z2, in both SFF and mini-tower form factors. Image source: HP.
Adding a Sixth to the Mix: The Mini Workstation
Those five models have recently welcomed a sixth member: the mini. While Boxx was the first vendor I’m aware of marketing a true mini-size workstation back in 2015, HP was the vendor that drove the form factor into the mainstream of the market with its Z2 Mini. Lenovo is also out in the market with its competing ThinkStation P300 Tiny series.
The appeal of a mini, relative to the available fixed workstation alternatives, is obvious. At just 8.3” x 8.6” x 2.7”, the Z2 Mini traditional tower measures up at a fraction of an SFF model, letting it fit in places no other fixed workstation can. Besides minimizing the space required for use at the desk, the Mini allows easy behind-display mounting. As such, a mini behind a display accomplishes essentially the same thing as an All-in-One model, but eliminates the hard coupling of monitor and computer that some buyers prefer to avoid. Its size also makes it of interest for centralized deployments, where rack-mounting Z2 Minis make for a dense datacenter platform.
It's worth noting right off the bat, that one of the ways a vendor like HP gets the size down so far is that the power supply is external. The power brick paired with the Z2 mini measures approximately 1” x 8” x 4”, similarly thick but longer than a typical notebook AC adapter.
HP’s Z2 Mini comes wrapped not in plastic or sheet metal but thick and sleek, industrial black matte aluminum. I/O is plentiful on the rear and side, including enough to satisfy all but the most stringent of demands.
So, What’s the Tradeoff?
There must be a catch though, right? A smaller workstation will sound better to virtually everyone than the bigger one, so why would anyone build or buy the big one? Well, remember that virtually every choice in designing computer comes with a tradeoff, and in this case, if you make the chassis smaller, you’ll likely need to accept compromises in other areas. Accordingly, it’s worth understanding what the tradeoffs of downsizing to a mini are, and if they are important enough to forgo such a convenient form factor.
Specifically, let’s categorize possible tradeoffs into two buckets: specs and features, and performance.
Specs and Features
The most obvious tradeoff to any mini is in physical capacity — with a smaller volume available, there's simply not as much space to stuff in components. Secondarily, generally speaking, expanding capacity or servicing a mini is anywhere from a little-to-none proposition.
Continue reading to find out how the new HP Z2 Mini stacks up next to maximum configurations of the tower and SFF. What are the tradeoffs? Benefits? Read more >>
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