HP ZBook 14

12 Feb, 2014 By: Art Liddle

First Look Review: Lightweight mobile workstation for CAD on the go.

Highly Recommended

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Just a year ago we reviewed the HP Elitebook 8570w, a midrange — and midsized — mobile workstation with a 15.6" display screen. The Elitebook 8570w fared well in that review, receiving our highest rating. For this review, we examined the ZBook 14 mobile workstation, billed by HP as the world's first workstation Ultrabook. With only 48% of the volume and 42% of the weight of its bigger sibling, the ZBook 14 delivers nearly 80% of the display screen area and more than 96% of the power — tradeoffs we are more than willing to make when working on the go.

System Features

Don't let the HP ZBook 14's diminutive size fool you; this 13.4" x 9.3" x 0.83" mobile computer is every bit a workstation. Weighing in at only 3.6 lbs, it is five to six pounds lighter than many of the notebooks we've reviewed during the past couple of years. That's a welcome relief for our shoulders!

The HP ZBook 14 comes in a small, lightweight package, but it still manages to deliver the power you need for CAD work on the go.
The HP ZBook 14 comes in a small, lightweight package, but it still manages to deliver the power you need for CAD work on the go.

Based on the just-released fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4600U mobile processor (two cores, four threads), the guts of the ZBook 14 run at a clock speed of 2.1 GHz; using turbo-boost technology for single-core operations, the clock maxes out at a staggering 3.3 GHz. Our review system included 16 GB of 1,600-MHz DDR3L SDRAM, filling both of its SODIMM memory slots, and a 240-GB SATA solid-state hard drive. Going with a traditional SATA (5,400 rpm) mechanical hard drive, maximum storage capacity for the ZBook 14 is an impressive 1 TB. You can jump this up to 1.2 TB with the new optional M.2 module now available.

As you might expect, based on its name, the ZBook 14 is built around a 14" display. This widescreen LED-backlit anti-glare panel provides 32-bit color at a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. By combing Intel's integrated HD Graphics 4400 processor and AMD's FirePro M4100 mobile GPU (1-GB GDDR5), the ZBook 14 supports up to four displays, according to the company,. The system takes advantage of the two distinct graphics subsystems to automatically choose the appropriate graphics mode, conserving battery life when applicable. The unit we reviewed runs the traditional, and familiar, Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, but you can choose Windows 8 and a touchscreen instead.

HP ZBokk 14Although the ZBook 14 does not include a DVD/CD drive (you can buy an external drive for about $80) it does offer a full range of other connectivity options. There are four USB 3.0 ports (one for charging), one smart card reader, one memory card reader, one RJ-45 network jack, and stereo microphone in and stereo headphone out jacks. External graphics options include a VGA port and a DisplayPort. Located at the right side of the unit is a docking port for HP's UltraSlim Docking Station v2. And for true road warriors, there is a connector at the bottom for an optional secondary power source: an HP 6-cell (60 WHr) slice battery. The ZBook 14 supports both Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.0) wireless standards, and Internet connection speeds of 10/100/1,000 mbps.

Test Scores

For our performance testing, we used the Cadalyst c2012 benchmark (running AutoCAD 2013) and SPECviewperf 11. Per our standards, we set the screen resolution to 1,280 x 1,024 and the color depth to 32-bit. We enabled hardware acceleration for AutoCAD and turned off vertical sync for the graphics card. Unique to the ZBook 14, we also verified that the FirePro M4100 GPU was enabled for both of our benchmarks; the system had correctly tagged both for the high-performance option.

We started our testing with c2012 and AutoCAD 2013 using AutoCAD's default graphics driver. Based on its total index score, the ZBook 14 was only 4% slower than the Elitebook 8570w, reviewed last year. The individual benchmark scores, including last year's results for the 8570w shown in parentheses (adjusted for AutoCAD 2013), were as follows: total index = 343 (356), 3D graphics index = 483 (646), 2D graphics index = 347 (309), disk index = 246 (201), and CPU index = 296 (270).

The test results for the SPECviewperf 11 suite of tests, single sample mode only, again with last year's scores shown in parentheses, were as follows: 28.30 (19.36) for catia-03, 12.56 (20.10) for ensight-04, 59.91 (55.61) for lightwave-01, 44.51 (55.96) for maya-03, 9.32 (6.00) for proe-05, 41.07 (43.19) for sw-02, 12.67 (18.89) for tcvis-02, and 22.06 (24.46) for snx-01. As you can see, these results are very similar also.

Extra Touches

Our ZBook 14 includes an optional HP fingerprint reader, a feature we have found to be indispensable in today's connected world: We never have to remember any passwords. The backlit keyboard, which includes a touchpad (with a pair of pick buttons, top and bottom) and a pointing stick tucked in among the G, H, and B keys, boasts a spill-resistant design with drain, although we did not test this last feature.

Battery Performance

The ZBook 14 is powered by HP's Long Life 3-cell (50 WHr) polymer/prismatic battery, which has a one-year warranty. Its external 65-watt smart AC adapter measures 4 3/16" x 1 3/4" x 1 1/8". We used the c2012's Battery Rundown Test option to measure how long the ZBook 14 can operate on its battery. We ran the test four times and found the battery lasts an average of 170 minutes — well above the average of 131 minutes for laptops we've reviewed during the past two years.

Final Thoughts

The ZBook 14 carries HP's three-year standard parts and labor warranty. As configured for this review, its list price is $2,399. (For the record, the 8570w was priced at $2,786.) Although it won't replace your desktop workstation for the heavy lifting, the HP ZBook 14 offers good performance and great battery life in a small, lightweight package, and does so at an affordable price.

Highly Recommended.

About the Author: Art Liddle

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