Advertisement
Current Issue
December 2014
Issue: February 1, 2014

Review: HP's ZBook 14 ultrabook

By: Dariush Derakhshani
You’re leaving?” she asked, one eyebrow raised. “I’m taking my scenes with me,“ I said. “Yeah, and you’re going to run it on your boy’s play laptop?” she chuckled back, pointing to my new ZBook 14 ultrabook workstation. My eyes gave her eyes the finger, and I left the office.

I’ve been wanting a super-portable workstation for as long as I can remember. Workstation laptops are great, but they’re not the super-travel-friendly ultrabooks and tablets we’ve come to know and love. But try concurrently running Maya, Photoshop, and Nuke on an ultrabook. It’s easier to spot a unicorn. You can get great performance from mobile workstations, like the Dell M4700 I reviewed a year ago, (it’s an agile and capable workstation, easier than a 17-inch notebook to travel with, but still a bit heavy). These machines can replace your desktop easily.

I heard that HP was introducing a 14-inch ultrabook version of their ZBook series during my review of the fabulous 17-inch ZBook (See Post, November 2013). To me, the ZBook 14 needs to compete in the same circles as the 13-inch MacBook Pro for portability, but be as capable as my tower. Pffft, sheer madness!

So now I’ve spent a couple of months with HP’s ZBook 14, testing its power, usability and portability. To be a workstation, it needs to push pixels around like a schoolyard bully, have an excellent display, plenty of connectivity options, and it has to be fast and versatile. I need it as my work machine and my everyday laptop.

DESIGN

I can’t understate how much I appreciate this ultrabook. It is extremely convenient and easy to carry around. It weighs a scant 3.5-pounds and is 9.33-inches by 13.35-inches, and only 0.83 of an inch thick, putting it very close to the 13-inch MacBook in size and weight, though it packs a lot more punch. It has a comfortable Chicklet-style keyboard and a large responsive touchpad with two mouse buttons (no middle button!). The screen has a magnetic latch, making it easy to open with one hand. The machine is quiet during normal computing, and had a comfortable fan noise at a sitting distance during extreme loads.



The chassis feel is very solid, but quite light, and never got too hot, even under extreme long-term use. Aesthetically, it’s really pretty, with brushed dark metallic accent on the top as if to say, “I’m as cute as I am serious.” Just like me — except for the cute and serious part. The power brick is light and small, though not as elegant as the MacBook’s. The connector itself seems like a complete afterthought and is one quibble I have with this otherwise-sleek ultrabook. It’s awkward and big, and sticks out a good two inches from the side of the ZBook 14. It needs to be more sleek. It feels obtrusive with such a little form factor to plug into. Seriously.

The ZBook has numerous connectivity options: four USB 3 ports, DisplayPort and VGA for external displays, an SD card reader, a space saving gigabit Ethernet port, and a headphone jack. This model is equipped with a 240GB SSD, an absolute essential, with room for an mSATA drive as well. 16GBs of RAM is a minimum for me and supports an Intel i7-4600U at 2.1GHz. Graphics run through the CPU’s capable Intel HD4400 to save power, and automagically kicks into the 1GB memory AMD FirePro M4100 card for more intensive applications. 

The ZBook’s screen, though not a DreamColor, is bright, vivid and looks great at 1920-by-1080, though, I’d love to see a higher resolution option (like Apple Retina displays, or Dell’s 3200-by-1800 option on the 15.6-inch M3800).

TESTING

The ZBook 14 lasted over four hours with typical usage and a well-dimmed screen, and just about 1.5 hours with a heavy CPU and graphics load, and a 50 percent dimmed screen, which is pretty good; a bit better than the beefier ZBook’s 17’s times. Computing and video performance isn’t as consistent as it’s bigger sibling, but it was surprising how well it kept up! 

In SPECViewperf 11 the ZBook 14’s AMD FirePro M4100 posted scores all over the map, ranging from 12 percent to 60 percent slower than the ZBook 17 with the Nvidia K5000 video system. Furthermore, the AMD FirePro drivers seemed to have trouble running SPECViewperf 11 with Windows 7’s swanky Glass interface enabled. Enabling Windows 7’s plain vanilla interface got stable performance with SPECViewperf, something I did not have to do with the Nvidia-equipped 17-inch ZBook.



My home-baked Maya 2014 benchmarks showed the ZBook 14 holding its own against the Nvidia-powered 17-inch, which honestly is a surprise to me for a little ultrabook!! Scores generally were within five to ten percent of the ZBook 17, with a couple of scores even being ten to 15 percent faster. I’m not sure what to say to that, except yippee! Subjectively, the ZBook 14 did very well in 3D applications and image manipulation, though at times cramped on the 14-inch screen. Processing speed was quite good with the hyperthreading-enabled Intel i7-4600U Dual Core 2.1GHz, (two cores, four threads). Overall this little guy has some serious might under the hood. I underestimated the AMD M4100 at first, but was surprised to see good scores posted in my (amateur) Maya benchmarks. Now if I can just get the ZBook 14, 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and Dell M3800 all on my test bench together…

CONCLUSION

If you’re interested in an ultra-portable notebook for workstation applications, the MacBooks are just not an option in terms of graphics power, so you’re pretty much looking at the thin and light 15-inch Dell Precision M3800, or the even smaller and lighter 14-inch HP ZBook 14. Ideally I’d love to see how it would fare powered by Nvidia (like the Nvidia K1100M), and if it had a higher resolution screen option. But, I really do enjoy taking this machine around with me.