HP has been beefing up their offerings in the notebook and professional space in the last few years, and it’s evident that they’re trying hard to retain their spot in the consumer and professional space, even as their leadership is as aimless as ever. The products we’re taking a quick look at today come from HP Inc, the remaining part of the brand that is still visibly “HP”. The company split up this year with Hewlett Packard Enterprise becoming its own thing (and fragmenting further). What remains of HP is the teams that worked on consumer and professional products over the last two decades, and today’s addition to the Z-series family shows some of that differentiation. HP is trying their hardest to be different, and I think it’ll probably pay off.
HP told press in a briefing that the professional workplace is changing rapidly, and the workflows that people are engaged in is very different from what it was five years ago. The dominant workloads that require high-end computing are things like machine learning, virtual reality, and advanced design using additive manufacturing (3D printing, using fancy terminology). There’s a deeper emphasis on security as well. More consumers are being affected by attacks on the internet or through physical devices, and protecting business assets becomes a lot harder with the BYOD strategy that some companies are still employing. An interesting statistic that HP trotted out was that a study determined that 30% of people using computers still open phishing emails.
That’s why the company is looking to further secure their workstation products. They’ve loaded up with all the things they can throw at these systems, from including support for a trusted platform module (still separately available, even in 2017), Secure Boot, the third generation of HP Sure Start to protect the UEFI BIOS, to even offering a feature in the BIOS to securely erase hard drives and SSDs plugged into the system. Secure Authentication is new, offering some options for physical ID verification like biometrics, a secure USB key, or even two-factor authentication to be able to even boot up the machine. HP claims it’s up to one million times more secure. I’m not sure the math quite works out that way, but extra layers of security are always welcome, as long as they are convenient.
Now, to the hardware at hand.
HP started the presentation with a balls-to-the-wall-crazy workstation in the form of the Z8 G4 (G4 being the fourth generation of the Z-series family). This is as high-end a workstation as you’re going to get with Intel’s Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X platform in Xeon guise. HP is offering a dual-socket motherboard with two Xeon Silver, Gold, or Platinum processors, twelve DIMM slots for system RAM, ten SATA 6 ports, a 1700W power supply for multi-GPU setups, and dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet. It even has nine PCIe slots, two of which are mounted at the top of the chassis. It’s a crazy, crazy setup. I don’t want to know the price of a fully loaded setup, it’s surely a mind-boggling number.
The size and power constraints were so enormous that HP had to rethink airflow design for optimal efficiency. There are several industrial 120mm fans at the front of the chassis pushing air into the chassis to feed the GPUs, and vents help to channel air to the 120mm fans that force air into the CPU heatsinks and across the motherboard. There are wind tunnels that direct hot air from the heatsinks away from other components and out the chassis, all so that there isn’t any point where hot air builds up in the system.
I’m not sure if HP’s mention of design being inspired by “The Nautilus” is actually a super-geeky reference to Captain Nemo’s extremely badass submarine from Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or The Mysterious Island, but if it was mentioned in the briefing, I didn’t catch it.
Further delving into the crazy ideas HP’s engineers have come up with, the Z8 G4 has a power supply that is mounted sideways on the right-hand side of the chassis, and it slides out after loosening two screws. That means it’s hot-swappable, a decision which also allowed the chassis to only be as tall as mid-sized ATX chassis. It gives HP more room to work with for cable management, and there’s still not a lot of room to play around with even with the components removed.
In the side view, you can see the hot-swappable hard drive bays, as well as the PCIe slots at the top of the motherboard. Cards mounted in these slots will be inserted on a rail mount, and screw into the top of the chassis. HP wanted there to be enough space for PCIe NVMe solid state drives to still be used even with three graphics cards in the system already.
HP then moved on to the Z6 G4, another mid-sized ATX design. It’s not as mad as the Z8, but it still boasts some interesting ideas which HP didn’t go into much depth about. It offers space for up to two Intel Xeon processors with twelve DIMM slots, six PCIe slots with spacing set out for two full-length GPUs, two USB 3.1 Type-C slots on the rear through a PCIe adapter, and support for up to 384GB of ECC DDR4 memory. There’s also two M.2 NVMe-capable ports on the motherboard and dual 10 Gigabit networking. Oh, and a riser card for the second CPU.
No, you’re reading that right. The second CPU and the RAM is on a riser motherboard. I’m going to need to see this for myself.
The smallest of the bunch is the HP Z4 G4, a midi-ATX chassis that crams in as much stuff as possible for those of you who desire compact and powerful workstations. It has support for dual Xeon processors up to Intel’s Xeon Platinum family, eight DIMM slots for up to 256GB of ECC DDR4 RAM, dual graphics cards with one PCIe 8x slot opened for NVMe SSDs.
The cooling system also got an overhaul. Heat is drawn in from above the fans and forced down into the chambers housing the CPU heatsinks. Hot air rises up into the exhaust vent, which is underneath that HP logo, and gets shoved towards the rear exhaust fan. It’s a neat design.
HP ended off the briefing with the unveiling of the Z38C professional monitor. This is a curved display with a 2300R curve, which is less aggressive than some others available on the market. It is billed as a “4K-wide” display, which is a marketing term for what is essentially two 1920 x 1600 workspaces slapped together (being 3840 pixels long is nothing like 4K). Although it would be great if the display was also the first curved 10-bit panel, but this is an 8-bit panel that uses dithering to make up the remaining two bits of colour. It’s not a problem for most workstation owners, and the colour accuracy will probably be high enough for what most photo and video editors would want, but it doesn’t have a true 10-bit colour depth.
HP bills this as the kind of display that dual-screen users will want to save on desk space and give them more vertical desktop real estate, and I can certainly see the allure of having a monitor that is 1600 pixels tall. It supports HDMI and Displayport 1.2, and features a USB 3.0 hub for peripherals. It additionally has a USB-C port, which means that you can use this monitor as a docking station of sorts for notebooks which charge using USB-C and have data pass over the same connector. That won’t work for the Acer Swift 7 I recently reviewed, but it will work for HP’s Z-series notebooks and a few of their ultrabooks in the Elitebook range. Pair it up with an Apple Macbook Pro, even, and have the monitor serve up some external storage space, Gigabit ethernet over USB, or even a mechanical keyboard for typing.
HP did not detail the launch dates for the Z38C or its price, but the Z8 G4 will be available in October 2017 at a starting price of $2,349, while the Z6 G4 and the Z4 G4 will retail for $1,919 and $1,239 respectively.
Now which one do I pick to play Crysis on?