The iron fist of a workstation clad in a velvet glove of stylish design.
T his is a 15in laptop with serious poke. Just take a look at the specs and try not to whimper with excitement: a 2.8GHz quad-core mobile Xeon processor with Hyper-Threading, 32GB of RAM, a 512GB PCI Express-based NVMe SSD, and Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics driving a 15.6in, 3,840 x 2,160 HP DreamColor display.
Given such a specification, you might forgive HP for neglecting design. Thankfully, the ZBook is as tempting in the flesh as its specs are in black and white. From its dimpled, aluminium-clad lid to its glass-topped touchpad and gleaming chamfered edges, this laptop is a joy to behold.
It’s comfortable to use, too. The keyboard is flanked by Bang & Olufsen stereo speakers, and has a key action that’s light to the touch and has just the right amount of travel and feedback. The smooth, frosted-finish touchpad is large and responsive, and while I’m not generally a fan of integrated buttons, these ones work well with a solid, positive click.
The most impressive design achievement, however, is how much power HP squeezes into so little space. The HP ZBook Studio G3 is closer in weight and slenderness to an Ultrabook than to your average lumpen workstation. You still won’t want to lug it around all day – it weighs 2.1kg – but compared with most laptops in its class, it’s positively limber. Moreover, at 21mm thick it’s surprisingly slender. It doesn’t quite match the 17mm Dell XPS 15, but it’s not far away.
Despite its compact size, you’ll find plenty of ports and sockets arranged around the edges. On the left sit a Gigabit Ethernet connector, two USB 3 ports and an SD card slot. On the right are two Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C ports, plus an HDMI output, another USB 3 port and a 3.5mm audio jack. Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, stretches to 2×2 stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.
The exterior is all very lovely then, but the true appeal of the ZBook lies beneath its aluminium shell. The beating heart of this beast is its mobile Xeon processor – this is the first time we’ve seen one in the wild. Before you get too excited, it’s important to realise that this isn’t a true Xeon to match the ones you’ll find in desktop workstations. Instead, it’s a beefed-up version of Intel’s consumer-grade Skylake chips.
In our review sample we have a 14nm quad-core, Hyper-Threaded 2.8GHz Xeon E3-1505M v5 that will Turbo Boost up to a maximum frequency of 3.7GHz. HP has also packed in a dual graphics setup encompassing Intel’s integrated HD Graphics P530 and Nvidia’s Quadro M1000M for heavy-duty CAD/CAM and industrial design work.
Performance-wise, this is quite the package. In our laptop benchmarks, which run a series of heavy-duty image-conversion, 4K video-encoding and multitasking tests, the ZBook achieved a score of 120, meaning it steals the title of “fastest laptop we’ve ever seen” from the Dell XPS 15 with its score of 111.
Even more importantly for a machine that’s likely to be dealing with heavy-duty apps and big files, the storage subsystem is super-quick. HP has endowed the ZBook with one of its Z Turbo drives – a PCI Express-based NVMe drive with a 512GB capacity and speeds fast enough to embarrass many a desktop drive. Tested with CrystalDiskMark, it hit sequential read and write speeds in excess of 2GB/sec and 1.5GB/sec respectively, which is nothing short of astonishing. Whether you’re launching apps, loading large video files into your timeline or rendering big video projects straight to disk, this laptop will keep up – and then some.
With such high-end hardware on board, you might expect battery life to suffer; and so it does, but perhaps not as badly you might think. In our looping video-playback test, in which we calibrate the screen to a brightness of 170cd/m2 and put the laptop in flight mode, the ZBook Studio G3 lasted 5hrs 25mins. That should be enough to deliver around half a day of light duties. Bear in mind, though, that as soon as you start pushing the processor, the battery life will drop significantly. And with this much power on offer, it’s quite easy to get carried away.
Sound and vision
HP hasn’t ignored the screen. It’s a wide-gamut, non-touchscreen, high-DPI display with a matte finish. At first glance it looks sharp, colourful and punchy in all the right ways.
Under the beady eye of our X-Rite colorimeter, the contrast ratio hit a high 1,212:1, which ensures punchy images and an inky black level. I was also suitably pleased by the panel’s sRGB coverage of 99.2%.
However, colour accuracy isn’t up to same level, with an average Delta E figure of 2.96 seeing it fall behind its main rival, the Dell XPS 15’s (1.48), by quite a long way. Meanwhile, maximum brightness reaches only 259cd/m2, which is some way short of the Dell XPS 15’s 363cd/m2. As long as you don’t venture outdoors with it, though, that shouldn’t prove too much of a problem.
I was considerably less taken with the speakers. Although Bang & Olufsen-branded, they’re nothing special. They’re clear and deliver music with plenty of atmosphere, but there isn’t much warmth or body to the sound, and precious little bass.
High price… but worth it
The HP ZBook Studio G3 is a beast of a 15in laptop, and has a price to match. Our review sample costs an eye-watering $6,899. While it’s possible to cut down the price, this is still a top dollar machine, which is reflected in the specifications.
For that you’re getting a hugely impressive machine that’s ISV-certified and ready for serious work. The monstrous specification of our test system delivers faster performance than any other laptop we’ve put through our benchmarks, and it’s all squeezed into a chassis that’s slimmer and lighter than you have any right to expect.
Is it worth the money? If you need a portable ISV-certified notebook, then certainly. No workstation laptop we’ve tested combines a chassis this slim and light with performance this fast. It stands at the pinnacle of workstation laptop design, with only the Dell Precision M3800 for (distant) company, a 3.2kg workstation laptop that can currently only be specified with a Haswell Intel Core i7. I know which I’d choose.
HP ZBook Studio G3
“No workstation laptop we’ve tested combines a chassis this slim and light with performance this fast.”
Quad-core 2.8GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 • 32GB RAM • Intel HD P530/Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics • 512GB NVMe SSD • 15.6in 3,840 x 2,160 IPS display • 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2 x 2 MIMO antenna) • Bluetooth 4 • 720p webcam • 3 x USB 3 • 2 x Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C • HDMI 1.4 • SD slot • 64Whr Li-ion battery • Windows 10 Pro • 3yr RTB warranty • 375 x 255 x 18mm (WDH) • 2.1kg