By Brady Betzel
In today’s broadcast post environments you typically see only a handful of workstations. This is usually because there are only a few vendors that are truly certified to work with products from companies such as Adobe, Avid and Autodesk — ISVs (Independent Software Vendors).
While many people will brush over the word workstation, it really is not a term to take lightly. HP in particular spends a tremendous amount of time and resources to make sure that if you buy a workstation-class system from them, it is going to work. If it doesn’t, it is going to be relatively easy to fix to get up and running with very little down time. Workstation-class computers are expensive (no matter the brand), so it’s not a decision to take lightly.
In this review I will be covering the HP Z1 G2 All-In-One Workstation, a competitor to the Apple iMac and Mac Pro for comparison (depending on the specs). Unlike the Apple iMac however, the HP Z1 G2 was built specifically for the media and entertainment industry as well as architecture, healthcare and many other markets that require monster machines that produce precision calculations fast.
The HP Z1 G2 is the second incarnation of the Z1 All-In-One Workstation line. It’s an enterprise-class system that is meant to be run hard, and if it stumbles it can be opened and fixed quickly. In fact it comes with a one-, three-, four- or five-year limited on site warranty. What you get is on-site repairs as well as parts that can be sent to you next business day during the traditional Monday-Friday 8am-5pm hours.
Many of us post nerds are into the parts that live under the hood. In this case, the Z1 G2 has a simple way to get to those parts — it’s a little tricky on the first try, but thanks to the instructions you won’t have a problem figuring out how it works. Sometimes systems like the Z1 G2 are tough to disassemble, but the Z1 G2 is easy… any assistant editor should be able to do basic repairs quickly.
The Z1 G2 that was sent to me came with an Intel-based Xeon E3-1200 v3, fourth-generation processor, more commonly referred to as the “Haswell” family — specifically, the E3-1246 v3 quad-core clocked at 3.5GHz, with an 8MB of cache and hyper threading. It’s a fast processor. You have other options such as i3, i5, or even i7 processors, but if you are investing in a workstation-level system I wouldn’t skimp at this point in your build, get the Xeon!
Some uber-nerds might argue that the latest Intel x99 line of processors enable some premium uses like DDR4 memory that would benefit the HP workstation line. At this point HP went with its current processor lineup and usually sticks with it for two years, but I would suggest anyone looking into building a DIY system check into the x99 line — you will get some huge power for your money if you shop right.
In terms of memory the Z1 G2 I received was loaded with its maximum 32GB of DDR3 ECC memory rated at 1866MHz and took up all four DIMM slots. It’s important to note that the Z1 G2 can support non-ECC memory as well but only up to 16GB. It contained a 480GB SATA SSD drive; Nvidia Quadro K3100M; integrated 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth combo card; on the side there were two USB 3.0 (one port will charge devices even when the computer is asleep); two Thunderbolt 2 ports (which is an extra option that I requested); mic/headphone ports; and even an SD card reader. I really love the SD card reader. I didn’t expect to use it much, but I ended up using it a lot.
In the rear you get four USB 2 ports; one DisplayPort 1.1; audio in and out; an RJ-45 port; subwoofer output; and an optical/SPDIF connection. This system does NOT have a 1394a port. While most people are glad that 1394a is finally dead, some clients hand over drives with that as the only option, so you may need to find another way in.
Under the graphics hood in the Z1 G2 I was sent is the Nvidia Quadro K3100M (the M stands for mobile). It’s a powerhouse of a graphics card for an all-in-one system. It gives you 4GB of GDDR5, 768 CUDA cores and has a max power consumption of 75 watts. I think this card is amazing for the form factor it is stuffed into. You have a few alternate graphics card options such as the K4100M, which bumps up the CUDA cores to 1152. In my opinion you do not want to skimp here either; if you do any work in Adobe apps you want the most CUDA cores you can get.
To test the graphic abilities of this system I ran the Maxon Cinebench R15 test and pulled off 71.18fps; it out handled a Quadro 4000 pretty significantly. Basically the Z1 G2 kicks major butt all around the multimedia spectrum.
I tried out some encoding with Adobe Media Encoder specifically because it harnesses the CUDA core power of the Nvidia cards. I had a nine-minute ProRes QuickTime that I wanted to transcode to a 1080p Vimeo and YouTube QuickTime using the stock AME presets. On average they took six minutes to process… pretty quick if you ask me. Then I tried transcoding a 44-minute Avid DNX 175 encoded QuickTime to a 1080p YouTube QuickTime (MP4) and it took about 31 minutes. To try out the Z1 G2’s luck with R3D files, I transcoded a 10-second 6K R3D filmed on a Red Dragon to an Avid DNX 175 10-bit QuickTime, which took 15 seconds. Also to an Avid DNX 36 8-bit QuickTime, which took 25 seconds using RedCine X Pro.
Finally, I wanted to really push this computer with some GoPro footage, which can take extreme amounts of time. However on the Z1 G2 a 17-minute GoPro file transcoded to an Avid DNX 36 QuickTime in six minutes. For someone who has transcoded GoPro QuickTimes for weeks at a time, that is amazing.
The monitor is an amazing 27-inch IPS 2 LED backlit display with 2560×1440 resolution and 178-degree viewing angle. As a side note, my family and I are lucky enough to live in the middle of an avocado orchard. There is a 300-foot walkway to get there, and I can see this screen clear as day over 300 feet away. (If there is a picture on it the neighbors across the street can see, it’s incredible.) Needless to say it is another great monitor from HP; if you are in the market for a new monitor check out their DreamColor displays.
When ordering the Z1 G2 you have a few options in terms of the monitor finish: glass or no-glass. I really love that HP gave its users this option because sometimes I love the matte finish on a monitor. However, if you want to try out the 10-finger multi-touch option the Z1 G2 offers you must go with the glass option — this still looks incredible, but it will just give you a little more glare if you are in a well-lit room.
The multi-touch option is very intriguing. At the moment it allows the user to do rudimentary touch functions such as pinch zooming, swiping around the Windows 8.1 interface, as well as other handy tricks. It worked to draw a rough mask in Adobe After Effects but wouldn’t work for any of the tools in Adobe Photoshop, which was weird.
If I was to buy a Z1 G2 I would probably not purchase the multi-touch option; it is a good amount of money for a feature that just isn’t where it needs to be to justify it’s cost. In my opinion though, if HP keeps developing this feature and can get it to the level of the Wacom Cintiq or Intuos Pro line then we might have a game changer. I am tied to my Wacom Intuos tablet and would love for an option on HP to model and illustrate with thousands of levels of detail. At the moment however, I don’t think it’s a must-have option.
The last option that I specifically requested was the addition of two Intel Thunderbolt 2 ports. One of the deciding factors that makes people go strictly Mac is the ability to run Thunderbolt 2. I was not disappointed. In fact, you can read my review of the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt drive that I tested with this system to get a sense of the speed from a Thunderbolt 1 drive: .
When using the OWC Thunderbay4 Mini SSD Thunderbolt 2 RAID that I reviewed previously (on another system) — the speeds were much faster: Write: 1120.2 MB/s and Read: 1216.7 MB/s using the AJA System Test with a 1GB test file size when formatted in a RAID-0 configuration.
I love the HP Z1 G2 All-In-One Workstation. It’s easy to take apart, it’s fast and it has all the ports I need to crush the most demanding multimedia content, frame sizes, and formats. Running Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere and even Avid Media Composer is not a problem — even at the same time. If you need a transcoding behemoth you can count on the Z1 G2.
If you are a post house looking for some new gear, now may be the time for you to look into HP’s workstation-class products. The Z1 G2 is a great product for anyone — from a story producer editing scenes to an assistant editor transcoding for weeks on end without shutting down the system. Even as an editor I wouldn’t mind working on this system daily. Whatever I threw at the Z1 G2 it chewed up, spit out and asked for more.
From an editor who dabbles in motion graphics with a big background in assistant editing I think that the Z1 G2 system is spectacular. I am about to start looking for a new system, and the Z1 G2 is at the top of the list of systems I’m looking at. It even withstood the pounding from my three-year old who insisted on playing Lightning McQueen’s Offroad Rush on disney.com for over two hours (maybe don’t tell HP that).
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is currently editing The Real World, and is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.