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Review: The HP Z1G3 All-in-One workstation

By Brady Betzel

I’ll admit it. I’ve always been impressed with HP’s All-in-One workstations — from their z840 to their zBook mobile workstation and now their HP Z1G3. Yes, I know, the HP line of workstations are not cheap. In fact, you can save quite a bit of money building your own system, but you will probably have tons of headaches unless you are very confident in your computer-building skills. And if you don’t mind standing in the return line at the Fry’s Electronics.

HP spends tons of time and money on ISV certifications for their workstations. ISV certification stands for Independent Software Vendor certification. In plain English it means that HP spends a lot of time and money making sure the hardware inside of your workstation works with the software you use. For an industry pro that means apps like Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk products like 3DS Max and many others.

For this review,  I tested apps like Avid Media Composer, FilmLight’s Baselight for Media Composer color correction plug-in, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe After Effects, as well as Blackmagic’s Resolve 12.5.2, which chewed through basic color correction. In terms of testing time, I typically keep a review computer system for a couple of months, but with this workstation I really wanted to test it as thoroughly as possible — I’ve had the workstation for three months and counting, and I’ve been running the system through all the appropriate paces.

I always love to review workstations like the HP Z1G3 because of the raw power they possess. While HP sent me one of the top-of-the-line Z1G3 configurations, which retails for a list price of $3,486, they have a pretty reasonable starting price at $1,349. From Intel i3, i5 and i7 configurations all the way up to the all mighty Intel Xeon — the HP Z1G3 can be customized to fit into your workflow whether you just need to check your email or color correct video from your GoPro.

Here are the specs that make up the HP Z1G3 All-in-One workstation I received:

● 23.6-inch UHD/4K non-glare and non-touch display (3840×2160)
● Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 CPU, 3.6GHz (4 Cores / 8 Threads)
● 64GB DDR4 SODIMM 2133 GHz (4 x 16GB)
● Nvidia Quadro M2000M graphics (4GB)
● Two Z Turbo drives (512GB, PCIe M.2)
● Wireless keyboard and mouse
● Two Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 ports
● USB charging port
● Media card reader
● DisplayPort out

As I mentioned earlier, I tested the Z1G3 with many different apps, but recently I’ve been diving deeper into color correction, and luckily for my testing this fits right in. A few of the most strenuous real-world tests for computer systems is running 3D modeling apps like Maxon Cinema 4D and color correction suites like Resolve. Of course, apps like After Effects are great tests as well, but adding nodes on nodes on nodes in Resolve will really tax your CPU, as well as your GPU.

One thing that can really set apart high-end systems like the Z1G3 is the delay when using a precision color correction panel like Tangent’s Elements or Ripple. Sometimes you will move one of the color wheel balls and a half a second later the color wheel moves on screen. I tried adding a few clips and nodes on the timeline and when using the panels, I noticed no discernible delay (at least more than what I would expect). While this isn’t a scientific test, it is crucial for folks looking to plug in external devices.

For more scientific tests I stuck to apps like Cinebench from Maxon, AJA’s System Test and Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test. In Cinebench, the Z1G3 ranked at the top of the list when compared to similar systems. In AJA’s System Test I tested the read/write speed of the hp-z1g3-aja-system-test-copynon-OS drive (basically the editing or cache drive). It sustained around 1520MB/s read and 1490MB/s write. I say around because I couldn’t get the AJA app to display the entire read/write numbers because of the high-resolution/zoom in Windows, I tried scaling it down to 1920×1080 but no luck. In Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test, I was running at 1560MB/s read and 1497.3MB/s write. The drive that I ran this test on is HP’s version of the M.2 PCIe SSD powered by Samsung, more affectionately known by HP as a Z-Turbo drive. The only thing better at the moment would be a bunch of these drives arranged in a RAID-0 configuration. Luckily, you can do that through the Thunderbolt 3 port with some spare SSDs you have lying around.

Almost daily I ran Premiere Pro CC, Media Encoder and Resolve Studio 12.5.2. I was really happy with the performance in Premiere. When working with QuickTimes in inter-frame codecs like H.264 and AVC-HD (non-edit friendly codecs), I was able to work without too much stuttering in the timeline. When I used intra-frame codecs like ProRes HQ from a Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera, Premiere worked great. I even jumped into Adobe’s Lumetri color tools while using Tangent’s Ripple external color correction panel and it worked with little discernable delay. I did notice that Premiere had a little more delay when using the external color correction panel than Media Composer and Resolve, but that seemed to be more of a software problem rather than a workstation problem.

One of my favorite parts about using a system with an Nvidia graphics card, especially a Quadro card like the M2000M, is the ability to encode multiple versions of a file at once. Once I was done editing some timelapses in Premiere, I exported using Media Encoder. I would apply three presets I made: one square 600×600 H.264 for Instagram, one 3840×2160 H.264 for YouTube and an Animated GIF at 480×360 for Twitter. Once I told Media Encoder to encode, it ran all three exports concurrently — a really awesome feature. With the Nvidia Quadro card installed, it really sped along the export.

Media Composer
Another app I wanted to test was Media Composer 8.6.3. Overall Media Composer ran great except for the high-resolution display. As I’ve said in previous reviews, this isn’t really the fault of HP, but more of the software manufacturers who haven’t updated their interfaces to adapt to the latest UHD displays. I had filmed a little hike I took with my five-year-old. I gave him a GoPro while I had my own. Once we got the footage back home, I imported it into Media Composer, grouped the footage and edited it using the multi-cam edit workflow.

Simply put, the multi-camera split was on the left and the clip I had in the sequence was playing simultaneously on the right. Before I grouped the footage into a multi-group, I transcoded the H.264s into DNxHD 175 an intra-frame, edit-friendly codec. The transcode was nearly realtime, so it took 60 minutes to transcode a 60-minute H.264 — which is not bad. In the end, I was able to edit the two-camera multi-group at 1920×1080 resolution with only minor hiccups. Occasionally, I would get caught in fast forward for a few extra seconds when J-K-L editing, but nothing that made me want to throw my keyboard or mouse against the wall.

Once done editing, I installed the FilmLight color correction plug-in for Media Composer. I had a really awesome experience coloring using Baselight in Media Composer on the Z1G3. I didn’t have any slowdowns, and the relationship between using the color correction panel and Baselight was smooth.

Resolve
The last app I tested with HP’s Z1G3 All-in-One Workstation was Blackmagic’s Resolve 12.5.2. Much like my other tests, I concentrated on color correction with the Tangent Ripple and Element-Vs iOS app. I had four or five nodes going in the color correction page before I started to see a slow down. I was using the native H.264 and ProRes HQ files from the cameras, so I didn’t make it easy for Resolve, but it still worked. Once I added a little sharpening to my clips, the HP Z1G3 really started to kick into gear. I heard the faint hum of fans, which up until this point hadn’t kicked in. This is also where the system started to slow down and become sluggish.

Summing Up
The Z1G3 is one of my favorite workstations, period. A while ago, I reviewed the previous All-in-One workstation from HP, the Z1G2, and at the time it was my favorite. One of my few complaints was that, while it was easy to fix, it was very heavy and bulky. When I opened the Z1G3 box, I immediately noticed how much lighter and streamlined the design was. It almost felt like they took away 50 percent of the bulk, which is something I really appreciate. I can tell that one of the main focuses with the Z1G3 was minimizing its footprint and weight, while increasing the power. HP really knocked it out of the park.

One of the only things that I wish was different on the Z1G3 I tested was the graphics card. While the Nvidia Quadro M2000M is a great graphics card, it is a “mobile” version of a Quadro, which has 128 fewer CUDA cores and 26GB/s less bandwidth than its desktop equivalent the M2000. I would love the option of a full-sized Quadro and instead of the mobile version but I also understand the power consumption will go up as well as the form factor, so maybe I give HP a pass here.

In the end, I know everyone reading this review is saying to themselves, “I love my iMac so why would I want the HP Z1G3?” If you are a die-hard Apple user, or you just saw the new Microsoft Surface Studio announcement, then it might be a hard sell, but I love both Windows- and Mac OS-based systems, and the Z1G3 is awesome. What’s even more awesome is that it is easily upgradeable. I took off the back cover, and with simple switch I could have added a 2.5-inch hard drive or two in under a minute. If you are looking for a new powerful workstation and want one that not only stands up to Resolve and Premiere Pro CC, the HP Z1G3 is for you.


Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

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