HP Z2 Mini G3 Workstation review: Power in a pint-sized package
For most people, the term 'workstation' probably still brings to mind a conventional desktop or deskside system. However, recent years have seen the high-end components required to run CAD and other compute-intensive applications squeezed into small form-factor desktops and clamshell-format mobile workstations. Now HP Inc. has delivered the Z2 Mini G3 Workstation, a Mac Mini-sized workstation that can fit into a variety of small spaces on or around a desk. And given that you can run up to six displays from this tiny system, you're going to need all the desk space you can get.Image: HP Inc.
So, how does HP's diminutive workstation work out in practice -- can such a small package really deliver the goods?
DesignImages: HP Inc.
According to HP, the Z2 Mini G3 is "90% smaller than a traditional business-class tower". With a 216mm-square footprint (give or take chopped-off corners that give it an octagonal look), 58mm height and weight starting at 2.04kg, there's certainly no mistaking it for a traditional desktop PC.
If your working environment is space-limited, you have plenty of placement options: flat or upright on the desk; under the desk; and VESA-mounted on the back of a monitor or as part of a display arm setup. HP has thought about the inconvenience of locating the power switch in some of these configurations, and allows the system to be powered up remotely via the keyboard or mouse. There's a lock slot at the back, allowing this eminently portable unit to be physically secured.Image: HP Inc.
You get tool-free access to the innards via a latch at the back, revealing a tightly packed set of components, including a pair of fans -- one each for the CPU and GPU. Given the amount of computing horsepower on offer (see below), you might be forgiven for fearing that the Z2 Mini G3 puts out a lot of fan noise when running demanding workloads. However, we didn't find this to be the case when testing our Xeon/Nvidia-powered review unit.
There are no fewer than 26 variants of the Z2 Mini G3 Workstation on HP's UK website, starting at £740 (ex. VAT, or £888 inc. VAT) for a system based on an Intel Core i7-6700 processor with integrated HD Graphics 530, running at 3.4GHz (up to 4GHz with Turbo Boost). This has 8GB of DDR4-2400 RAM and a 1TB SATA hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm.
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At the top end of the Z2 Mini G3 range is a £1,325 (ex. VAT, or £1,590 inc. VAT) model running on an Intel Xeon E3-1245 v5 with integrated HD Graphics P530 running at 3.5GHz (up to 3.9 GHz with Turbo Boost). RAM is maxed out at 32GB (2x16GB), and as well as the integrated graphics this model has a discrete Nvidia Quadro M620 GPU with 2GB of dedicated video RAM. Storage is provided by a 512GB HP Z Turbo PCIe SSD, and there's a slot to add a SATA drive if further capacity is required.Image: HP Inc.
For a small device, there are a lot of connections on the Z2 Mini G3. Most are at the back, where -- on the 'Performance' SKU we had for review -- you'll find four DisplayPort 1.2 connectors, two USB-C, two USB 3.0 ports and an RJ-45 Ethernet port. There's also a connector for the external power brick (135W or 200W, depending on the model) and a disk activity LED. A legacy 9-pin serial port is available as an option. On the left-hand side there's a pair of USB 3.0 ports (one charging) and a 3.5mm audio jack. An accessory sleeve is available to physically block access to the USB ports if the IT department deems this necessary.
To drive the maximum complement of six monitors, you'll not only need a 'Performance' model with both CPU-integrated and discrete (Nvidia) graphics, and four DisplayPort connectors, but you'll also need to daisy-chain two of them.
Our review unit was based on Intel's Xeon E3-1245 v5 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD. In terms of CPU performance, it acquitted itself well compared to the AIO-format HP Z1 Workstation G3, which we reviewed in December last year. The diminutive Z2 Mini delivered a Geekbench 4 Multi Core score of 14525, versus the Z1's score of 15126 -- impressive considering the AIO system we tested was based on a Xeon E3-1270 v5 processor with 64GB of RAM. Under the Cinebench R15 CPU test, the Z2 Mini even outscored the Z1, with 805.6 compared to 801.4.
On graphics performance, the Z2 Mini with its 2GB Nvidia Quadro M620 GPU couldn't quite match the Z1, which sported a 4GB Quadro M2000M: in the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, the Z2 Mini managed a very respectable 92 frames per second (fps), but the Z1 turned in 106.4fps.
Both workstations were equipped with 512GB PCIe SSDs, and both delivered similarly impressive disk performance: write speeds of 1,482MB/s and 1,581MB/s respectively, and read speeds of 2,228MB/s and 2226MB/s respectively.
HP has pulled off a feat of engineering with the Z2 Mini G3 Workstation. Packing a Xeon CPU and discrete Nvidia Quadro GPU into a mini-PC-format enclosure might be expected to bring all sorts of cooling issues, but we found that it delivered similar performance levels to its AIO-format Z1 stablemate without excessive fan noise. Of course there are tradeoffs: although the Z2 Mini G3 takes up little space and can be positioned in multiple ways, there's precious little on offer in the way of upgradability.
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