Ever since we first met HP?s Z1 All-in-one Workstation in late 2012, we knew it would be a game changer for the multimedia workplace. With every enterprise-certified component rated to drive the most demanding software, and touting one of the best looking displays of its form factor, the Z1 has handled a variety of entertainment projects with ease throughout 2013.

The Z1 is a customizable, all-in-one desktop workstation designed for enterprise-level performance and dependability. Whether you?re looking for a design station for your home, or you want to outfit a post-production office with them, the Z1 offers a clean solution that is rigorously tested to meet professional standards, while easily upgradable as hardware advances. Its comprehensive 3-year parts and labor warranty also includes on-site service.

First Look

At first glance, the Z1 just looks like a serious machine. A brushed and cast aluminum chassis housing its internals are fronted by a massive, 27?? LED-backlit display demands your attention, with its 2560×1440 resolution and 178-degree viewing angle that creates a solid desktop workspace. Above the screen is a tilt-adjustable 1080p webcam and dual microphones for work or play.

Below the chassis sits a large base that has adjustable height and tilt, and even VESA mounts to be used in other monitor setups. With its combined display, workstation-grade hardware, heavy duty chassis and foundation, the Z1 weighs about 45 lbs (23 kg) or more, depending on your configuration – so you?re going to need a stable, solid surface to handle the footprint.

Connectivity plays a big role in multimedia creation. With so many different standards and preferences, it?s usually difficult to accommodate for all types of storage, peripherals, and accessories. While the Z1 provides many options for connectivity, some of HP?s choices left our other testers scratching their heads (later in this review).

On the right panel are the power button, slot-loading BluRay drive, SD/MemoryStick card reader, Firewire 400, two USB 3.0 ports, and front audio. On the left panel, there are no connectivity ports. Instead, there is only a sliding tray that serves vague purpose. HP says this tray is for storing login or contact information cards, which may be useful in some cases, but with mostly empty space behind the left panel, this area could have been better utilized.

The concave back panel has four additional USB 2.0 ports, gigabit LAN, HD audio with SPDIF, DisplayPort, and A/C power connector. These ports are standard by any means, but from a HD media handling standpoint, why not more USB 3.0? How about Firewire 800 or Thunderbolt, which is seen more and more on competing models (and the rest of HP?s Z Workstation line)? Of course, this all depends if the mainboard has the headers/components to support this connectivity.

The back panel is also difficult to access after everything is hooked up, which is more reason to better utilize the left panel for at least those four USB ports – or maybe add-in expandability in the future. If HP creates a 2nd generation of the Z1 (the Z2, Z1 2014, Z1X?), connectivity needs to be towards the top of their to-do list.

When the Z1?s is tilted parallel to the ground, two latches on the bottom of the display release a lift gate that uncovers its neatly arranged workstation-grade internals. HP is continuing their ?tool-less? design formula seen in their previous workstation and consumer models, allowing easier access to pretty much all of its add-in components. This means less downtime for production companies that have employees who are at least tech savvy, and can quickly diagnose or swap hardware to get things running again. The internal heatsink and cooling fans are placed evenly throughout the system, allowing for a natural top-to-bottom air flow across all componentry. A hydraulic arm that keeps the gate open also prevents anyone from slamming their fingers when closing, similar to some car doors – another neat and thoughtful touch. And yes, the chassis is Kensington lock ready.

Setup & Performance

The Z1 has many possible configurations, so its price range can widely vary depending on what setup you?re looking for. Intel?s Xeon E3 workstation CPUs, up to 32GB ECC memory, many internal drive options, NVIDIA Quadro Kepler-series graphics, OS selection, and additional DisplayPort-driven monitors are just some of the many options you have to choose from. Here?s ours:

  • Intel Xeon E3-1225v2 3.2 GHz CPU
  • NVIDIA Quadro K3000M 2GB Graphics
  • 16GB DDR3-1600 ECC (4x4GB) RAM
  • 500GB 10K RPM SATA SFF 1st Hard Drive
  • Slot Load Blu-ray Writer SATA Drive
  • Windows 7 Professional 64
  • HP Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
  • HP 3/3/3 Warranty

Our build would be priced just under $3450. The very base model starts at about $1750. It?s definitely priced for enterprise, but a justified one for the architectural and internal quality. Other all-in-one solutions trade hardware strength for sleeker (and lighter) design, but for media professionals that need a workstation that never quits, like during those overnight rendering sessions, the Z1?s rock solid stability gives peace of mind.

A Busy Summer 

Since this Summer, we?ve asked five digital media professionals to test drive this system for their latest projects. While all of them had different experiences, they all agreed that the Z1 is a powerful post-production suite that saves time and space.

Yev – Supervising Editor

"Transferring digital or tape footage onto this system is quicker with USB 3.0. I can have several apps open, even side by side on the big screen, making me more efficient even if I don?t have a secondary display. So I can be working on RED footage in Avid while creating compositions in After Effects with less lag. Instead of having to transcode everything to a lower resolution, with the Z1?s processing power I had the option of cutting and viewing everything at it?s highest quality. This saved a lot of time in the online editing process. 

My only complaints are the ports on the back are difficult to access, and there?s no FireWire 800 option, which is still most commonly used in my line of work. I?ve rendered out final projects all day and overnight without any complaints, and I wish I could have a few of these around the office."

Esteban – Color Corrector

"The screen is huge, which is GREAT. It has a high resolution, and a wide viewing angle, so I can see subtle differences in hues – BUT it?s not quite color accurate. I had to calibrate the display settings to get it roughly close, but ended up using a secondary accurate client monitor alongside it to be safe. Transferring work between the editors and myself was very speedy. I could see my adjustments at high resolution without any slow down. It?s a beast, but it’s not quite for me. 

Corey – Sound Designer

"Oh you know, the screen is big and beautiful, but from an audio standpoint the Z1 just has your everyday audio card built in. The speaker array and headphone ports can be surprisingly loud for music and entertainment, but they?re not for the work. I need to attach my own DAC and monitor setup via USB. Editing on a large screen is nice because I can view waveforms on multiple tracks without squinting. The CPU is powerful enough for more real-time effects processing, and not have to prerender before previewing."

Jon – Photographer / Retoucher

"Having the Z1 around during photoshoots was nice. I?m hardwired to the computer, and my shots instantly show up in Aperture to check lighting, color, and to sample tweaks. The single large screen is nice so that myself, clients, assistants, and executives can all see the same image from any side without crowding the station. I can edit *very* high resolution images without having to slow down my workflow, and my job has slim turnarounds. I had to adjust the display?s color a bit to be as neutral as possible, but other than that, this system performs very well both during shoots and while editing.

I could really use one of these."

Gerard – Digital Media Technician

"On film productions, I offload footage from digital cinema cameras, organize and generate copies across several external drives, and sometimes sync with audio, preparing a package for the editors. Even though it?s quite heavy, I can use on a mobile cart while not having to use up my bottom shelf for a desktop tower. A strong all-in-one is great to have on a film set, where space and resources can be limited.

[The Z1?s] large screen is very useful when I have many windows open, transferring data all over the place. Our drives on this project were USB 3.0, and the side ports helped, but I wish this system had more options, like more FireWire or Thunderbolt, to give us more flexibility and possibly speed. Sometimes the directors want to sample coloring choices while on set, and the Z1?s powerful processing helps tremendously when tweaking the look of the raw 4K footage, even in high resolution playback."

Verdict

HP manufactures powerful workstations designed for all professional workflows. The Z1 encompasses the best middle ground of HP?s entire line into an all-in-one solution, with its powerful hardware options, brilliant display, and a striking design. If HP takes their experiences from the Z1, and focuses them towards what Hollywood needs for their next generation build, it would be a bullseye sell for the enterprise-level entertainment industry.

The Z1 has been put through constant use since it first arrived this Summer. And the moment we wanted to publish a review, another one of my colleagues wanted to try it out, and gradually everybody wanted a test drive. As 2013 comes to a close, we?ve been thrilled to experience the many uses of the Z1, and look forward to what HP comes up with next. Bravo.

Special Thanks:

Porter Novelli

YS Photography

ToneMesa, Inc.