HP ZBook Studio G3 Mobile Workstation review: Power in a slimline package

HP’s ZBook Studio G3 Mobile Workstation is aimed at professionals in fields like product design, video editing, science, engineering and architecture: people who need to run demanding workloads, with the flexibility to take their work with them — to a client’s office, for example.

The last time we looked at a workstation-class laptop from HP, we rated the 15.6-inch ZBook15 G2 as a superb machine, if heavy and with limited battery life.

HP claims that, at 1.8cm thick and weighing 2kg, the Xeon- or Core i7-powered ZBook Studio G3 is “the world’s first quad-core workstation ultrabook”. The range starts at £1,299 (ex. VAT, or £1,558.80 inc. VAT), rising to £1,899 (ex. VAT, or £2,278.80 inc. VAT) for our top-end review model. So, how does it stack up?

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HP’s ZBook Studio G3 is powered by quad-core Xeon or Core i7 processors and has a high-resolution 15.6-inch screen, yet is only 1.8cm thick and weighs 2kg.


Images: HP

At the launch last November, HP was keen to emphasise that the ZBook Studio G3’s design was a real step forward. The company claimed it as the thinnest and lightest full-performance model ever brought to market, and with a starting weight of under 2kg it’s clear that considerable attention has been paid to keeping the weight down.

The ZBook Studio G3’s size is quite an achievement too. It measures just 1.8cm thick and has a desktop footprint of 37.5cm wide by 25.5cm deep.

HP has reduced bulk and weight across all of its of mobile workstations, but a quick comparison with the 15-inch ZBook 15 G2 reviewed last year is informative: the G2’s vital statistics were a considerably bulkier and heavier 38.1cm by 25.7cm by 3cm and 2.8kg.

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HP’s slimmed-down mobile workstation does not sacrifice any robustness: like all HP ZBooks, the G3 meets the MIL-STD 810G standard, which means it has passed a range of tests for particle ingress, shock and temperature.

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The ZBook Studio G3 is an elegant-looking laptop, but it still conforms to military-grade (MIL-STD-810) ruggedness standards.


Image: HP

HP has worked hard on the aesthetics, too. The lid has a dotted pattern that breaks up its black expanse, while silver piping around the edge of the base section and framing the touchpad adds a touch of class. Even the underside has had a makeover. Indeed, this is the most radically designed part of the whole machine: a rubber banding helps prevent the notebook from slipping around on a desk, and encloses a heavily patterned and indented surface that assists with grip when you’re carrying the system.

The 15.6-inch screen has a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, or 282 pixels per inch (ppi) — the Retina display on Apple’s 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, by contrast, offers a substantially lower 220ppi. A high-resolution screen is obviously important for CAD-type workloads, and delivers 4k video pretty nicely too. The screen’s matte finish is welcome as it minimises reflections.

One caveat with regard to the screen is that its default brightness when running on battery power was set at below half the maximum, and was not really good enough for viewing — or working with — graphics-rich content. You’ll probably have to set this higher and sacrifice some battery life.

The full-size keyboard is a pleasure to use. Travel is a little shallower than we’d like, but the keys are large and feel comfortable under the fingers. A full-size number row is topped with a row of half-height Fn keys that includes control of the keyboard backlight and a lock function for the embedded number pad. Our review sample had a US keyboard layout, which affects the position of some of the non-QWERTY symbols.

The buttonless touchpad is vast and very responsive. It can be disabled and re-enabled with a quick double tap in its top left corner; when it’s not functioning an orange LED illuminates in that corner to remind you.

HP has included twin speakers to the left and right of the keyboard in preference to pushing the QWERTY keys to the left and accommodating a number pad. This, plus the inclusion of Bang & Olufsen audio software, gave us high expectations for the audio subsytem. Profiles for music, voice and movies had a definite effect on sound quality, and volume was pretty loud at its highest. The only real failing is a lack of bass punch, which is a shame on a laptop that should shine as a vehicle for presentations to small groups.

As noted earlier, HP proclaims the ZBook Studio G3 as “the world’s first Quad Core Workstation Ultrabook”. Configuration options include quad-core Intel Core i7 (6700HQ and 6820HQ) processors, and the 2.8-3.7GHz Xeon E3-1505M in our review unit. This processor made its debut in September 2015 and is designed specifically for mobile workstations. It’s complemented by a discrete Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU.

The Xeon E3-1505M was supported in our review unit by 32GB of RAM (the identical model off-the-page has 16GB), a combination that delivered some impressive benchmarks: a multi-core Geekbench 3 score of 13,626 and 85.9 frames per second in the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test.

The combination of a powerful CPU, a discrete GPU and a high-resolution screen inevitably takes its toll on the ZBook Studio G3’s 4-cell, 64Wh battery. HP does not quote a suggested battery life on its website, but our power consumption measurements suggest that with middling screen brightness and moderately demanding workloads you might get around six hours. Push the system to its limits and battery life will drop dramatically: with the CPU maxed out and the screen at 100 percent brightness, the system draws over 70W and will last for less than an hour on battery power.

There’s a 512GB SSD for internal storage, and a fingerprint reader on the right side of the huge wrist rest area. A 720p webcam sits above the screen. There are plenty of ports and slots: Ethernet (RJ-45) and two USB 3.0 ports plus an SD card slot on the left; and two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, a full-sized HDMI port, a third USB 3.0 port and a headset jack on the right. For wireless connectivity, there’s dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The HP ZBook Studio G3 Mobile Workstation ships with Windows 10 Pro 64, with Windows 7 Pro 64 available as a downgrade if required.

Conclusion

The sheer power of this mobile workstation is something to behold, and the fact that HP has managed to deliver it in a package that’s so sleek and (relatively) lightweight is very impressive.

The main drawback is battery life: the HP ZBook Studio G3 Mobile Workstation is unlikely to last full day away from mains power, unless you’re running light workloads with the screen brightness turned down low.

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