Hands-on: HP Z1 Workstation Teardown

Hands-on: Inside the HP Z1 Workstation

The new HP Z1 workstation is based on the Intel C206 chipset and it supports current Sandy Bridge processors, or better known as the 2nd generation 32nm Intel Core processors. Users buying the HP Z1 workstation will have the option to select from three available processor options :-

  • Intel Core i3-2120, 3.3GHz, 3MB cache, 2 cores, 4 threads, 65W, integrated Intel HD Graphics 2000
  • Intel Xeon E3-1245, 3.3GHz. 8MB cache, 4 cores, 8 threads, 95W, integrated Intel HD Graphics P3000
  • Intel Xeon E3-1280, 3.5GHz, 8MB cache, 4 cores, 8 threads, 95W, no integrated graphics

The most basic option will be the Intel Core i3-2120 without a discrete graphics card and that should set you back for as much as US$1899. But if video editing, 3D graphics and CUDA enhanced applications are part of the workstation's usage, then you should really consider picking one of the available NVIDIA Quadro options. In fact, these new Quadro graphics were introduced specially for the HP Z1 Workstation and is the result of collaboration between NVIDIA and HP. As you can see from the model numbers, the Quadro graphics used in the HP Z1 Workstation are based on mobile parts and this is largely due to its highly power efficient design, in addition to an NVIDIA's latest power saving Optimus technology. We compared the specifications of all the options offered by the HP Z1 Workstation against the previous generation high-end Quadro FX 3800M in the table below.

  High-End Mid-Range Entry Level
  Quadro FX 3800M Quadro 4000M Quadro 3000M Quadro 1000M Quadro 500M
NVIDIA CUDA Cores 128 336 240 96 96
Frame Buffer 1GB GDDR3 2GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5 2GB DDR3 1GB DDR3
Memory Bandwidth 64GB/s 80GB/s 80GB/s 28.8GB/s 256-bit
Max. Power Consumption 100W 100W 75W 45W 35W
OpenGL 3.3 4.1 4.1 4.1 4.1
DirectX / Shader Model 10 / 4.0 11 / 5.0 11 / 5.0 11 / 5.0 11 / 5.0
PCI Express Gen 2 Gen 2 Gen 2 Gen 2 Gen 2
3D Vision / 3D Vision Pro yes yes yes yes yes
NVIDIA Optimus - yes yes yes yes

Now that we've sorted out the various hardware options available to the HP Z1, let's have a detailed look inside the system.

Like the bonnet of a luxury car, you'll find a damper holding the lid of the all-in-one system. The damper will prevent the lid from being slammed shut, as you know, the lid is after all made of glass and contains the expensive 27-inch screen.

Each audio channel is powered by these dual-cone speakers which are certified for SRS Premium Sound. The speakers are built such that they are front firing and according to HP's designers, it is louder and better sounding than down-firing designs (like the iMac). In between the speakers, you'll find a blue PCB and a single USB port. This port, although located internally, is useful if you need to permanently install a hardware authentication dongle that certain software requires. Installing it inside means there's less of a chance that the dongle goes missing.

The NVIDIA Quadro graphics card looks like one of those regular component used in a desktop computer. But you can't install this in a regular PCIe x16 slot as it's specially designed for the HP Z1.

The full size of the graphics card is tiny as it's based on the MXM form factor used in mobile systems. Which means, the rest of the card is made up of mostly heatsinks, heatpipes and the blower.

Since the graphics card can dissipate as much as 100W of energy, a lot of emphasis was put into the design of the card's cooling system while ensuring that it stays silent even though it's running at full load.

The specially designed graphics card slot on the motherboard lets you install the card similar to how you would install a memory module in a laptop computer. The design lets the user lift the card out of the system instead of tugging and pulling it out of the slot, like in a regular desktop system.

Above the motherboard, you'll find three mini PCIe x1 slots for expansion purposes. You can see one of the slots are already installed with a wireless network card.

You can install two 2.5-inch hard drives into the HP Z1 Workstation. The cradle comes complete with rubber dampers to reduce vibration and the handle lets you insert and remove the drives from the system without the need for any tools. With two drives, you have the option to configure the workstation's storage into either RAID 0 or 1, depending whether you need performance or redundancy.

If you want more storage space, you can choose to install a single 3.5-inch drive into the same bay.

On the right side of the motherboard, you'll find the slot loading optical drive which can also be swapped and replaced easily. Located beside the optical drive, you'll find four regular DIMM slots, similar to those used in desktops. Adding more memory to the system would be extremely economical since it uses regular desktop memory modules. You can further reduce cost by using non-ECC memory.

The power supply is built into the system, unlike other all-in-one systems that comes with an external power brick. Integrating the power supply into the system reduces setup complexity as well as clutter. The power supply unit seen here resembles those used in 1U rackmount servers and can be easily replaced when needed. The 400W power supply used in the HP Z1 is rated at 90% efficiency.

Finally, in the center of the motherboard, you'll find the Intel processor and chipset encased with fans and heatsink. It doesn't look like something that users can open, but we might be wrong. This is the only part that HP did not remove to show us.

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