When I think about a PC that has workstation performance, I imagine a machine that comes with a massive case and lots of fans and lights.
There was a time when this was necessary to house such a powerhouse, but the HP Z2 Mini G4 Workstation is living proof that you can cram workstation power into a small form factor.
The Z2 Mini G4 isn’t just powerful, it also looks stylish and distinctive, perhaps in an attempt by HP to attract creative professionals and content creators over to the dark side, from Mac to PC. To be fair, the creative world was once dominated by Apple Macs, but this simply isn’t the case anymore.
Just as Apple’s Mac Mini got an update last year, the HP Z2 Mini G4 is the PC alternative and my review model came with some serious specs, including 32GB of RAM and dedicated workstation video, the Nvidia Quadro P1000, with 4GB of video RAM. My top-spec machine was running the latest Intel 6-core Xeon E-2176G, clocked at 3.70GHz.
For storage, it had 256GB M.2 SSD and 1TB HDD. Upgrading the latter shouldn’t be too difficult, since there’s a simple latch to remove the top cover, providing easy access to the internals. When you open the lid, you’ll see the HDD, which is an obvious and simple upgrade.
Since my review model only had 256GB on the main drive, I would definitely upgrade the second drive to a 1TB SSD.
Of course, if you’re only using the second drive to store files, then there’s no need to upgrade it, but if you intend to use it for working on video or big image files, then it’s a must.
To the right of this are the dual fans, which cover things like the processor and memory. Not surprisingly, there are no expansion slots, but considering the array of ports and hardware and between the discrete and integrated graphics, the Z2 mini can potentially display up to six monitors.
The Z2 Mini is a marvel of design and features, measuring a mere 58mm high, 216mm in a square shape, and weighing just over 2kg.
The size and shape make it easy to fit anywhere. This made more of a difference than I was expecting and, in my testing, I simply placed it out of the way behind the monitor.
In terms of I/O ports, you get an impressive selection. On the left side are two USB 3.0 ports, a single USB-C, and a headphone/microphone jack.
On the rear side, there’s another USB-C port, two additional USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, three full-size DisplayPorts, and an optional Flexible I/O module, a Kensington lock and the power socket.
Similar to a laptop, there’s no internal power supply; instead, you get a rather large power brick.
This is the fastest PC I’ve ever used. I did a lot of intensive tasks in PhotoShop that required a lot of processing power and memory, something the Z2 Mini has lots of, or, at least, my review unit had. 32GB of RAM and six cores were put to good use when I was creating massive, panoramic images from merging photos taken with a 42mp camera.
Video-editing was also a breeze, with fast export times.
All of the benchmarks I ran showed impressive scores on a par with other workstation PCs.
After weeks of using the Z2 Mini and putting it through its paces in mostly creative software, like the Adobe Cloud apps, I can really see the benefit of a PC with this form factor and impressive prowess.
In particular, an app such as Adobe Lightroom is notoriously sluggish, but the Z2 Mini didn’t seem to care.
It just tore with ease through everything I threw at it and with no slowdowns. Using Lightroom and PhotoShop, in particular, was a pleasure, even with massive files created for HDR photos or image stacking from lots of layers.
I didn’t use 3D CAD, or other such CPU heavy applications, to really put the Z2 Mini under heavy load, but I can see the benefits of a small device like this in an office environment, where space is a premium.
I was impressed at how quiet the Z2 Mini was during normal use.
However, when it did get pushed and under extreme loads, the fans are audible, but not annoyingly so. Most of the time, when it was placed behind my monitor, I couldn’t hear it at all.
The HP Z2 Mini G4 Workstation is aimed at a niche market, for sure, but if performance and a small form factor are things high on your list of priorities, then it’s worth a look.
It competes directly with all-in-one solutions, like the iMac and even the Mac Mini, but, personally, I prefer to be able to choose the monitors I hook up to it.
In terms of power, there’s no shortage, but if you’re nervous about the lack of expansion ports, then look elsewhere.
Something that’s also worth mentioning is that the Z2 Mini is incredibly portable, thanks to the small form factor. This is something that I could see being useful in certain scenarios, where you might literally want to occasionally take your work home with you.
Not everyone will require the top-of-the-range model, either, as the base configuration is a lot cheaper, with specs such as the Intel Xeon E-2104G (3.2GHz, Cache 8MB, 4 Cores), 16GB DDR4-SDRAM, 512GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics P630, LAN, coming in at €1,440 (inc VAT); www.hpshop.ie.