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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Hardware Review: HP Z2 Mini Provides Big Performance In A Small Package

 
March 30th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

As has been the case for several years, not all computer users need a workstation-class machine, but many do, especially with graphics-oriented and computationally intensive applications, such as MCAD, FEA, and animation. However, high-powered workstations for graphic-intensive applications can come with a price premium. So, you can really pay a relatively high price for higher levels of performance, but is often worth it. There are exceptions, however, and the HP Z2 Mini workstation offers the best of both worlds – a versatile machine with excellent performance at a reasonable price.

I’d classify the HP Z2 Mini as a mid- to high-level machine that provides just about everything most customers would need in a desktop engineering workstation. Then there’s added benefit of the small footprint, which can be huge in a tight work environment.

The HP Z2 Mini Workstation

 

About four years ago, HP introduced a workstation-class computer that it said would revolutionize the computer world with its all-in-one Z1. The Z1 certainly wasn’t the first or only all-in-one computer available, but what really set the Z1 apart from the desktop workstation crowd were two things —  its easy, no-tool access to its internals for swapping out or upgrading components, and its gigantic, brilliant display.

On the opposite side of the size spectrum, but still very capable, is the HP Z2 Mini that measures 216 mm (L) x 216 mm (W) x 58 mm (H). It’s small enough to fit just about anywhere – on the desk, under the desk, or even mounted on the back side of a monitor.

Touted by HP as the first mini PC workstation for engineers, the HP Z2 Mini packs quite a punch for its size. The Z2 mini is targeted at engineers and architects

HP Z2 Mini Workstation Overview

Base Unit Configuration

  • Intel Core i3-6100
  • 1TB SATA HDD
  • 4GB Non-ECC RAM
  • Intel 8265 Wireless LAN/BT 4.2
  • Windows 10 Pro downgrade to Windows 7 Pro
  • HP USB Keyboard and Mouse

Review Unit Configuration

  • Intel Core i7-6700
  • NVIDIA Quadro M620 Graphics
  • 256GB Z Turbo Drive (OS image)
  • 1TB SATA HDD (Data)
  • 32GB non-ECC RAM
  • Intel 8265 Wireless LAN/BT 4.2
  • Windows 10 Pro downgrade to Windows 7 Pro
  • HP Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

Measuring Performance

I ran both objective (formal documented generic benchmarks) and subjective (an actual design and engineering software application) tests for measuring performance.

However, as I always do, the tests were performed with the HP Z2 Mini “out of the box,” as received – nothing was tweaked or optimized to distort the performance numbers (such as enabling multi-threading) in a positive or negative direction. As usual, I actually get more out of the subjective testing because it’s more “real world,” but the raw numbers from the benchmarks are also useful as a means of objective comparison with other machines in the workstation class. Your evaluations would probably differ from mine, but they do provide a point for comparison.

For objective testing, we ran two benchmarks NovaBench (geared more toward overall performance) and SPECviewperf 11 (geared more toward graphics performance).

NovaBench Benchmark Test
32,689 MB System RAM (Score: 308) – this was comparable to recent desktop workstations evaluations

  • RAM Speed: 17,876 MB/s

CPU Tests (Score: 925) – this was better than most recent desktop workstations evaluations

  • Floating Point Operations/Second: 206,344,824
  • Integer Operations/Second: 1,307,616,256
  • MD5 Hashes Generated/Second: 1,413,523

Graphics Tests (Score: 418) – this was much higher than other recent desktop evaluations, due to graphics card used.

  • 3D Frames Per Second: 1,165

Hardware Tests (Score: 41) – on par with recent desktop evaluations

  • Drive Write Speed: 249 MB/s

Total NovaBench Composite Score: 1,692

The 1,692 composite score is impressive because it is one of the best scores of recent desktop workstation evaluations.

HP Z2 Mini Workstation With Intel Xeon processors and NVIDIA Graphics

SPECviewperf 11 Benchmark Test
The scores for the various demanding SPECviewperf 11 suite tests (CATIA, SolidWorks, Lightwave, Ensight, NX, and Pro/ENGINEER) run at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution (without multi-threading enabled) were among the best I have seen on any workstation, regardless of physical size, that I have benchmarked and reviewed.

Subjective Test
For subjective testing, I ran SOLIDWORKS 2017. I used data sets of standard models that I have created over the years for this testing, including a model with 70,000+ parts, renderings of complex surfaces, and animations. The HP Z2 Mini performed very well and did not seem to grind through any of the subjective tests. To get a better feel of performance I prefer to do it over the course of several months with newly released MCAD, CAE, and visualization evaluations/reviews, but time constraints didn’t allow that with the HP Z2 Mini.

A Great Market Opportunity

When asked about the opportunity for a workstation like the Z2 Mini, Andrew Willard, HP Global Product Manager for Workstations and Thin Clients said, “We estimate that currently there are approximately 11 million CAD users worldwide, but CAD workstations account for only about 42% of those users, so the potential for a workstation like the Z2 Mini is huge.”

About the only deficiency, I experienced with the design of the HP Z2 Mini was the port placement. Although there are some ports on the left side of the unit, most of the ports are located on the back side of the unit, with the unit’s base interfering with access to the ports. Also, VR support is lacking, but that’s largely because the Nvidia Quadro M620 GPU is not designed for handling VR and headsets.

Final Thoughts

The HP Z2 Mini proves once again that there is still certainly a case to be made for stationary desktop workstations, especially with the unique form factor. While this machine can get a bit expensive if you need the fastest and biggest components, a basic unit can be configured at a reasonable price. To keep costs down, though, be honest about what your real needs are. Overall, the HP Z2 Mini is a well-conceived and well-executed, small footprint workstation for running engineering software.

HP Z2 Mini Workstation
Pros: Small footprint, quiet, good performance.
Cons: Placement of some ports/connections difficult to access, no VR support.
Price (As configured for review): $1,698. Price starts at $699
Final Grade: A-

For More Information: HP Z2 Mini

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