So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
HP Z230 Workstation PC
HP's Z230 offers plenty of configuration options to suit professional applications and workloads
- Sturdy build
- Mostly tool-less chassis
- Powerful configuration
- Could use a memory card reader as standard
- No digital audio output
HP's Z230 workstation is aimed at those of you who need a professional computer on which to run professional software.
Price$ 1,799.00 (AUD)
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HP's Z230 workstation is aimed at those of you who need a high-end PC on which to run advanced applications and workloads. In other words, it's a PC that you use to make money. It features an Intel Xeon CPU rather than a consumer-based Intel Core CPU, and graphics are handled by an NVIDIA Quadro adapter, rather than a GeForce. You have to pay a lot of money for this type of configuration, but some of that money also goes towards the extra support that you receive with this machine, including next business day on-site response from HP's technicians for a period of three years.
Not an average PC
As the name suggests, this PC is geared towards those of you who want a powerful machine for accomplishing more complex tasks than simply working with an office suite. The machine runs an Intel Xeon E3-1240 v3 CPU with four cores (and capable of running eight threads simultaneously thanks to Hyper-Threading), and it’s accompanied by an NVIDIA Quadro K2000 graphics card. It can get some serious processing done, especially if you use multi-threaded software, and it's an ideal computer if you're an artist, designer, engineer, animator, or if you make your living shooting and editing video. It’s not a gaming PC, and it’s not a PC that should be wasted on simple tasks. Basically, you’re getting a pro rig that’s built to work hard and fast.
The only thing you have to decide when purchasing it is just how fast you want it to be, and how much memory and storage capacity you want to have fitted in the system. It’s best to pair it with a high-quality, high-resolution monitor, especially if you’ll be using the Z230 for finely detailed work with design applications and images. We used one of HP's Z27i 27in, IPS-based screens for our tests, and it looked sensational at its native resolution of 2560x1440.
A while back, HP came up with with the Z1, which has an all-in-one design that incorporates workstation components behind a high-quality 27in screen, in a form factor that’s also easy to open and maintain. That product should be considered if you want a neater workstation solution. This workstation has a standard tower design with an ATX power supply (400).
Design and build quality
That said, the design of the Z230 workstation is elegant and the build quality is sturdy. It's a tower design that features a tool-less side panel, and the drive bays and graphics card support mechanisms can also be manipulated without the use of a screwdriver. It's the type of PC that looks professional, which is fitting, and it has just enough features to be useful. You get four USB ports on the front, two of which are of the USB 3.0 variety, and there are also separate, front-facing headphone and microphone jacks so that you can easily monitor and record audio.
Our PC didn't come with anything else on the front except for the DVD burner, which wasn't a 5.25in drive, but instead a notebook-style, slim DVD burner in which CDs and DVDs click into place. We could have used a memory card reader, and we're not sure why this isn't yet a standard feature on professional PCs, except that maybe many users prefer the slots to be on a monitor instead.
The case is sturdy and its side panel can be popped easily to expose the drives and other internal components. The cabling is tied from the factory so that it’s not in the way of any fans, and the system as a whole looks neat. There isn’t an excess of cooling devices, with only the CPU fan and a rear extraction fan installed to keep things running smoothly. The graphics card has its own heat sink and fan, which are stock parts.
Drives face outward from their cage at the front, making them easy to remove and replace, or easy to add to, but you will have to mess up some of the cabling to run power to any new internal drives that you install, and you'll have to supply your own SATA cables (there are five SATA ports on the motherboard).
The 3.5in drive bays are tool-less, with 'spikes' used on each side of the removable tray to hold a drive in place. If you use 2.5in solid state drives, you'll have to either put them in a caddy, or use one of the available 2.5in drive bays. There is space for one 2.5in drive, two 3.5in drives, and two 5.25in drives.
Like all desktop PCs, the rear has the majority of the action. It houses six more USB ports (two more of them are USB 3.0), more analogue audio ports, including line in and line out, and, of course, the graphics ports, which include DVI and DisplayPort (there are two of these). You also get Gigabit Ethernet, and PS/2 ports. If there is something missing that you need, such as FireWire, you can add this to the configuration during the purchasing process. There are four available PCIe slots.
But it's the configuration of the machine that is most important, and the Z230 is available not only with Intel Core CPUs, but also with Intel Xeon CPUs on a motherboard running an Intel C226 chipset. The Xeon CPUs support the use of ECC (error checking and correction) memory, which is the main difference between them and regular desktop CPUs. Our test PC came with 16GB of ECC memory and an Intel Xeon E3-1240 v3 CPU installed. Additionally, the graphics card in our machine wasn't a NVIDIA GeForce or an AMD Radeon, but instead an NVIDIA Quadro K2000, which has drivers available that can allow design and modelling applications to be accelerated (applications such as SolidWorks and 3ds Max, for example).
We ran some benchmarks on it just to get a feel for what the Xeon CPU can do compared to the regular Core CPUs that we see in home and business PCs. In Blender 3D, our workload finished in 16sec, while in HandBrake it took 7min 44sec to turn our DVD (vob) file into an MP4. These are faster than what we get most typical high-end desktops. The mid-range Quadro K2000 graphics recorded 1661 in the high-end 3DMark Fire Strike test, which is a solid result.
Storage in our Z230 rig was in the form of a 256GB solid state drive (SSD) for the operating system (which was Windows 7 Pro), which put up expected transfer rates in CrystalDiskMark of 422 megabytes per second (MBps) for reading, and 230MBps for writing. For the mass storage of files, a 1TB hard drive was also installed.
If you're in the market for a workstation PC, HP's Z230 definitely offers a lot of good stuff, and we found it to be a reliable and quick performer during the time we spent using it. But apart from the build quality and speed, the support plan should also influence your decision.
The Z230 comes with a three-year on-site warranty (for parts, labour and repairs) that includes next business day (8am-5pm) response time. Furthermore, HP provides 24x7 phone support. There are different care packs available, though, so you'll need to choose the best one for your particular needs.
Pricing: from $1799.
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