HP Z2 G3 Mini Workstation Pint-Sized Powerhouse Review

This week, HP sent us the Z2 Mini G3 workstation to review! I’m told it offers powerful performance in a pint-sized package! it’s very well designed and has a nice heft to it. It measure just eight and a half inches square and a little under 2.5 inches in height. Sure, there are other options for mini PCs and you could go with a thin client, which this could easily be mistaken for, but there’s nothing else on the market quite like this. It offers 24/7 enterprise class reliability, hundreds of thousands of hours spent on reliability testing, and an Nvidia GPU—your basic qualifications for a workstation. It’s so small you have to wonder what they could have packed in under the hood so to speak. And, to answer that question, you came to the right place. 

Like HP’s other Z-Series workstations this system is ISV certified. It will support up to twenty critical applications with a focus on architecture, engineering, and 2 and 3d graphics. (Certified CAD applications include: AutoCAD, MicroStation, ARCHICAD, SOLIDWORKS, Revit, Solid Edge, Vectorworks, and Creo) This system can do just about anything but as with all things it’s a question of performance compared to cost. There’s a Z-Series workstation to fit every application and budget, from the two processor Z840 flagship, to the Z1 G3 All-In-One, which is another form factor the competition has yet to duplicate. (Well, actually since this was posted, I did notice Dell now has an All-In-One workstation too, the Dell 27-inch 5720.) Like the Z1, The Z2 mini is unique among workstations.

HP Z2 G3 workstation front image
Front view of HP Z2 G3 Mini Workstation

HP designed the Z2 from the ground up. First by talking with their customer base to identify the need for a product like this, and then with their product designers to make it happen. The design is quite attractive with cut corners that serve a dual purpose and allow the system to be placed against the wall without blocking air flow. Of course, HP recommends providing a minimum of 6 inches front and back for proper heat dissipation, and don’t put the unit in an enclosed space… Air flows in through the front corners on the system and is pumped out the back corners.

hp z2 g3 mini workstation interior view and top view image
HP Z2 G3 Mini Workstation interior view and top panel

Of the two preconfigured models offered by HP, our review unit is a performance model that retails for more than twice the price of the base version. However, there are several differences between the two starting with the number of ports on the chassis.

hp z2 mini workstation back panel image entry-level system
Entry-Level HP Z2 G3 Mini Workstation

On the back of the system, the entry model has three display ports total, supported by integrated HD graphics, and two USB 3.0 ports. The performance chassis has all the same ports found on the base chassis but also has a fourth display port, all of which connect to a discrete Nvidia M620 (384 stream processors, 2 GB GDDR5 memory) for a total of four active display ports. The Nvidia M620 is the only GPU supported on the Z2 G3 mini and requires Windows 10 to run. It also has two USB 3.1 Type C ports. Both Entry-Level and Performance chassis have a standard old school serial port and two USB 3.0 I/O ports on the side along with a combo microphone/headphone jack. Integrated audio is supplied by Realtek HD ALC221-VB Audio. The power ON button is located on the front of the system.

HP Z2 Mini Workstation, back panel image with port call outs
Performance Model HP Z2 G3 Mini Workstation, back panel.

One more thing to note is that the entry-level Z2 G3 cannot be upgraded with an Nvidia GPU kit or any other nonsense. It is what it is, and you can’t upgrade to the performance Z2 G3.

hp z3 mini workstation side panel image
HP Z2 G3 Mini Workstation side panel with USB ports and headphone jack.

The Z2 is designed for space-constrained work environments. It looks nice enough to place on top of your desk—but everybody does that. With the Z2 you have options. You can quite literally mount it anywhere. On the base of the Z2 are four rubber feet that can be removed to reveal four integrated screw holes for a standard VESA mount. There’s also an optional VESA sleeve that allows users to not only mount the system, but by rotating the sleeve, it covers all USB ports to protect against data theft by unscrupulous individuals accessing the USB ports. There’s also an optional lock loop on the sleeve and a Kensington lock integrated with the chassis. All of which could be useful given this unit will easily slip into a purse, briefcase, or one of those man bag satchel things. Another VESA mount provides an attachment to the back of one of HP’s Z Displays. Now that’s flexibility! Oh and don’t worry if you mount this system somewhere out of reach. You can easily turn the unit on remotely from the wireless keyboard and mouse. The entry-level version only supports a keyboard and mouse with a USB connection. (Remote Power ON is enabled through the BIOS menu. This option is disabled by default.)

optional vesa mount for hp z2 g3 mini workstation
Optional VESA mount provides both security and can cover the input ports on the back.

The CPU for our performance unit is an Intel Core i7-6700 processor but the system will also support several other Core i processors and a few two, and four core Intel Xeon E5-1200 v5, and recently released v6, processors. Intel Xeon E3 and Core i3 processors can support either ECC or non-ECC memory. Core i5 and i7 processors only support non-ECC memory.

The CPU fan tilts up to reveal slots for two small outline DDR4 DIMM modules (SODIMM), and to realize the full performance of the system HP recommends at least one memory module in each slot. Only ECC or non-ECC SODIMM modules are supported on the Z2 mini and provide a maximum of 32GB of memory in two DIMM slots.

There are two PCIe 3.0 slots total. The first supports an M.2 30mm WiFi stick, the second PCIe slot is used for a Z Turbo Drive supporting up to 1TB and is typically used for the Operating System. Up to 36GB of system disk is reserved for system recovery software. A 2.5-inch SATA drive, either HDD or SSD, is right on top and stores up to 1 Terabyte of data. Additional network communications are handled by an integrated Intel PCIe GbE Controller.

While the Z2 benefits from HP’s excellent design build and historic reliability, if you have problems with your workstation, HP PC Diagnostics can be run from three different places depending on the relative health of your system—a connected USB drive, the hard disk drive, or BIOS. If you’re really screwed there’s always the HP Recovery Manager, which will take the system back to the factory preset but you will have to reload any programs you installed and it won’t restore any files you had on the system.

Free, and already installed on all Z-Series and ZBook mobile workstations is HP’s Remote Graphics 7.1 Software, which as the sales briefs say adds security, performance, collaboration, and mobility to you workstation. There are two parts to this program a sender, which is a pre-installed plugin on the workstation, and a receiver that is free to download for all platforms. In a nut shell this program is a remote desktop application that enables you to leave that workstation, say in the office, and remotely link to the system using a PC, Windows tablet, or even a Mac. You can continue the design process or share concepts with associates. This is a cool feature, and as I said, available for free on all HP workstations. HP Remote Graphics Software can also be installed on other systems but will require a license.

With the entry-level version the system will support three 4K monitors using all three display ports. On the Z2 performance version, the system will support up to four 4K monitors or six monitors at 2K resolution. The performance system will also support two displays at 5K resolution using two of the four display ports each.

The system starts up fast and runs very silently. So quietly, we couldn’t tell the system was on until the screen came to life. Of course, under load it did get a little louder but not by much. HP’s Z2 G3 is a pint-sized power house that’s a great fit for architecture, engineering, and graphic applications. It’s unobtrusive, yet sleek design won’t go unnoticed and it’s very small and light at less than 5LBs, fully loaded. You can easily take it home. And I do want to take it home with me. The only thing lacking on this system is the ability to expand further but if you need more performance, HP offers a full range of Z-series systems to meet your needs. As configured, with no ECC memory or processor that supports ECC, this would probably be a decent gaming rig. But who would do that with a workstation? Yes, I would… By the way, click these links if you would like more information on the Z2 or HP’s Remote Graphics Software.

If you have any comments or questions post them in the section below.

Leave a Reply