The HP ZBook 17 G5 (starts at $1,699; $5,600 as tested) isn’t the fastest mobile workstation we’ve tested, mainly because it “only” has Nvidia’s second-fastest GPU in the category, the VR-ready Quadro P4200 with 8GB of display memory (versus the Quadro P5200 with 16GB). This weighty 17.3-inch laptop is nevertheless a spectacular system for 3D rendering, CAD, and scientific and engineering workloads, fitted with a gorgeous 4K DreamColor display. It doesn’t replace the more portable and affordable 15.6-inch Lenovo ThinkPad P52 as our mobile workstation Editors’ Choice of the moment, but it’s a worthy candidate for top-end shoppers who need Xeon/Quadro power paired with a top-size, top-quality screen.
Count the Configurations
The G5 abandons the two-tone design of previous ZBooks for a ponderous slab in battleship gray, with diagonally cut rear corners and the stylized HP logo on the lid the only concessions to fashion. At a briefcase-busting 7.5 pounds, it’s as hefty as its 17.3-inch rivals the Dell Precision 7730 and Lenovo ThinkPad P72, and actually a fraction larger at 1.3 by 16.4 by 11.3 inches to the Dell’s 1.18 by 16.3 by 10.8 inches.
The HP site claims that the ZBook 17 G5 is available in up to 50 million different configurations. The $1,699 base model I found online has a Core i7 CPU and Quadro P1000 graphics, as well as 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a 1080p screen.
For $5,600, my test unit was ready to rip through huge datasets with a six-core, 2.9GHz (4.8GHz turbo) Xeon E-2186M processor; the Quadro P4200 (choosing the P5200 would have added $1,234 on HP’s online configurator); 64GB of memory; a 1TB SSD; an internal BD-RE Blu-ray drive; and the non-touch DreamColor screen with a 3,840-by-2,160-pixel native resolution.
The memory ceiling is 128GB of standard or 64GB of error-correcting (ECC) DRAM. Storage can be expanded to an unimaginable 10TB via three 2TB M.2 solid-state drives and two 2TB hard drives (one in the Blu-ray bay). The G5 has passed a passel of MIL-STD 810G tests against shock, vibration, and other hazards; the tank-like system showed no flex when I grasped the screen corners or mashed the keyboard.
Along with a security lock, the ZBook’s left edge holds an Ethernet port, three USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an SD card slot, and a SmartCard slot. On the right side are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, HDMI and mini DisplayPort video outputs, an audio jack, the connector for the jumbo AC adapter, and the optical drive’s tray outline.
Ready to Serve
Windows Hello users can skip sign-ins via either the face-recognition webcam above the display or the fingerprint reader in the palm rest. The 720p webcam, which features a sliding shutter to protect your privacy, captured well-lit, if somewhat grainy, images.
The backlit, spill-resistant keyboard has HP’s usual arrangement of the cursor-arrow keys—half-height up and down arrows sandwiched between normal-size left and right, which sparks my usual grumbling wish for an inverted-T arrangement instead. The Escape and Delete keys are tiny, as are the dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys, though there’s a full-size numeric keypad.
The keyboard has a snappy but plasticky typing feel, with a clattering noise and surprisingly shallow stroke. Oddly, the top-row function keys to increase or decrease audio volume worked, but the ones for screen brightness didn’t.
The good-size touchpad is accompanied by a mid-keyboard pointing stick, so it has two sets of mouse buttons, each with the third or middle button beloved of independent software vendor (ISV) applications in the workstation world. The pad glides and taps smoothly, and the buttons feel comfortable.
It also contains a color calibration sensor for the screen. It works with the supplied DreamColor Assistant utility to let you choose and recalibrate any of six color presets—native, AdobeRGB, sRGB, BT.709, DICOM, or DCI P3—by closing the lid and waiting 10 or 12 minutes. To mark the calibration’s progress, a series of camera-shutter noises sounds, succeeded by a tone that indicates the task is done.
The display is, well, a dream. It’s not surprising that a 4K display should be sharp enough to show off the smallest details, but the ZBook’s also offers rich, saturated colors that pop like poster paints. Contrast is sky-high, and viewing angles are wide. There’s plenty of brightness, yet objects in shaded areas are clearly visible. Designers and image editors will be delighted, as will after-hours video viewers.
Speakers above the keyboard produce enough sound to fill a room and rattle the windows—ragged and piercing when cranked to full volume, but enjoyably loud at 60 or 70 percent, with driving bass and easy-to-distinguish layered tracks. HP preinstalls Windows 10 Pro for Workstations and backs the G5 with three years of onsite service.
The Testing, in Short: Ludicrous Speed
For our performance comparisons, I pitted the HP against its 17.3-inch competitors the ThinkPad P72 and Precision 7730, as well as the 15.6-inch ThinkPad P52. In addition, I threw in a loaded 17.3-inch gaming rig, the Alienware m17, for some consumer-machine context. You can see the contenders’ specs in the table below.
Despite being configured with the Quadro P4200 instead of the P5200 found in its peers, the ZBook is an outstanding performer, even winning one of our SPECviewperf 13 workstation benchmarks (though it narrowly trailed the ThinkPad P72 overall). Don’t expect impressive battery life, but expect plenty of muscle for the most demanding professional applications.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s drive subsystem. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
We consider 4,000 points a superb PCMark 10 score, so it’s no big deal that the HP was the only machine here to fall short of 5,000—all these workstations are massive overkill for Word and Excel and their kind. Their solid-state drives made short work of PCMark 8’s storage measurement, too.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
We’re at high altitudes here, as anything over 1,000 points indicates a wildly potent processor. Whether you’re rendering virtual-reality scenes or editing 4K video, the HP won’t keep you waiting.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
Oh, dear, the HP may make you wait an extra half-second per filter or effect. Good thing its museum-quality screen makes up for its being such a “slowpoke.”
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Workstation GPUs are optimized for different operations than gaming silicon, so it’s no shock to see the Alienware and its GeForce RTX win the challenging Fire Strike event. The HP finished next to last, but it still did respectably.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets.
Pretty much the same story here, with the gaming-optimized Alienware winning this gaming-centric contest and the Nvidia Quadro systems following in part-number order.
To get away from gaming comparisons, we also run tests that resemble the challenges posed by common workstation tasks.
One is Cinebench’s OpenGL benchmark, which presents an animated scene measured in frames per second. Another is POV-Ray 3.7, which puts systems through a timed, off-screen rendering exercise that stresses multiple CPU threads and GPU compute units to the max. (Lower times are better on POV-Ray, and we didn’t run either of these tests on the Alienware, thus the “N/A” indicators for that machine below.)
The Lenovo ThinkPad P72 was, by a narrow margin, the ablest in the Cinebench exercise, while the Dell Precision 7730 prevailed in POV-Ray. But the ZBook wasn’t far behind in either.
Finally, there’s SPECviewperf 13, which renders and rotates 3D and wireframe models based on popular ISV apps’ viewsets; it’s the most realistic and challenging workstation test we run. We run the viewsets for three of these professional apps.
The HP was the fastest in the SolidWorks workload and performed creditably in Creo and Maya. It belongs in the top echelon of mobile workstations.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
No one’s going to expect a 17.3-inch workstation to last as long as a 13.3-inch ultraportable—these systems are usually carried from office to home or from desk to conference room, not on long plane trips. If you really need more time, HP will gladly sell you a smaller ZBook.
Strong and Secure
The ZBook 17 G5 is an excellent mobile workstation made better by HP’s full complement of security features such as Sure Start (which checks for hacking and if necessary restores the BIOS at every bootup). My only complaints are that it’s costly, bulky, and heavy; we believe the ThinkPad P52 is better balanced, both in terms of portability and price/performance.
If you’re in the market for the maximum in rendering and design, however, this ZBook deserves your attention. Sometimes only a leviathan will do.