- Review Date: 12/13/2013
- Bottom line: The HP ZBook 15 is a potent mobile workstation, offering top-notch processing power, ISV Certified graphics, and industrial-grade durability.
- Pros: Mobile workstation packs quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia Quadro graphics. Rugged construction and multi-layered security keep everything safe and secure. HP DreamColor offers superb quality and accuracy. Blu-ray drive.
- Cons: Middling battery life.
Sometimes a run-of-the-mill business laptop just doesn't cut it. Fields like engineering, financial analysis, architecture, and mining demand more from a system, requiring powerful processors, precision visual rendering and display, and reliability that can be trusted without question. Mobile workstations, like the HP ZBook 15, tick all these boxes and more with powerful components like a quad-core processor, ISV-certified graphics, and beefy security. If you and your company are in the market for a mobile workstation, the ZBook 15 is definitely worth considering.
Though the ZBook 15 is a mobile workstation, this is not a laptop to lug around often. Measuring 1.2 by 15 by 10.1 inches (HWD) and weighing 6.2 pounds, it's a big bruiser of notebook, meant to pack the power of desktop workstation into a slightly more portable form factor. Despite the size, it's actually thinner and lighter than the Editors' Choice Dell Precision M4700, which weighs a backbreaking seven pounds and measures 1.5 inches thick. Though it's big, the ZBook 15 is still stylish, in a conservative, business-friendly sort of way. The bare brushed aluminum that covers the exterior is dark grey, a nearly black color that HP calls hematite/graphite.
The laptop's 15-inch display is excellent, especially for anyone doing work that requires exacting color accuracy—the display offers not just 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, but also RGB backlighting and HP's DreamColor display, which combines the wide viewing angles of an IPS display with 800:1 contrast and support for over 1 billion colors. The display also features an anti-glare coating, so there's less concern about reflected light distorting color perception.
While it's not quite as chunky as the Panasonic Toughbook CF-53, the ZBook 15 is nearly as rugged, designed to meet military toughness standards (Mil-Std-810G) for vibration, dust, temperature and altitude, with a magnesium reinforced chassis, aluminum-alloy hinges, and aluminum exterior with HP's scratch- and scuff-resistant DuraFinish. The keyboard features a full aluminum deck, and spill resistance with a built in drain that funnels liquids out of the laptop and away from sensitive components. Even the glass surfaces of the display and touchpad get the rugged treatment, with chemically strengthened glass to prevent scratching.
The keyboard is full-sized, with a numeric pad and bright backlight. The chiclet keys are well spaced, and provide a solid feel during typing. Thanks to the aluminum deck, there is no flexing or bowing felt, even when typing with gusto. The touchpad is broad and smooth to the touch thanks to its glass surface. It has a three button design, with right and left clicking joined by a scroll button. As with most work stations, the ZBook 15 has a dual-pointer design, with a pointstick set in the middle of the keyboard. The rubbery nub has a textured, concave tip, providing excellent traction for a fingertip.
The ZBook 15 has plenty of features to offer as well. Connect any number of storage devices of peripherals with four USB ports—one USB 2.0 port and three faster USB 3.0 ports, including one with power for charging devices—or connect to larger, faster storage through a Thunderbolt port. With outputs for VGA, DisplayPort, and the aforementioned Thunderbolt, the ZBook 15 can easily connect to an external monitor or projector, and can be used with up to three additional displays simultaneously. Thunderbolt opens up additional connectivity and display options, with the ability to daisy-chain multiple devices to the same port.
Joining all of these connections are a headset jack, SD card slot, and Gigabit Ethernet connection. A tray-loading optical drive (Blu-ray ROM, DVD+/-RW dual-layer) on the right of the system gives you everything you need to read and burn disks. For wireless networking, the ZBook 15 is equipped with dual-band 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, providing superior connectivity on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Bluetooth is also available for connecting wireless peripherals, and optional 3G or 4G (LTE) mobile broadband module support is available depending upon your configuration.
As a business system, there's no shortage of features supporting business use and security. For example, the ZBook 15 has both an integrated Smart Card slot, and an ExpressCard port. On the underside of the laptop is a docking connection, which supports HP's advanced docking stations. A fingerprint reader is built into the palmrest for simple secure logins, and the ZBook 15 offers both Intel vPro technology for remote manageability and security (via Intel Active Management technology and Intel Virtualization technology) as well as an integrated TPM 1.2 Embedded Security Chip.
HP has equipped the ZBook 15 with HP Sure Start to prevent and repair BIOS attacks, and further integrated security to fend off viruses and attacks, and sequester the laptop from the rest of the network to cut off a spreading threat. Also included with the system is HP File Sanitizer, HP Client Security (including credential and password management), and Microsoft Security Essentials. A case-lock slot lets you physically secure the laptop, while optional Computrace with GPS tracking lets you track down a laptop's location if it gets lost or stolen.
Our review model came outfitted with a 500GB 7,200rpm spinning hard drive, which offers plenty of storage space for documents and project files, but for those who want more capacity, there is a 750GB option available. The hard drive is protected from physical damage and data loss with shock mounting and three-axis motion detection, which pauses data transfer when motion is detected. The 500GB hard drive is bolstered with 32GB of flash memory, ensuring fast boot times and speedy performance.
As a business system, the ZBook 15 has very little in the way of bloatware—the unwanted programs and service trials that are often included on new PCs—but there are a few programs preinstalled on the laptop. HP includes several utilities, like Performance Advisor and Recovery Manager, along with useful software such as Adobe Flash Player, Cyberlink Media Suite, Skype Desktop App, and PDF Complete (Corporate Edition). Internet Explorer is included as usual, but it does come packaged with a Bing search bar that you may not want.
HP Covers the ZBook 15 with a three-year warranty that offers parts and labor coverage, along with three years of tech support and on-site labor.
ISV (Independent Software Vendor) certification means that the hardware—specifically the Intel Core i7-4800MQ (2.7GHz) and Nvidia Quadro K2100M discrete graphics with 2GB of VRAM—has been tested and shown to be compatible with a broad array of software for engineering, design, digital content creation and more. The certification means that the ZBook 15 will support programs like Autodesk AutoCAD, DS Solidworks, Avid Media Composer and Pro Tools, Adobe Creative Cloud, Matlab, and dozens of other demanding programs with full compatibility and top-notch consistency.
The Intel Core i7-4800MQ quad-core processor is the same fourth-generation CPU found in the Dell Latitude E6540, and it's paired with 16GB of RAM for quick performance even during heavy multitasking. As a result, performance was superb, with a PCMark 7 score of 5,562, well ahead of the Editors' Choice Dell Precision M4700 (4,813 points) and the HP EliteBook 8560w (2,589 points). The processor also offered top scores in Cinebench, scoring 6.75 points, just behind the Dell M4700 (6.92 points) but far ahead the 4.99 points of the Dell Latitude E6540. Multimedia performance is also very good, cranking through Handbrake in 1 minute 51 seconds, and Photoshop in 3 minutes 10 seconds.
Geared toward high-powered, graphics heavy programs and boasting Nvidia Quadro K2100M discrete graphics, the ZBook 15 offered solid performance across all of our graphics benchmark tests. In 3DMark 7 the ZBook 15 scored 4,187 points at Entry settings, and 826 points at Extreme settings, pulling ahead of most competitors.
Loaded up with such potent hardware, mobile workstations drain batteries quickly, as a rule. Despite this, the ZBook 15—with its 8-cell 83Wh battery—lasted 3 hours 48 seconds in our battery rundown test. While that won't quite take you through half a workday, mobile workstations aren't geared toward on-the-go use. While it's on par with the likes of the HP Elitebook 8560w (3:30) and the HP EliteBook 8470p (3:58), it falls behind the Dell Precision M4700 (6:28) by roughly three hours, a gap too large to ignore. However, HP offers additional power management to let you track and potentially extend your battery life further, and extended life batteries are also available.
With potent performance and rock-solid construction, the HP ZBook 15 might be the mobile workstation you need in your office. While the battery life is a little lackluster, the combination of powerful processing and graphics with HP's DreamColor display is a winner. While the HP EliteBook 8560w offers more graphics oomph and the Dell Precision boasts longer battery life, there's still a lot to be said for the ZBook 15's category leading performance.