HP ZBook 14 review

The HP ZBook 14 ultrabook is the most mobile of mobile workstations.
Photo of HP ZBook 14

Windows professional users will pay a premium for certain features like a sharper than normal screen and professional workstation graphics. The HP ZBook 14 ($2,399) has these features, plus a highly mobile design with a thinness and light weight never before seen on a professional-grade mobile workstation. Power, battery life, a gobsmackingly nice screen, and a good price all combine to earn the HP ZBook 14 our latest Editors’ Choice for mobile workstations.

Design and Features
The ZBook 14 looks very much like a 14-inch ultrabook, and that is the point. It measures about 0.83 by 13.5 by 9.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.88 pounds, so it will blend in with other business ultrabooks rather than stand out like the chunkier mobile workstations like the former Editors’ Choice HP EliteBook 8560w ($1,579) and Dell Precision M4700 ($4,049). It’s also much lighter than full-sized business desktop replacement laptops like the Dell Latitude E6540 ($1,479).

The ZBook 14′s top lid and keyboard deck are finished in metal, but the bottom lid is plastic/polycarbonate. This is one of the Zbook 14′s strengths: The light, tool-less removable lid allows access to the internal components, primarily the system’s hard drive bay, memory slots, and slots for accessories like the optional 4G mobile broadband module. The lid also allows access to the system’s 50WHr removable battery, something that may be of the utmost importance when you’re computing far away from a power outlet or car charger. The removable and replaceable battery is something you won’t find in most ultrabooks.

The system’s components include an Intel Core i7-4600U processor, 16GB of DDR3L memory (maxed out), a 256GB SATA SSD (240GB usable), and an AMD FirePro M4100 GPU. The system uses AMD Switchable Graphics technology, so the system can use the Intel Core i7′s HD Graphics 4400 integrated GPU when you don’t need discrete GPU power. As we’ll see below, that helps keep the ZBook 14 running for most of the day.

The bottom lid pops off in one quick flick of a switch and a pull. This is a far cry from most consumer and business notebooks that require undoing multiple screws. Speaking of screws, you won’t need a screwdriver to swap out the battery or the memory, but you will need one for the hard drive bracket and for the WWAN module and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Module. The ZBook 15 we reviewed came with 802.11 a/b/g/n dual band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. If you spring for the optional WWAN/4G module, it will include GPS.

One of the ZBook 14′s greatest strengths is its screen. It is a 14 1,920 by 1,080 display, which is full 1080p HD, though some competitors like the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) ($1,999) and Toshiba KiraBook ($1,999) feature higher-resolution screens. Though the ZBook 14 is limited to 1080p, it trounces the other systems by offering a matte-finish anti-glare screen. The Apple MacBook Pro and Toshiba Kirabook only offer glare-prone glass-covered screens. Many former Mac fans lament the fact that you can’t buy a Retina Display-equipped MacBook Pro with a matte screen. Since the ZBook 14 is built to go out into the field, the presence of a matte screen is a boon.

The ZBook 14 display’s color range and brightness make it more than a match for the other two systems listed here, albeit with a slightly smaller workspace and pixel per inch stat. if you’re a scientific or graphics shop manager who needs the system to spot check work, The ZBook 14′s brilliant 1080p screen is more than sufficient to sign off on projects. Users who need to create scientific tasks, do edits, and perform content creation full time may want the larger, more pixel dense screens for their day-to-day work. It’s a classic tradeoff: less screen/screen room than the larger laptops, but in exchange you get a very portable, sleek looking system.

The ZBook 14 has ample external ports as well. There are four USB 3.0 ports (one is a stay-awake charging port), a full-sized DisplayPort, Ethernet (vitally important for business users), VGA, a SmartCard slot, Kesinsington lock port, a semi-hidden SD card slot, and a docking port that it shares with other HP EliteBook laptops. With the optional dock, the ZBook 14 can support up to five external displays. Regardless of a dock purchase, the ZBook 14 still supports multiple monitors through the DisplayPort.

The ZBook 14 has a comfortable backlit chiclet-style keyboard, along with both a touchpad and pointing stick. This may be important for your workers; particularly those that learned how to use a laptop in the 1990s-2000s when pointing sticks were prevalent on many laptops. Both the touchpad and pointing stick have their own set of physical mouse buttons, but you can use tap-to-click on the multi-point touchpad if you’re used to that. Since the ZBook 14 has a 14-inch screen, there isn’t space on the keyboard deck for a numeric keypad. Look at larger laptops like the HP ZBook 15 ($2,999) or Asus Zenbook VX51VZ-XB71 ($2,419) if you need a numeric keypad with you at all times.

Our review unit had Windows 7 Professional installed, along with the drivers for the internal components. The system comes with an option to install Windows 8 Pro, using the included DVDs. Since the system came with Windows 7, it’s not a huge deal that the system lacks a touch screen in our review configuration. A touch screen is optional from HP, which is something that the ZBook 15 can’t be configured with. Windows 8 has very few business adherents, so the touch screen is hardly a necessity at this time. The ZBook 14 comes with a three year parts and labor warranty.

Performance

The ZBook 14 we tested came with a dual-core Intel Core i7-4600U processor, 16GB of system memory, a 256GB SATA SSD, and AMD switchable graphics with both a discrete AMD FirePro M4100 GPU and the i7′s integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400. In short, the system is quite capable of creating multimedia projects, but its best strength is that it is ISV certified and can work fine as a supervisor’s machine in the field. The Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (2013) ($1,299) was a smidge faster on Photoshop CS6 (4:27 vs. 6:28 for the ZBook 14) and Handbrake (1:09 vs. 1:11 for the ZBook 14), most likely due to the MacBook’s slightly faster clocked processor and faster PCIe-based Flash Storage.

The ZBook 14 is closer to its peers on 3D tasks, where it is very close to the performance of the Dell Precision M4700 with its 2GB Nvidia Quadro K2000M GPU on the 3DMark 11 test and our two game tests. True gaming cards like the Nvidia GeForce GT 765M in the Digital Storm Veloce ($1,596) give the best performance on 3D games and game tests, but the ZBook 14 is certainly capable of displaying 3D CAD designs in realtime as well as working in entertainment development and testing.

One of the ZBook 14′s main strengths is its battery life. It lasted 6 hours 28 minutes on our battery rundown test (6:28), matching the chunkier Dell Precision M4700 to the minute. The ZBook 14′s big brother, the HP ZBook 15 only lasted 3:48.

If you’re looking for a nicely priced full Windows 7 mobile workstation and value portability, the HP ZBook 14 should be at the top of your list. It has the clear and glare-free studio-ready display that you’d expect from a professional workstation, with the portability and battery life you’d expect from an ultrabook. IT serviceability is a big plus, especially if you have time-sensitive users who need to get back to work right now, even if they put a prop sword through the screen accidentally. Any director, manager, or vice president in the entertainment or engineering industries will be quite happy with the ZBook 14, especially if they travel. For these reasons, primarily portability and a price tag almost half that of the Dell Precison M4700, the HP ZBook 14 is our newest Editors’ Choice for mobile workstations.

Specifications
Touchscreen No
Processor Name Intel Core i7-4600u
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Professional
Weight 3.88 lb
Graphics Card AMD FirePro M4100
Screen Type Widescreen
Type Business
RAM 16 GB
Networking Options 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband)
Processor Speed 2.1 MHz
Screen Size 14 inches
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 240 GB
Storage Type SSD

Verdict
Power, battery life, a gobsmackingly nice screen, and a good price all combine to earn the HP ZBook 14 our latest Editors' Choice for mobile workstations.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc