Some all-in-one PCs are designed to sit prettily in the corner of your living room, acting as office manager for the parents and entertainment centre for the kids. The HP Z1 Workstation is no such thing, packed as it is full of powerful components, with an enormous high-resolution screen that's suited to professionals working with photos and videos.
My review model came with an Intel Xeon processor, 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia Quadro 1000M graphics card. It's available now from the HP online store for £2,920.
Design and build quality
When you first lay eyes on the Z1, you'll no doubt be immediately struck by its enormous size. Make no mistake, this is an absolute goliath. It's rather reminiscent of someone dumping a huge, marble gravestone on your desk -- only less morbid.
The sheer size is to accommodate a 27-inch screen, which makes it particularly useful for graphics professionals who need the display real estate not offered by smaller machines. It's a whopping 660mm wide and 584mm high, so you're going to need ample desk space to house it. Make sure it's a sturdy piece of furniture to cope with the epic 22kg weight.
The Z1 is a workstation designed for professional users. Unlike consumer all-in-ones like the Toshiba Qosmio DX730 or HP's own TouchSmart 520, it's probably not going to find a place in the average family's living room. Instead, it'll be more at home in some modern graphics company's office, probably based in London's Shoreditch district or somewhere equally pretentious.
The front of the machine is dominated by an enormous sheet of glass that stretches the entire way across, meaning there are no unsightly plastic bezels on show. Beneath it is a narrow grille housing the speakers. The back of the machine has been clad in a brushed aluminium plate that gives a rather intimidating industrial feel but could probably also be used to deflect short-range missile attacks -- although I don't suggest you actually test this.
The stand is understandably huge, so it's not as sleek looking as some of the minimalist supports found on other models. Given the immense weight it has to hold up, I'm happy to forgive this lapse in sartorial elegance. The stand uses a push-button mechanism to let you angle the display (or lie it flat), which I found to be very awkward at times. Trying to get the screen upright again from flat was a very difficult task, mainly due to the weight of the screen. I highly recommend you find a good position for it and then never touch it again.
Around the sides you'll find two USB 3.0 ports, a slot-loading DVD drive, an SD card reader, a FireWire port and headphone and microphone jacks. Around the back you'll spy four USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet socket, line-in and line-out jacks, Display Port in/out, an SPDIF audio port and a jack for hooking up a subwoofer. Inside the casing are a couple more USB 2.0 ports, which are handy for hooking up things like Bluetooth receivers that you don't want sticking out of the side of the machine.
It comes with HP's standard keyboard and mouse, which aren't particularly luxurious, so you'll certainly want to upgrade to something nicer -- probably a decent graphics tablet if you're a professional user.
Upgrading the Z1 Workstation
As a professional machine, the Z1 needs to be upgradeable in order to still be powerful enough to cope with intense tasks a few years down the line when the existing components have been superseded by faster, gutsier parts.
Thankfully, it makes it an extremely easy task by letting you lie it flat -- just slide a catch on the side and lift up the screen, as you would a car bonnet. You then have full access to all the bits and pieces inside. This immediately makes the Z1 more appealing as an office machine than Apple's 27-inch iMac, which doesn't let you do anything like the same amount of upgrading.
Once you're inside, swapping out individual parts is a simple process as HP has designed it so components can be easily clipped out. The hard drive, for example, sits in a caddy that can be pulled out in a couple of seconds and doesn't require any messing around with power cables.
Of course, once you're inside, it's important to be very careful not to accidentally spill something or to be too rough with the components -- they might be easy to fit, but if you ham-fistedly try to ram them into place, you'll easily damage the connecting pins. If you've never changed a PC component before then maybe ask someone to lend a hand.
For a computer screen to be particularly useful for graphics pros, it's going to need to be both big and high resolution. Thankfully then, the enormous 27-inch display used on the Z1 offers a resolution of 2,560x1,440 pixels, which is considerably higher than the 1,080p displays you'd find on more consumer-focused machines.
Those extra pixels mean that editing high-resolution pictures and graphics is made much easier, as a lot more detail can be squeezed into view at once. I loaded some huge raw image files taken on a Canon EOS 5D MKIII into Adobe Photoshop CS6 and was very chuffed at the level of detail visible. It makes performing fine adjustments -- particularly with selecting small areas -- much easier.
It's also handy for video professionals as it allows for Full HD video to be displayed at full resolution within a window inside programs like Adobe Premiere. It's a similar experience to the ultra-high resolution retina display found on the new MacBook Pro, which GameSpot's Seb Ford found made editing video particularly delicious.
On the downside, the huge resolution means that it's less fun for normal use. The Windows start menu and all folders and windows look particularly wee and websites appear much smaller in the middle of the screen -- it doesn't use the same upscaling methods as seen on the MacBook Pro. It also means that Full HD videos have to be stretched in order to be viewed at full screen so they won't look as crisp as on other displays. Examples of 4K-resolution video clips on YouTube looked extremely sharp.
However, it's still a long way off being rolled out as standard, although camera manufacturers are increasingly launching 4K-capable cameras and more and more high-res video is becoming available online.
Of course, it's not just about the resolution. The screen is also very bright and offers excellent black levels, resulting in images and videos looking bold and vivid. It's also got good horizontal viewing angles, meaning you don't have to be sat right in front of the screen to get the best view -- handy if you're showing off your work in progress to clients.
Inside that enormous body you'll find a quad-core Intel Xeon E31280 processor clocked at a mighty 3.5GHz. It's backed by 8GB of DDR3 RAM along with an Nvidia Quadro 1000M graphics card that's designed for professionals working with graphics, video, CAD and any other intense 3D processing applications.
To see how these specs stack up against other machines, I ran the Geekbench benchmark test and was given a score of around 15,000, which is extremely good. By comparison, last year's 27-inch iMac, with its Intel Core i7 processor, managed around 12,000. So side-by-side, the Z1 appears to offer better performance -- although a similarly specced iMac comes in at nearly a grand cheaper.
In my own testing, I found it to be extremely powerful. Opening enormous image files (around 80MB per file) in Photoshop was immediate. At no point did the computer feel slow or sluggish when I applied image-wide tweaks like gaussian blurs. Similarly, applying brightness, contrast and curve balance tweaks to TIFF files in Adobe Lightroom 4 was handled easily, with no sign of any lag. And of course that massive screen meant that it was particularly easy to see exactly what was happening to my image as I moved the sliders.
To see how it coped with video, I booted up various 4K resolution clips into Adobe Premiere CS6. Loading them into the timeline was quick and watching back the video while real-time effects were being used was no trouble. Once you start to load it up with numerous clips and make heavy use of effects then you'll probably start to notice a slight slowdown, but I don't expect it will struggle.
The Z1 then is more than capable of handling professional media tasks, whether that's working with super-high resolution photos or high-definition video editing. The maximum RAM you can have as standard in HP's online store is 8GB. You can easily clip open the case and add in a couple of sticks up to 32GB though -- something that might be worth doing if you make a habit of working with long videos made up of numerous clips rendered in real time.
The HP Z1 Workstation might be the biggest and heaviest thing you could put on your desk, but it's packed with enough high-spec tech to cope with any tasks a graphics professional could throw at it. The high-resolution screen and the ease with which you can upgrade the components are excellent features, although the high price places it solely in the realms of the dedicated professional.