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Monday, October 18, 2021
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HP ZBook Studio G8 Review: Rock Solid Performance, Painful Price Tag


HP’s ZBook lineup — which encompasses the lightweight ZBook Firefly, the affordable ZBook Power, the powerful ZBook Fury, and the best-of-all-worlds ZBook Studio brands — doesn’t attract a lot of attention. As a mobile workstation-class device, the ZBook Studio is not as flashy as most gaming laptops or as affordable as most “creator” laptops, but in many ways, it’s better than both.

In the parlance of the tech nerd, the HP ZBook Studio G8 is a “mobile workstation.” On the hardware side, that typically means that you’re getting a Xeon processor, error-correcting (ECC) RAM, and an A-series or Quadro graphics card, paired with some sort of reliability testing (MIL-SPEC or MIL-STD), software certifications from major developers like Adobe, and an extended warranty. All of this usually comes attached to a price so high you’ll get altitude sickness if you stare at it for too long.

We don’t normally review mobile workstations on PetaPixel because the price increase associated with things like ECC memory and an enterprise GPU doesn’t translate into a measurable performance gain for photo and video editing, but HP did something interesting with the ZBook Studio G8: the company sort of split the difference.

The Studio G8 doesn’t use ECC memory or an Intel Xeon CPU, and it can be configured with a normal GeForce RTX 30-series GPU, but it still comes with all the other workstation perks. In other words: it offers the same performance as a high-end gaming laptop and the same sleek, professional design as a high-end consumer laptop, with better build quality, guaranteed reliability, and a longer warranty than either of the other categories. As a result, it comes in a little cheaper than similar options from, say, the Dell Precision lineup.

That’s not to say it’s cheap. The model HP sent us for review still costs an eye-watering $4,400:

Even if you downgrade some of the components, you’re still going to spend a lot of money. We actually asked the folks at HP to send us “Good, Better, Best” configuration options that they would recommend, and the most affordable of the bunch will still run you almost $2,800:

But that’s not to say that the price isn’t justified, or at least justifiable. From design to usability to raw performance, this laptop is fantastic. It’s just important to set expectations from the get-go: We’re not talking about a budget laptop today. We’re not even talking about a semi-affordable laptop. We’re talking about a mobile workstation that charges a substantial premium in exchange for professional-grade reliability and guaranteed performance.

If paying a $1,000 premium for MIL-STD reliability testing, software certifications, and an extended warranty sounds crazy to you, then a mobile workstation is the wrong choice and there’s no reason to read on. However, if that sounds like a reasonable investment and you like the fact that HP isn’t forcing you to throw additional money away on certain enterprise-grade specs you don’t want or need, then read on, because the HP ZBook Studio G8 turns out to be an excellent laptop for creative professionals.

Design and Build

There are only a few laptops that can compete with the likes of Apple and Razer when it comes to chassis design, but the HP ZBook Studio G8 is right up there with the best. The magnesium-and-aluminum alloy chassis is as rigid as a tank, extremely thin, and carved into a sharp design language that I loved from the moment I set eyes on this laptop.

Build quality really is top-notch. HP’s workstation-grade “Z” devices all undergo MIL-STD-810 testing, ensuring a level of reliability that surpasses anything you can expect from a standard consumer laptop. The MIL-STD-810 standard includes a suite of tests that check for resistance against vibration, dust, sand, humidity, altitude, drops, temperature shock, and even a “Freeze/Thaw” test.

Adding to the laptop’s reliability quotient is a three-year warranty direct from the manufacturer, a perk that usually costs extra (if it’s available at all) when you buy a consumer laptop.

Crack the ZBook Studio G8 open, and you’ll reveal an excellent keyboard that combines a satisfying click with a good amount of travel, zero mush, and per-key RGB lighting that gives the laptop just a little bit of gaming flare. The lighting is controlled by HP’s “OMEN” dashboard, and it’s a fun touch on an otherwise very professional-looking laptop.

This is accompanied by a slick, glass-topped trackpad that provides a precise and extremely well-optimized experience that can compete with the best-of-the-best. Because the speaker grill is positioned above the keyboard, the trackpad isn’t quite as big as the ones you’ll find on the latest Apple and Dell computers, but it was plenty big enough for me.

Port selection is solid, with only a little room for improvement. On the left side of the machine is an audio-combo jack, a USB Type-A port, and a Kensington lock; on the right side, you’ll find a sealable SD card slot, a Mini DisplayPort 1.4 port that’s connected directly to the GPU, and two Thunderbolt 4 ports that can carry 40Gbps of data, power, and a display signal.

My gripes are minimal. Mainly, I was annoyed that the Thunderbolt 4 ports are connected directly to the iGPU with no way to re-route that signal in the BIOS (this is according to HP). As a result, anyone using a high-end 4K external display will want to use the Mini DisplayPort for true 10-bit color or high refresh-rate gaming.

For that reason alone, I really wish that HP had included an HDMI 2.1 port in this configuration instead of the MiniDP port. None of the monitors I’ve ever reviewed came with a MiniDP to DP 1.4 cable in the box, wihch forces me to buy a new cable in order to get full performance out of the ASUS ProArt PA32UCG I was using when I reviewed this laptop and eliminates the option of using this as a “single-cable” setup with Thunderbolt providing data, display, and power.

Fortunately, the included display is more than good enough to do professional creative work. The model we’re testing includes a touch-enabled 4K AMOLED screen that was able to hit well over 100% sRGB, 99.9% DCI-P3, and 91.6% Adobe RGB with an excellent Delta E of less than 2 and a maximum brightness of ~400 nits.

If OLED isn’t your thing, the ZBook Studio G8 is also available with a 4K 120Hz “HP DreamColor” LCD display with an advertised peak brightness of 600 nits and 100% coverage of DCI-P3, or an even more affordable Full HD model that promises 100% coverage of sRGB.

It’s nice to see a manufacturer offer both a 4K LCD and a 4K OLED option with identical gamut coverage, as well as a more affordable (but still acceptable) Full HD option. If you’re sold on the peace of mind of a mobile workstation but hate the price tag it carries, the lower-end screen option opens the door to get creative with your configuration, especially if you plan to use an external display much of the time.

As for our 4K OLED unit, you can see the results from our DisplayCAL tests below:

The HP ZBook G8 covers 99.9% of DCI-P3 (left) and well over 100% of sRGB (right).

If there’s a big downside to the high-res screen on our model it’s probably battery performance, which is decidedly middle of the road.

As with other high-performance notebooks, the ZBook Studio’s 83WHr battery can’t support the computer’s full 110W TDP (30W to the CPU, 80W to the GPU), and when you’re pushing the computer to its battery-powered performance limit, you can expect no more than about two hours of intense photo editing. In a more reasonable, battery saver or balanced mode, I was able to get about six hours of use for writing, occasional content consumption, and light photo editing, but don’t expect this laptop to compete with something that’s powered by AMD.

Overall, I found a lot to love and very little to complain about when it comes to the design and build quality of the ZBook Studio G8. It’s an excellent laptop that felt like a little piece of military equipment with just enough design flare. The excellent keyboard and trackpad, the professional-grade display, and the dual Thunderbolt 4 ports all make it a solid contender for serious creative work.

Photo Editing Performance

Given the extremely thin design, I was skeptical that the HP would be able to squeeze every ounce of performance out of its Core i9-11950H and NVIDIA RTX 3070. I was only kind of right. In most of our benchmarks, the ZBook couldn’t quite out-perform the latest Razer Blade 15 Advanced, which technically uses an ever-so-slightly slower Core i9-11900H, but the thinner ZBook Studio was still able to churn out top-shelf performance numbers.

Whether you’re running Photoshop, Lightroom, or Capture One, you can expect the Studio G8 to fly through most photo and video editing tasks with ease, all while staying remarkably quiet compared to some of the gaming laptops I’ve tested.

For our comparisons today, we’re showing the results from the HP side-by-side with the same tests run on an M1 iMac, an AMD-powered ASUS Zephyrus G14, and the aforementioned Blade 15 Advanced. Full specs below:

Lightroom Classic

In our standard import and export tests, the ZBook clocked in a tiny bit slower than the Razer Blade, but faster than our other test machines. As a reminder, these tests consist of importing 110 61-megapixel Sony a7R IV and 150 100-megapixel PhaseOne XF RAW files, generating 1:1 (Lightroom Classic) or 2560px (Capture One Pro) previews, applying a custom-made preset with heavy global edits, and then exporting those same files as 100% JPEGs and 16-bit TIFFs.

You can see the results for Lightroom Classic below:

Capture One Pro

The story is even better in Capture One, where the computer’s RTX 3070 finally gets to flex its muscle.

As we’ve mentioned in several of our past reviews, Lightroom does not use any sort of GPU acceleration during import or export, relying exclusively on the performance of your CPU and RAM to generate the numbers you see above. However, Capture One does take advantage of the GPU, so when it comes time to export the heavily-edited Sony a7R IV and Phase One XF variants in C1, the HP ZBook Studio G8 was able to close the gap with the Blade and trade blows at the top of the pack.

The results are essentially a wash between the three PCs, all of which benefit from NVIDIA RTX 30 series GPUs, with the M1 iMac falling way behind:

Photoshop

Finally, we ran our usual Photoshop test: Puget Systems‘ industry-standard PugetBench benchmark.

PugetBench assigns an Overall and four Category scores after timing a wide variety of tasks including basic stuff like loading, saving, and resizing a large .psd, GPU-accelerated filters like Smart Sharpen and Field Blur, and heavily RAM-dependent tasks like Photo Merge. As we have in the past, we ran version 0.8 of this particular benchmark, because it was the last version to include a Photo Merge test.

As you can see, the powerful GPU, 32GB of 3200MHz RAM, and the NVIDIA RTX 3070 GPU come together to put up impressive numbers in every category tested:

Performance Takeaways

There’s no questioning the HP ZBook Studio G8’s performance chops. Is it the most powerful laptop money can buy? Definitely not. HP’s own ZBook Fury lineup, the Alienware x17, and the Lenovo Legion 7i (to name a few) can all be configured with more powerful (and power-hungry) CPU/GPU combinations that would no-doubt outperform the ZBook Studio. However, it’s awesome to see this kind of performance across the board from such a thin device.

This is seriously impressive photo editing performance packed inside of a chassis that’s thinner than we previously thought possible for an Intel-based workstation.

Excellent Design, Great Performance, Painful Price Tag

If you can stomach the price, the HP ZBook Studio G8 is a phenomenal laptop for photo and video editors who want great performance paired with guaranteed reliability. That latter point really matters to working pros, who often opt for high-end gaming laptops with less-than-ideal build quality and lower-quality displays in order to achieve this kind of performance.

However, even when you understand the benefits, the Studio G8’s price is really hard to swallow. The variant I tested here costs about $1,000 more than you would spend on an (already expensive) Razer Blade 15 Advanced with basically the same core specs, a more powerful GPU, faster PCIe Gen 4 storage, and a next-gen OLED display that covers 100% of both DCI-P3 and AdobeRGB.

You really have to value those un-sexy mobile workstation perks if you’re going to justify that kind of price hike.

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Thin, light, rugged design
  • Fantastic trackpad and keyboard
  • Multiple color-accurate display options
  • Solid port selection with two Thunderbolt 4 ports and an SD card slot
  • MIL-STD-810 tested
  • 3-year warranty included

Cons

  • No HDMI port
  • SSD is PCIe 3.0, not 4.0
  • RAM is not upgradable
  • Sky high price

I hate to spend so much time addressing a computer’s price since a lot more goes into judging the real-world value of a computer than the cost of its components, so in most cases, I’ll focus on performance and usability and leave the economic calculus to individual readers who have individual budgets and don’t give an individual damn whether I think a laptop is “reasonably priced.”

However, “mobile workstations” like the ZBook Studio G8 exist in a different economic reality, and it’s important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of that reality before you either a) spend way too much on a laptop you don’t need, or b) ignore features and benefits that could make the laptop worth every last penny.

For me, a well-built consumer laptop is reliable enough. I simply don’t use my computers hard enough to justify the price jump and there are some really fantastic options out there. But if you’re a professional photographer or video editor who needs a well-rounded, rock-solid machine that will go with you everywhere for the next three to five years, the HP ZBook Studio G8 is worth a very close look. It’s cheaper than many of its direct competitors in the workstation-class, gives you a wider variety of configurations to choose from, and it churns out better performance than we expected from something so sleek.

Are There Alternatives?

Several major laptop makers have a workstation brand that offers similar benefits to the ZBook Studio. The most popular are probably Lenovo’s ThinkPads and Dell’s Precision lineup. As I mentioned earlier, these laptops usually swap NVIDIA’s GeForce graphics for a mobile Quadro or A-series GPU, sometimes they use error-correcting “ECC” RAM, and often they include longer warranties, the aforementioned military-grade certifications, and displays that put an emphasis on color and/or battery life over speed and/or gaming performance.

For photographers, we’d recommend avoiding anything with ECC memory, an Intel Xeon processor, or an A-series/Quadro card, simply because these upgrades tend to increase the price significantly without adding much to real-world photo and even video editing performance. An 11th-gen Core i7 or Core i9 CPU, DDR4 RAM and a GeForce RTX 30 series GPU is just fine. Instead, if you’re interested in a mobile workstation, focus more on features like a solid manufacturer warranty, standardized reliability testing, and a killer LCD or OLED display with close-to-100% coverage of either AdobeRGB or DCI-P3.

Many of HP’s ZBook-branded laptops, Dell’s Precision laptops, and several of Lenovo’s ThinkPad models trade blows here in a variety of price brackets and configurations, depending on the kind of CPU, GPU, and display performance you need.

If you’re not interested in a mobile workstation, you can find similar performance and solid build quality for a lot less money by purchasing a high-quality consumer or gaming laptop like the Dell XPS 15/17, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced and Razer Blade 17, or the ASUS Zephyrus G14/G15 (just to name a few). You’ll get a lot more performance-bang-for-your-buck by going with a “consumer” or “creator” laptop vs a proper “mobile workstation,” just be aware of what you’re giving up.

Should You Buy It

Yes.

The caveats above apply, but other than a few minor gripes that I mention above, I cannot fault this laptop. For creatives, it’s a workhorse. The ZBook Studio G8 delivered a lot more “umph” than I expected from such a thin and light chassis while staying relatively quiet, it looks and feels great, and it offers a good variety of configuration options that help you dial in a ratio of price-to-performance that works for you.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide if the un-glamorous benefits of a mobile workstation are worth the inflated price tag. But if they are, then I have no qualms recommending this laptop.

from Reviews – PetaPixel https://ift.tt/39FJ0tl https://ift.tt/3EV8xNj





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