It’s not often I can say a laptop serves well as a shield, serving tray, pillow, media center and power serving CAD/Render workstation, but that’s exactly what this HP ZBook 15 G3 Mobile Workstation has done over the past few months I’ve used it, with emphasis on the last item, of course. I had thought (to do anything substantial anyway) you needed at least a 17″ laptop, at least for that extra 1.5-ish inches of available screen area. Now, this quad-core mobile workstation with a 15.6″ screen has me thinking differently, to the point I don’t notice the smaller screen size, and actually prefer it. Let’s see why.
When HP asked if I was interested in reviewing a 15″ Workstation, I was hesitant. I mean, it’s only a measly 15 inches? (My desktop screen is a 32″ UHD screen.) Well, the new features the ZBook G3 models boast peeked my interest. The options on this 15 inch laptop are impressive. First, you have options for FHD, FHD Touch or UHD screens, the latest Intel Core i7 or Xeon E3 processors, 4GB NVIDIA or AMD GPUs, and 4 memory slots for up to 64GB RAM. It’s standard with a full-size keyboard and a large touchpad, Bang & Olufsen audio and Thunderbolt 3 ports. Yes, the newest Thunderbolt ports.
Up until this year, my definition of a Mobile Workstation was, “a computer that weighs less than a desktop computer, but still requires you to have use a desk next to electrical outlet.” I’m four hours in with the ZBook 15 G3, cranking all manner of apps, music and processes, and just now getting my 10% low battery warning. I was so happy about that, I took a photo of it on my lap.
You can find the full data sheet for the ZBook 15 G3 here. This is a list of what came with the model I’m using – (and what’s available).
OS: Windows 7 Professional – (Windows 10, or FreeDOS available)
CPU: 4 Core (8 Thread) Xeon E3-1505M (Skylake 14nm) – (6th gen Intel® Core™ i7 and i5 quad-core also available)
GPU: NVIDIA® Quadro® M2000M (4GB GDDR5) – (AMD FirePro™ W5170M also available)
Memory: 32 GB – (4 slots available for up to 64GB)
Display: Widescreen, 15.6-inch diagonal anti-glare LED-backlit FHD (1920×1080) ultrawide – (UHD (3840×2160) ultrawide or FHD Touch (1920×1080) ultrawide also available)
Display support: Multi-display up to 4 displays without docking solution, hybrid graphics enabled; up to 6 displays with HP Zbook Dock with Thunderbolt 3 (sold separately), hybrid graphics enabled
Keyboard: Full-size backlit, spill-Resistant keyboard with numberpad
Touchpad: Centered on keyboard; upper and lower left, middle, right click; tap, scroll, and gesture support
Ports: 2 Thunderbolt 3 (MiniDisplay 1.2, USB 3.1 compatibility), 3 USB 3.0 / 1 Charging, HDMI 1.4, Stero mic in / headphone out compbo, RJ-45, VGA, SD Card reader, Smart Card reader
Audio: Bang and Olufsen audio; front-facing, lower speakers
Battery/Power Supply: 9-cell (90 WHr)/200 W Slim Smart AC adapter
Buttons: Power, Wireless On/Off, Volume Mute
Dimensions: 16.5 x 11 x 1.2 in
Weight: 6.62 lb – (5.7lb and up)
Price: Starting at $1499 – (Intel Core i7 w/Intel HD graphics, 8GB RAM, 500GB SATA in a 5.7lb package)
Design – The ZBooks broke away from the blocky exterior of the previous EliteBooks, and while it still looks solid and industrial, the top cover/screen is thinner without seeming weak and the rounded lower gives it a sleeker appearance. The top cover has a smoother finish and better feel than the rubbery top edge of the G2 models. Overall, it’s a much more comfortable laptop for the mobile user.
Ports – This is the first laptop I’ve used with Thunderbolt 3 ports and glad to see them becoming more common. The speeds through a Thunderbolt 3 port are INSANE. With Thunderbolt SSD drives coming on the scene this laptop has the next generation of storage support ready to go-the Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro is one of the first. Oh, and those Thunderbolt 3 ports use the USB Type-C shape, so they’re MiniDisplay 1.2 and USB 3.1 compatible.
Weight – So, with a new magnesium-reinforced chassis and aluminum throughout, they shaved off 7% of the weight. Not much, but it’s noticeable, and compared to the much heftier 17 G2 the 1lb+ difference makes it all the more mobile.
CPU Power – You have the option for Intel Core i7 or Xeon E3 (Skylake 14nm) processors. Both are 4 core (8 thread/virtual core) processors, but the Xeon gives you more GHz and cache speed; 2.60Ghz and 6MB cache (Core i7) or 2.80GHz and 8MB cache (Xeon). With the Xeon, all cores pegged out, I consistently had an average 100 FPS on the KeyShot benchmark (@800×600) and 42 FPS (@1920×1080).
Battery life – Mobile Workstations are notoriously awful with battery life, but that has changed quite a bit. This is the first high-powered laptop I felt comfortable using without being plugged in or having immediate access to an outlet.
Fan Noise – This is the only fault I can find with this machine. On startup and running through any process, the fan kicks on and stays on pretty regularly. This is while the CPU is maintaining a temp around 32 degrees Celsius, and definitely keeps cranking with the modeling or CPU intensive rendering that pushes it above 70 degrees Celsius.
If you’re looking for a mobile workstation that doesn’t require overdeveloped lower back muscles to carry around, you’ve likely come across the HP ZBook line. The ZBook 17 G3 is a powerhouse that straddles the line on mobility, but its 15 G3 little brother makes up all the difference with a more mobile weight and all the features professionals need. The design is fabulous. The latest CPU, GPU, plenty of space to expand memory and the inclusion of the new Thunderbolt port makes the Zbook 15 G3 ready for the long haul and the next-generation of high-speed storage devices. On this configuration I’d spring for the UHD resolution, keep the storage and purchase a Thunderbolt 3 external drive. The fan noise is unfortunate, but a small cost for the power you get, yet I hope to see it improved in the ZBook G4 models.
I’ve been on the lookout for smaller, mobile workstations with better battery life and more capabilities. Though a 17″ screen is nice to have, the higher resolution possible with the 15″ model, coupled with the features and battery life, makes this small workstation a more attractive option for my needs. Features and mobility. The HP G3 15 has all that going for it, plus the power to keep you rollin’.