Setting up stable computing power on a mini desktop computer is not easy. Why? Desktop processors, GPUs, and other components support large fans and heat sinks that simply don’t fit into a small square case like the HP Z2 Mini G4. However, HP has managed to combine the Intel Xeon processor and the Nvidia Quadro GPU with this compact and elegant blackboard. These components define the Z2 Mini G4 as a reliable workplace for architects, hedge funds, research laboratories and other potential customers who need access to large amounts of extremely stable computing power. Add an inexpensive desktop workstation (from $799; $2,149 review unit) to get a computer that outperforms and wins the Editors’ Choice award. The HP Z2 Mini G4 is a mini desktop computer with a much larger workstation with Xeon processor options and ISV certifications.
- Small footprint.
- Good Xeon multicore computing performance.
- ISV certifications.
- Comparatively economical for a desktop workstation.
- Large external power brick.
The Z2 Mini family has been around for a while. The model reviewed here, delivered in July, is the fourth generation. This means that HP’s designers have already agreed on a shape factor and physical design that will remain largely unchanged compared to the Z2 Mini G3. Here, they focused on installing more powerful components and better connectivity options. However, they do not have much space to work. The Z2 Mini G4 is only a quarter larger than the traditional SFF (small form factor) table. It measures 2.28 x 8.5 x 8.5 inches (HWD) and weighs only 4.5 pounds.
This is approximately the size of the Zotac ZBox Magnus EK71080 (5.04 x 8.86 x 7.99 inches) recently tested by one of my colleagues. It contains equally effective components but is considerably shorter.
Less vertical space means less air circulation and HP cannot avoid this physical law. The use of four vents, one at each corner of the box, allows hot air to enter more easily. These vents have been redesigned for the fourth generation, which is one of the few physical changes in the family chassis.
The situation of non-ideal energy supply is one of the design features that remain constant. Like other small desktops, the Z2 Mini G4 requires you to connect a large external power supply, which in this case is almost as wide as the computer itself. One of the most iconic small desktops, the Apple Store, priced at $ 499 on the Apple Store, is not only a built-in power source but also thinner than the Z2 Mini G4 (1.4 x 7.7 x 7.7 inches). Of course, the Mac Mini, last updated in 2014 with a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, is not as powerful as the Z2 Mini G4.
The Z2 Mini G4 has a wide range of ports, although it lacks some important options. At the top of the page, you will see two USB 3.0 ports, one of which supports the fast charging of connected devices. It also comes with a USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm audio input.
At the back of the review unit, there are at least three DisplayPort 1.2 outputs for connecting the latest external displays as well as a second USB Type-C connection, two further USB 3.0 connections, a power connection, a Gigabit Ethernet connection and a series connection for easy connection to older devices. The Z2 Mini G4 supports up to six monitors: monitors that are directly connected to the DisplayPort outputs and additional chain connection monitors. This makes it an excellent choice for a real estate agency, architecture studio, or surveillance station for video surveillance. However, be aware that if you choose a base HP model in this row, you’ll lose one of the DisplayPort ports and the USB Type-C port on the back.
The Thunderbolt 3 connector is clearly visible in the connection options of this test device. However, you can configure your Z2 Mini G4 with an important update related to last year’s model. In addition to the Thunderbolt 3 connection, the new flexible I/O slot can be adapted to another Gigabit Ethernet connection of your choice, an HDMI output or even legacy options such as the VGA connection or the serial connection of our device. Although this flexible I/O hole remains empty during the ordering process, the lack of Thunderbolt 3 is not as critical as it could be. This is because one of the biggest requirements for Thunderbolt 3 is the chain display and other peripherals, and the Z2 Mini G4 already has up to six screens via DisplayPort connections. Perhaps the only potential customers who need support for Thunderbolt 3 are those who want to add an ultra-fast Thunderbolt 3 workstation or laptop to their internal storage. Too much for a cable connection. As for the wireless network, the optional wireless card installed in the device under test offers Bluetooth 4.2 and Wi-Fi 802.11ac.
Defining a True Workstation: ISV Certifications and More
If you are an architect who is interested in the Z2 Mini G4 as a platform for CAD software, you will be pleased to see that it includes certifications for over 20 applications including AutoCAD, Solidworks, and Revit. This ISV (Independent Software Vendor) certification is a major advantage that distinguishes PC workstations with extremely high performance. Another important difference is the Error-correcting Code (ECC) memory support, which is also compatible with the Z2 Mini G4 and is required for many software tools for financial modeling and laboratory analysis. This workstation has a number of enterprise-class security features, including TPM (Trusted Platform Module) and secure startup encryption settings. HP also offers a generous three-year warranty, including on-site service. The company also expressly states that “24/7 operation” does not invalidate HP’s warranty. You can use these funding models at 3:00 am if necessary.
HP has provided an uncomfortable and economical plastic keyboard and mouse for the Z2 Mini G4. However, you can order one without any peripherals and bring your own mechanical keyboards (almost certainly much nicer) and the mouse of your choice.
The tested Z2 Mini G4 is equipped with an Intel Xeon E-2176G processor with six impressive cores, 12 threads and a base clock speed of 3.7 GHz. It is equivalent to other Hexa-core processors from Intel’s eighth-generation Core lineup but since it’s a member of the Xeon family, it offers additional business features like the aforementioned ECC memory support that a consumer-class Core i7 or even a Core i9 may not offer.
The story is more or less the same with the discrete graphics card Nvidia Quadro P1000 with 4 GB dedicated graphics memory. The performance is comparable to the high-end models of GeForce GTX, an enterprise-oriented gaming platform. However, instead of squeezing every single game frame, GPU accelerated performance is used for applications that need it, such as 3D rendering tools or CAD software. If you add 32 GB of memory and combined storage configurations that consist of a 256 GB SSD and a 1 TB hard drive, you’ll see a really serious device. Compared to other comparable compact desktop computers like the Zotac ZBox Magnus EK71080 and the MSI Vortex G25VR, the Z2 Mini G4 offers remarkable performance with advanced features such as video exporting and 3D rendering.
Perhaps the best measure of this is the Cinebench R15 rendering benchmark, which uses all processor cores and threads. The value of the Z2 Mini G4 (1,345) was significantly higher than that of the Zotac (734), although only a few hundred points higher than that of the MSI (1,178). The latest system has the Core i7, which also contains six cores and 12 threads. The Z2 Mini G4 was faster than both systems and the Dell Precision 5720 All-in-One workstation, adding filters in Photoshop (2 minutes and 22 seconds) and exported short HD videos to a smartphone-friendly format with Handbrake (36 seconds). It also won all other Cinebench test systems. The performance differences between HP and Dell in these tests are particularly significant because they show the number of other cores and threads. (Dell has a four-core, eight-thread Xeon processor).
In terms of graphics performance, however, MSI and Zotac have beaten the Z2 Mini G4 by a huge difference, both on Heaven and Valley frame rate benchmark and 3DMark tests, which highlights an established performance score. In terms of gaming performance, Quadro strives to reach the 30 fps threshold that we consider to be the minimum for a smooth game, at least if it increases the level of detail, as we did in the Sky and Valley tests at Ultra. Thanks to the available graphics from the GeForce GTX 1000 series, both MSI and Zotac achieved more than 100 frames per second in these tests. Even Dell did better with the AMD Radeon Pro WX 7100 desktop GPU. If you’re mainly using CPU-intensive applications and rely primarily on the Quadro GPU to achieve consistent video output on half a dozen screens, these lower frame rates shouldn’t be a problem.
While the Z2 Mini G4 is extremely powerful compared to small peer-to-peer processor-intensive tasks at a comparable price, it doesn’t replace a full-size desktop. Check out powerful workstations like the Apple iMac Pro for $4,599.00, which are much more expensive ($ 5,000 is a general price for them) and configured with more powerful Xeon W processors with up to 18 cores. You can find out what difference these dollars and additional cores make in our performance test of the POV-Ray workstation. The Z2 Mini G4 completed all cores in a POV-Ray 3.7 comparison in 105 seconds, compared to only 61 seconds for the Dell Precision 5820 a Dell tower with a 10-core Xeon processor at 5567 USD. In the same benchmark, the Precision 5820 achieved 4,107 pixels per second (PPS) compared to 2,481 pixels stored in the Z2 Mini G4.
As a mini desktop PC with a Xeon processor and all the other features of a workstation, the HP Z2 Mini G4 is a rare piece of tech. Compact workstations are less common. The closest option is probably an all-in-one workstation, such as the Dell Precision 5720 or Apple iMac Pro, but our high-end configuration is also a much cheaper solution than any of these machines. This is still the case given the cost of a medium display. You’ll also get good connectivity, a generous warranty and stylish metal design that makes the Z2 Mini G4 even more attractive on paper and on your desk. The only major drawback is that this small PC simply does not have enough space to provide the components of a truly full-size desktop client such as the Dell Precision 5820. Many of them (compared to most consumer goods), your budget and the available desk space will thank you for choosing the Z2 Mini G4.