The HP Z2 Mini G3 ($714.00 start, $1,698 as tested) is the latest version of HP’s small wonder, the ultrasmall workstation PC. While it’s still something of a curiosity, it may not stay that way for long. As systems get smaller, we’ve seen an ever wider collection of PCs gathering under the mini PC umbrella, as manufacturers apply the components and design lessons learned from laptops to pack more powerful capabilities into smaller desktop designs. For the time being, however, the HP Z2 Mini is a rarity, cramming workstation-level components and ISV-certified graphics into a desktop PC that’s surprisingly small.
The Z2 Mini lives up to its name, measuring just 8.5 x 8.5 x 2.3 inches and weighing 4.6 pounds. That’s bigger than other ultrasmall desktops, like the Asus VivoPC (7.5 x 7.5 x 2.2 inches, 2.6 pounds) or theAlienware Alpha R2 (7.9 x 7.9 x 2.2 inches, 3.4 pounds), but it boasts some beefier components and a chunky design that includes corner-mounted cooling vents. Each vent is protected with a bumper-like bar that ensures you can stick the small workstation into a corner without impeding airflow. On the back of the chassis is a Kensington lock, for physically securing the book-size workstation, and a clip to help manage the system’s power cable.
Unlike the modular HP Elite Slice, the Z2 Mini is upgraded in much the same way as any other desktop tower is: by opening it up and installing the components. A removable lid lets you access the internal components, and a tool-free design lets you open up the machine with a sliding latch on the back of the chassis. You can access the 2.5-inch drive bay right away, and getting to the system’s two SODIMM slots for memory upgrades requires flipping up the CPU cooling fan — no screwdriver required.
Most of the Z2 Mini’s ports are found on the back of the chassis, where you’ll also find four full-size DisplayPorts, a VGA output, two standard USB ports (one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0), two USB Type-C ports and an RJ45 port for Gigabit Ethernet. Thanks to the Nvidia graphics card within this machine, those four DisplayPorts and two USB-C ports can drive six displays simultaneously. It’s worth noting, however, that the USB-C 3.1 ports do not support Thunderbolt 3, and without those faster throughput speeds you won’t get the full benefit of Thunderbolt-based external storage or graphics hardware.
On the side of the chassis, you’ll find an audio jack and two additional USB 3.0 ports, one of which has power for charging smartphones and other gadgets. Internally, the Z2 Mini has dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless connectivity. The built-in 2 x 2 wireless array doesn’t require connecting an external antenna, keeping the clean lines of the square chassis undisturbed.
Equipped with an Intel Core i7-6700, 32GB of RAM and Nvidia Quadro M620 graphics, the Z2 Mini easily handles workloads that other mini PCs struggle with.
While other mini PCs, like the Asus VivoPC and Alienware Alpha R2, offer S/PDIF connections and HDMI for integration into home entertainment systems, the Z2 Mini is all business. If you want to connect to a sound system or HDTV, you’ll need to look into finding an adapter to offer TV-friendly connections.
Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
Packaged with the Z2 Mini is a power adapter, wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. The included keyboard is decent for a bundled accessory and shares a wireless dongle with the mouse. The keys have a comfortable 1.6 millimeters of vertical travel and a silicone membrane-switch design, but no backlighting. In the 10FastFingers.com typing test, I hit 70 words per minute, slightly behind my usual 80 wpm and with more errors than usual. The included mouse is a basic optical mouse with a ratcheting scroll wheel. Both keyboard and mouse use batteries, two AAA batteries for the keyboard and two AA batteries for the mouse.
Our review configuration was a made-to-order system, equipped with an Intel Core i7-6700, 32GB of RAM and Nvidia Quadro M620 graphics. Our system came with a 256GB Z Turbo M.2 SSD with Windows 10 Pro installed and a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive for storage. This hardware drives home that mini PCs are a form factor more than they are a category unto themselves.
As a compact workstation, the Z2 Mini easily handles workloads that other mini PCs struggle with, providing professional computing that rivals that of console-replacement gaming systems, like the Alienware Alpha R2. Even when I was testing the system with 20 browser tabs open and streaming full-HD video from YouTube, the Z2 Mini didn’t miss a beat.
In general-performance tests, the Z2 Mini is a rock star. It scored 15,857 in Geekbench 3, blowing past underpowered systems like the Asus VivoPC (8,522, Intel Celeron 2957U), but also topping more capable systems, like the HP Elite Slice (14,245, Intel Core i7-6700T) and the gaming-oriented Alienware Alpha R2 (14,865, Intel Core i7-6700T).
In our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test, the system paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes 30 seconds. That’s far better than times from the Asus VivoPC (9:48) and HP Elite Slice (4:05), but it’s neck-and-neck with the Alienware Alpha R2’s showing (3:31).
The Z2 Mini was quick to finish our file-transfer test, copying a 4.97GB file in 50 seconds at a rate of 101 MBps. That edges ahead of the HP Elite Slice’s result (96 MBps) and blows past those from the Alienware Alpha R2 (46.5 MBps) and Asus VivoPC (20 MBps).
Outfitted with Nvidia Quadro M620 graphics and 2GB of dedicated video memory, the Z2 Mini is well-equipped for uses like rendering objects in CAD. On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic graphics test, the Z2 Mini scored 126,890. That’s significantly better than the HP Elite Slice (81,930) and Asus VivoPC (22,597).
As a workstation, the Z2 Mini is certified to work with a variety of mission-critical programs, from vendors like Autodesk, Avid, Siemens, Solidworks and Vectorworks.
And while the Z2 Mini isn’t built for gaming prowess, it still has some serious chops, plowing through Dirt 3 with 104 frames per second at 1080p, and delivering playable frame rates (30 fps) at 4K resolution. By comparison, the HP Elite Slice managed only 30 fps at 1080p using integrated graphics. The Z2 Mini’s graphics power will translate into better rendering and faster media work.
The Z2 Mini G3 comes standard with Windows 10 Pro, but Windows 7 and Linux are also available upon order. Our review unit came preinstalled with HP Touchpoint (an IT management tool) and HP Remote Graphics Software (a remote desktop tool).
As a workstation, the Z2 Mini is certified to work with a variety of mission-critical programs, from vendors like Autodesk, Avid, Siemens, Solidworks and Vectorworks. If you’re a designer working in AutoCAD, a media creator working with photo and video, or anyone using the many financial analysis, weather tracking, or geospatial mapping tools certified for the workstation, you should be well supported.
The starting model of the Z2 Mini scales things way back, with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, a lone 1TB HDD for storage and integrated graphics. The base model also has a different I/O panel, with only three DisplayPorts and zero USB-C ports.
Our review unit was a custom configuration that sells for $1,698 and is outfitted with an Intel Core i7-6700, 32GB of RAM and Nvidia Quadro M620 graphics along with a 256GB Z Turbo M.2 SSD and 1TB 7,200rpm HDD.
That’s not the top configuration, however, as you can equip the Z2 Mini with a larger SSD ($499 for 512GB, $779 for 1TB), 32GB of ECC unbuffered memory (an additional $200), and up to an Intel Xeon E3-1200 v5 or v6 processor (price varies by CPU model). All told, you can configure the system up to $3,249.
Bring Your Own Monitor
As with most desktop PCs, you’ll need to provide your own monitor, but HP does offer an optional mounting bracket ($27, part number N6N00AT) that lets you hide the compact workstation behind a monitor, and another VESA-compatible sleeve ($45, part number Y7B61AT) for mounting the workstation behind a monitor or under a desk. This sleeve also doubles as a security device, both physically securing the PC and offering a way to block port access with removable panels to physically block ports as needed.
The HP Z2 Mini G3 is the first mini PC we’ve seen that pushes the capability envelope into workstation territory, thanks to its powerful processing, ISV-certified Nvidia Quadro graphics, and combination of spacious and speedy storage. If you need basic workstation-class performance for uses like CAD or financial analysis, the Z2 Mini packs that power into a surprisingly small package that’s well worth the price.
However, if you’re merely intrigued by the idea of a tiny desktop PC for the office, consider the compact HP Elite Slice, which offers more than enough productivity while also offering a customizable modular design. Or if you want the power for less professional pursuits, consider the Alienware Alpha R2, which boasts all of the muscle, but in a package built for PC gaming. As far as mini workstations go, though, the Z2 Mini G3 can’t be beat.