HP Z6 Workstation
★★★☆☆ £8,649 • From store.hp.com
Dual CPUs give the Z6 incredible power, but you’d have to be rich or mad to buy it
IT MAY LOOK sober and sensible on the outside, but the Z6 Workstation is hiding a big secret: dual 14-core Intel Xeon processors, which alongside 96GB of DDR4 memory delivers a level of performance that makes Intel Core and AMD Ryzen-powered ‘workstations’ look like toasters.
Just look at its scores in our 4K benchmarks: 474 in the video-encoding test and 595 in the multitasking test, both record-setters, as is its overall score of 479. Its image test score of 144 is the lone humdrum result, though not a terribly surprising one: it relies primarily on single-core strength, and while you do have a total of 28 cores from the two Xeon Gold 6132 CPUs, each one runs at a modest 2.6GHz. Still, for anything multithreaded – which, these days, is almost any application that might actually challenge your PC – the Z6 Workstation is phenomenally adept.
You also get an Nvidia Quadro P4000 GPU, which provides hardware acceleration for better performance in many design programs, such as the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. Unlike many of Nvidia’s older professional-grade graphics cards, it’s also not bad for a spot of off-duty gaming; on maxed-out settings and 1,920x1,080 resolution, the Z6 scored smooth frame rates of 83fps in Dirt Showdown and 60fps in Metro: Last Light Redux.
To fit the dual CPU setup into a reasonably sized mid-tower case, rather than a hefty dual-chamber chassis, HP uses a smaller, horizontally oriented circuit board connected to the main motherboard like an expansion card. The processors and RAM slots – 12 in total – are split evenly between the two boards, and while this necessitates things such as large plastic supporting brackets and rather small CPU coolers, there is a definite sense that the whole thing has been made more compact than it could have been with an inferior design.
Even so, there’s still easy access to the actual expansion card slots, with a nicely varied mix of two PCI-E x16 slots (one of which is occupied by the Quadro P4000), one PCI-E x8 slot and three PCI-E x4 slots.
However, this is also where upgradability grinds to a halt. That’s not an issue for, say, the RAM, where we’re perfectly happy to have all 12 slots filled already, but it’s unusual at the very least for a workstation to have only two trays for 3.5in or 2.5in drives, and stranger still for them to be filled with merely a SATA-based SSD and a mechanical hard disk. This seems especially true when the system costs the best part of £9,000.
Indeed, the one thing that manages to overshadow dual CPUs is the amount you have to pay to get them. To be fair, you can customise the Z6’s specs before you buy, and basic configurations start at a much more accessible £1,700, but for the horsepower on display here, it’s several multiples of that. And that, unfortunately, demands a raising of standards that leaves several of the Z6’s other components looking altogether less impressive.
Take those storage drives: a 500GB SSD and a 1TB hard disk would be a great combination on, say, a £1,000 gaming PC, but on a top-end workstation it’s thoroughly mediocre. The lack of a second hard disk in RAID is a particular drawback for photo and video editing, where saving backups is essential.
Physical connectivity is mixed, too. Having four Ethernet ports at the back and two USB Type-C connectors at the front is nice, but that’s with just a middling eight full-size USB3 ports in total (six at the back, two at the front). There’s not much in the audio department, either, with basic line in and line out 3.5mm jacks but no optical outputs or surround-sound speaker jacks. The inclusion of a DVD-RW drive but not a Blu-ray drive is also a weirdly stingy decision, given the price.
The built-in speaker, which pipes sound out through the top of the front panel, resembles something from a budget PC. It can’t go very loud, but still manages to sound distorted when you crank up the volume; it’s so bad that dialogue in films can sound, literally, phoned in.
In the end, as frequently great as the Z6 Workstation is from a technical standpoint, it’s not something you should seriously consider buying. The Chillblast Fusion Photo OC VIII (Shopper 358) scored 322 overall in our benchmarks, much lower than the HP system, but it did so while costing a comparatively affordable £2,250 – and that performance is still more than good enough for high-level CAD work. Even if you upgrade the Fusion Photo OC VIII to a Core i9-7980XE and 128GB of RAM, closing the gap even more, it would still be more affordable at £4,880.