HP's Z2 Mini is a tiny workstation

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/11/15/hps-z2-mini-is-a-tiny-workst.html


Interesting. I don’t have a use case for “Needs Workstation Class power” and “Doesn’t have the space needed for a full tower” but I’m sure there are some places that do.


I’m a motion gfx and 3d animation designer, need and want workstation power, and have a very small home office. I have an ageing Mac Pro Tower that needs to be replaced. Smaller is better. The Mac trashcan workstation is nice, but if this is indeed as or more powerful, and costs about the same, then it wins on form factor. Well, almost… MacOS is still way more civilized to use than Winblows. But I’m teetering on the edge of going off the reservation for my next big hardware purchase, what with how underwhelming Apple’s actual “pro” computer offerings are these days. Sadface emoji.


base model gets you an i3 w/ embedded graphics. If you want a Xeon E3-1200v5 (4 cores, Greenlow architecture, released in 2015 ) and a nVidia m620 (2 gb ram, possibly on the order of 384 CUDA cores) it’ll cost you.

Is this more powerful than a mac mini? Yes. Is this on par with a mac pro? Quite possibly not.


HP is such a hot mess.

You do not offer a “workstation” with an i3 and integrated graphics.

If you want to offer that spec, brand it an EliteDesk…don’t waterdown you workstations


I certainly don’t disagree that HP couldn’t execute a consistent branding strategy if one were already standing at the gallows with a noose on it; but from the perspective of the IT flunky, I can see a possible redeeming feature here:

If(I haven’t been able to verify this; but assuming they didn’t screw it up like total morons), they can offer single-image driver consistency(aside from Nvidia or not; but NIC/BT/sound/etc. all identical across the line); that would make it somewhat more attractive as a model to order for an entire deployment; without being too severely crippled on the high end; or too overpriced on the low.

Not a heroic improvement over just ordering from two or more different model lines; but visual consistency doesn’t hurt; and if everything except ‘install Nvidia drivers, Y/N’ is identical, supporting it will be easier.


“It’ll cost you”

Sure. Mac Pro entry level is $3K.


As the “One Who Decides” in my little Corporate world, driver packages will make or break a selection.

I do like HP’s “generational” driver packs, but it was too little too late.


I really don’t understand the idea of putting a workstation in a non-upgradable, non-expandable small-form-factor case. I find the need of external peripherals (with their separated power sources) wasteful and annoying. And the excess of cables a mess. Fortunately (unlike Apple) they have more affordable, upgradable and expandable midtowers with similar specifications.


Regarding the comparison to a Mac Pro, it’s unclear what this Z2 Mini’s top processor would be, but it would have to be quad core. You don’t usually compare workstations on single-core speed. So, if what you want is workstation computing–lots of cores, lots of 3D / GPGPU performance–in a small package, then the Mac Pro is really the only such design of the last few years, as far as I know. The mechanism they figured out to use a single heatsink and fan is unique.

I’ve recently built a PC that outperforms a top Mac Pro. It saved a lot of money, but that wasn’t easy as it required that I include multiple, unusually powerful fans for the case and CPU, and the damn thing is just large and atrociously loud. If you do a little bit better job than I did, then you get something like the HP Z840. That is a workstation. The prices on the various configurations are just as outrageous as Apple’s Mac Pro pricing, though. Although you have to keep in mind, newly-made PC workstations are now 2 Xeon versions more current than 2nd gen MP (Xeon v4 vs. v2), which came out in 2013.


It lightly blows my mind when people do these long spec comparisons and include “runs Windows instead of MacOS” as one of the bullet points. If whether something is a Mac is one of your criteria, then it’s the only criterion. If there’s a scenario where you’d buy a Windows PC to save money, then you’d never buy a Mac, and if you want a Mac, putting a 64-core PC in a Fabergé case won’t make Windows any different.


with the edge case for Hackintosh…but dear FSM that is a bother to keep running


I have a use case:

Exhibiting software at events. I need high-end hardware to show off demanding software. Need both a good CPU and a high-end (consumer-level) GPU. I don’t care what the computer looks like (as it’ll be hidden inside a stand), but smaller is better, because I’ll be needing to cart the thing around from one event to another. And for that matter, if I can just pop it into my bag at the end of the day rather than needing to leave it on-site overnight (for multi-day events), that’d be fantastic for my ease of mind. There’s no end of stories of hardware going missing, between days of multi-day events.

Also, I don’t care whether the machine runs Windows or OSX (or Linux, for that matter); the software I exhibit runs on anything. The size and weight and power of the exhibition machine are really all I care about.

The speculation in the linked Engadget article makes it look like even in its highest configuration, this particular computer doesn’t have the graphical oomph that I need, so it’s not a contender. Will continue to keep my eyes open, though.


Another use case: kiosks.

And personally I’d think these would be great for office desktops. Getting rid of the tower is a good thing for everyone, and having a bit of performance to spare isn’t going to hurt, especially when the price is pretty comparable to cheaper machines when you factor in that they’re likely to live through a few more software upgrade cycles than their cheaper alternatives.

They are typically sold barebones; but back in the day, all the cool LAN Party kids had Shuttle PCs. Looks like they still make them much as they used to.

Not an absolute joy to carry(~33cm long, 22cm wide, 20 high, you’ll want a bag); but pretty much the smallest thing that will take your choice of CPU and GPU(Including full height double width cards; constrained mostly by the PSU). If you need a bit more storage, the SZ170R8 V2 somehow crams 4 3.5in HDD bays into a similarly sized package.

There are some gamer-oriented design choices(not so much with Xeon and ECC support; more use of Realtek NICs than my snobbery prefers); but the design is unobtrusive enough, and it will work with all but the most power hungry CPU and GPU options.

Worth a look if you need some mobile punch.

At events, there’s basically never a wired network available, so NICs don’t matter much for show PCs. (Also, wireless network access at event sites is typically so expensive and so awful that it’s simply not worth the expense to sign up for it; so no wifi required, either!)

I’ll definitely take a look. Thanks for the recommendation!

If you’re interested in building your own, here’s a nice example of what you can do with Mini-ITX: https://pcpartpicker.com/b/kpd6Mp

And if that’s not enough CPU power for you, there’s a really interesting Asrock motherboard in this form factor called the X99E-ITX, which would allow you to use a Xeon or the Broadwell-E series.

why is that?

Sorry that was vague. Its a good thing for everyone concerned about space, which lots of people in offices are. Have a look at your bank teller’s computer next time you’re in that situation for example, they use small form factor boxes like these. I understand the tradeoff of being less upgradable, but with the exception of repairing broken power supplies most people in office situations don’t do a lot of upgrading anyway. And there’s no reason these couldn’t have swappable power supplies, like the old Shuttles for example.

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