HP ZBook Studio G3 review: Meet the world’s fastest laptop

£2520
Price when reviewed

Ask what my dream laptop would be and you know what my answer would be? I already have one. It’s the Apple MacBook Pro 13in – the ultimate combination of power, portability, battery life and design. But I must say I do sometimes hanker after more: more storage, more raw power and more screen size, which is why when HP got in contact to offer me its new ZBook Studio G3 Mobile Workstation for review, I went more than a little weak at the knees.

This is a 15in laptop with serious poke. Just take a look at the raw specifications and tell me it doesn’t make you dribble just a little. It has a 2.8GHz quad-core mobile Xeon processor with Hyper-Threading, 32GB of RAM (and no, that isn’t a typo), a 512GB PCIe-based NVMe SSD, and Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics driving a 15in, 3,840 x 2,160 HP DreamColor display. If that doesn’t get you excited, then you’re in the wrong place.

If, on the other hand, that little taster has set your credit card reflexes twitching already, read on, because on paper the HP Zbook Studio G3 is set to take the fight for the ultimate 15in laptop right to the Dell XPS 15.

Design and connectivity

Given such a specification you might forgive HP for neglecting the design side of things. After all, for something this powerful, who needs it to look nice? Thankfully, the ZBook Studio looks as good in the flesh as its specifications do. From its dimpled, aluminium-clad lid to its glass-topped touchpad, gleaming chamfered edges and honeycomb-vented underside, the Studio G3 is a joy to behold.

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It’s also pretty comfortable to use. The keyboard is flanked by upwards-firing, Bang & Olufsen stereo speakers and a numeric pad to the right, and has a key action that’s light to the touch and has just the right amount of travel and feedback. The smooth, frosted-finish touchpad is large and responsive, and while I’m not generally a fan of integrated buttons, I have to admit these ones are pretty darned good, with a solid, positive click. I’m almost sold.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the entire design, however, is how much power has been squeezed into so little space. Indeed, the HP ZBook Studio G3 is closer in weight and slenderness to an Ultrabook than to your average lumpen workstation laptop. You still won’t want to lug it around all day – after all, it’s still a 15in laptop that weighs 2.1kg – but compared with most laptops in its class, it’s positively limber. Moreover, at 21mm thick it’s surprisingly slender as well, although it isn’t quite as lissome as the gorgeous Dell XPS 15, which comes in at 17mm.

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Despite its compact size, though, you’ll still find plenty of ports and sockets arranged around the edges. On the left are one Gigabit Ethernet and two USB 3 ports plus an SD card slot. On the right edge are two Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C ports, alongside one HDMI output, another USB 3 port and a 3.5mm audio jack. Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, stretches to 2×2 stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.

Performance and battery life

It’s all very lovely, but the true appeal of the ZBook lies beneath its attractive aluminium shell. The beating heart of this beast of a laptop is its mobile Xeon processor – a new range of CPUs from Intel, introduced for the first time last summer. This is the first time I’ve seen one in a laptop, but before you get too excited, it’s important to realise that this isn’t, in fact, a true Xeon, the likes of which you’ll find in desktop workstations. Instead, it’s a beefed up version of Intel’s consumer-grade Skylake chips.

In this case, we have a 14nm quad-core, Hyper-Threaded 2.8GHz Xeon E3-1505M v5 that will Turbo Boost up to a maximum frequency of 3.7GHz. HP has installed a huge 32GB of RAM to go with it, and a dual graphics setup encompassing Intel’s integrated HD Graphics P530 and Nvidia’s Quadro M1000M for heavy-duty CAD/CAM and industrial design work.

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Performance-wise, this is quite the package. In Alphr’s laptop benchmarks, which runs a series of heavy-duty image-conversion, 4K video-encoding and multitasking tests, the ZBook achieved a score of 120, which makes it the fastest laptop we’ve ever seen. It’s faster even than the Dell XPS 15, which hit 111.

Even more importantly for a machine that’s likely to be dealing with heavy duty apps and big files, the storage subsystem is incredibly quick. HP has endowed the ZBook with one of its Z Turbo drives – a PCIe-based NVMe drive with 512GB of capacity and speeds fast enough to embarrass many a desktop PC.

Tested with CrystalDiskMark, it hit sequential read and write speeds in excess of 2GB/sec and 1.5GB/sec respectively, which is nothing short of astonishing. Whether you’re launching apps, loading large video files into your timeline or rendering big video projects straight to disk, this laptop will be able to keep up – and then some.

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With such an assemblage of high-end hardware on board, you might expect battery life to suffer, and so it does, but perhaps not as much as you might think. In our looping video-playback test, in which we calibrate the screen to a brightness of 170cd/m2 and put the laptop in flight mode, the ZBook Studio G3 lasted 5hrs 25mins. That’s quite good for a laptop of this size and power.

It’s only an hour and a half short of the 2015 MacBook, and will deliver you around half a day of light use if you’re careful with it. Bear in mind, though, that as soon as you start pushing the processor, the battery life will drop significantly, and it’s quite easy to get carried away.

Display and audio

The 15.6in screen is pretty good, too. It’s a wide-gamut, non-touchscreen, high-DPI display with a matte finish. At first glance it looks sharp, colourful and punchy in all the right ways.

Under the beady eye of our X-Rite colorimeter, the contrast ratio hit a high 1,212:1 ensuring punchy images and an inky black level, while the panel’s sRGB coverage of 99.2% is highly impressive.

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Colour accuracy, however, isn’t quite up to same level, falling behind its main rival the Dell XPS by quite a long way, with a Delta E figure of 2.96. Meanwhile, maximum brightness reaches only 259cd/m2, a long way short of the Dell XPS 15’s 363cd/m2. As long as you don’t venture outdoors with it, though, that won’t be too much of a problem.

I was considerably less taken with the speakers. Although Bang & Olufsen-branded, they’re nothing particularly special. They’re very clear and present music with plenty of atmosphere, but there’s not much warmth or body to the sound, and there’s precious little bass.

Prices and verdict

The HP ZBook Studio G3 is a beast of a 15in laptop, and has a price to match. Our review sample will set you or your business back an eye-watering £2,520 inc VAT, and while it is possible to cut the specification down, the cheapest model still costs £1,572.

Still, for that you’re getting a hugely impressive machine that’s ISV-certified and ready for serious work. The monstrous specification of our review sample delivers faster performance than any other laptop we’ve tested, and it’s all squeezed into a chassis that’s slimmer and lighter than you could possibly wish for.

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Is it worth the money? If you need a portable ISV-certified notebook, certainly. No workstation laptop we’ve tested combines a chassis this slim and light with performance this fast. It stands at the pinnacle of workstation laptop design, with only the Dell Precision M3800 for (distant) company, a slender workstation laptop that can currently only be specified with a Haswell Intel Core i7.

However, if you’re after a powerful laptop with a large screen in a relatively compact package, and ISV certification doesn’t matter to you, there are better options available,  notably the Dell XPS 15.

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