Good Things Come in Small Packages: HP Z2 Mini CAD Workstation Unveiled At Autodesk University
Andrew Wheeler posted on November 15, 2016 |

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of visiting HPhew’s R & D labs in Fort Collins, Colorado. Arriving at the beautiful campus and breathing in the oxygen-depleted (elevation 5,000 ft) air left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling of excitement.

After all, it was basically a private tour and master class in product development and marketing. Not only that, but it was also a chance to see how a world-class organization with a storied engineering legacy performs product development up close. And of course, the product design process is constrained by straitjackets of extraordinarily high design, engineering and quality assurance standards.

After touring through the gallery and seeing the variety of workstations, laptops and other devices, a group of about five people sat in a conference room and were treated to a world-class unveiling of a phenomenal and affordable new workstation from HP. I was fortunate to sit through this practice run of the energetic HP team’s unveiling of the HP Z2 Mini because I knew immediately afterward that this would be a hit for the team. I was glad to see such a diverse team excited that the product which it had worked for years developing and perfecting was about to be released to the public.

The HP Z2 Mini is ready to blow some minds. Image courtesy of HP.)
The HP Z2 Mini is ready to blow some minds.

Officially unveiled at Autodesk University on Nov. 15, the HP Z2 Mini is a marvel of design and engineering. The first thing that struck me was its size. This workstation is incredibly small. It was revealed as the last and smallest of “Russian doll” PC shells and the second characteristic that came across instantaneously was the beauty and simplicity of its industrial design.

The
The "Russian doll" reveal was particularly effective in demonstrating the HP Z2 Mini diminutive stature. My first reaction was, "holy shit!"
 To give you some context, its closest relative is the HP Z240 SFF.  But the HP Z2 Mini Workstation has evolved intensely from its predecessor. The company claims that it packs twice the punch of any commercial mini PC available today. For example, I watched it support six displays for traders in finance industries literally right out of the box and believe me, I was incredulous.

The HP Z2 Mini runs Windows 10 Pro or Linux, its CPUs are the next-generation Xeon processors, NVIDIA GPUs and you can add an HP Z Turbo Drive to help handle huge and complex files. This was designed for millions of CAD users who are looking for smaller hardware that doesn’t have noisy acoustics, is very customizable and has the horsepower to run demanding CAD applications.

 

What’s It Cost?

The HP Z2 Mini starts at $700. For budget-conscious CAD users, this is definitely a bonus. But what kind of horsepower do you get for that starting price?

 

HP Z2 Mini Workstation is 8.5 in long by about 2.25 in wide.
HP Z2 Mini Workstation is 8.5 in long by about 2.25 in wide. Flip up the fan like the hood of a vehicle and add and replace DDRM RAM.

Breaking Down Design Decisions

1)    Space

According to research performed by HP, the amount of available space on the average CAD designer’s work desk has decreased by 60 percent over the last 10 years. This isn’t a small number of people either. If you measured your average total desk space, reduced it by 60 percent and multiplied it by five million (the number of designers worldwide), that’s quite a total diminished area.

2)    Noise

Designers want their workstations to be as quiet as possible. I sat in a quiet room at HP’s Fort Collins facility and put my ear up to the workstation while it was running six different graphics-intensive displays and I could not hear a thing. I really couldn’t tell if I was just hearing my inner ear forming an acoustic shape with the sleek black plastic side. Stealth is the word that comes to mind.

3)    Flexible Mounting

Desktop workstations often find their way underneath a desk where they are subject to collecting dust, being kicked on occasion, reducing precious foot room, and perhaps even amplifying noise produced by graphics-heavy workloads by creating an acoustic cabinet within a metal or wooden desk.

Remote power-on: The HP Z2 Mini is meant to be mounted almost anywhere. You can mount it on the back of your display, on the side of a desk, or even on the outside area or underside of a conference room table. Because it is designed to be mounted out of the way, it is also designed to be powered on and off remotely with one click of your mouse or keyboard. This way, you don’t have to jerk your neck like a goon to reach around and turn it on wherever you decide to mount it.


4)    Airflow Design

Since a guiding design principle for a mini is doing more with less, the airflow design had to be meticulously calculated in order stay as far inside the design parameter of “totally noiseless” as possible. The custom designed fan yielded an acoustics experience that is 63 percent quieter than a business-class HP Mini.

Hardware Specs:

CPU

Intel Xeon E3-1200v5 Processors, Intel Core 3, 5, 7

GPU

NVIDIA

Hard Drive

HP Z Turbo or SATA HDD/SSD

RAM

32 GB DDRM

Ports

Display Port 1.2, 2 x USBC 3.1 Gen1, 4 x USB 3.0

During the demo of the HP Z2 Mini, the four airflow ducts on each corner of the octagonal design, one of the most attractive design features (looks kind of like Darth Vader’s breathing apparatus) was created first without the structural barrier to the airflow ducts. These barriers prevent objects and clothing from getting stuck in the unique airflow system.

I realized how important the appeal to millennials was to the design team from the very beginning. Not only does the HP Z2 Mini resemble a small and futuristic industrial appliance from the work of Dieter Ram (Braun products), it also resembles a favorite hardware device for many millennials: a mini Xbox. But it's appeal certainly isn't limited to millennials. Everyone's desk is shrinking.

The R & D Labs at HP are amazing. Just have electron microscopes and 24/7 x-rays sitting around to manage electron dispersive spectroscopy on every component from every vendor. You know, no big deal.
The R & D Labs at HP are amazing. Just have electron microscopes and 24/7 x-rays sitting around to manage electron dispersive spectroscopy on every component from every vendor. You know, no big deal. 

Though specifically designed to save space, be extremely quiet and look extremely enticing, the HP Z2 Mini might represent a whole new class of mini PC, and they’re not alone.

Look at the form factor that Microsoft just introduced with their new Surface Studio. It looks like it could directly take on Apple’s MacBook Pro, has an enormous hardrive, but it doesn’t seem like it could be mounted anywhere like HP Z2 Minis could, and the HP Z2 Mini definitely does not weigh 13 lbs.

Bottom Line

HP overtook its competitors as the number one producer of desktop workstations with the introduction of its Z series, and they are looking to keep the competition behind by creating and unveiling what could be a smash hit for the upcoming generation of designers, engineers and makers.

But aesthetic taste does not overtake performance requirements and expectations of users, especially after buying new workstation computers for heavy CAD lifting. If it looks like a beautiful prop from a science fiction movie and performs like a prop from a science fiction movie, the reality of the situation is that it will get a bad rep quickly and die a terrible death on shelves of HP retailers worldwide.

Or it could become a new standard in mini PC CAD workstation. We'll see, but my guess is towards the latter.

 

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