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HP Z2 G8 Tower Review

HP Z2 G8 Tower Review

HP Z2 G8 Tower Review

The HP Z2 G8 Tower (starts at $1,219; $3,424 as tested) is a single-CPU desktop workstation that offers a wide mix of customization options prior to purchase, along with plenty of expansion possibilities once it’s yours. With the eighth generation of its Z2 Tower, HP offers both Intel Core and Xeon “Rocket Lake” CPUs and both Nvidia and AMD professional GPUs. Our test system featured an eight-core Intel Core i9-11900K processor and Nvidia RTX A4000 graphics to provide the muscle needed for professional creative work ranging from computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) workflows to video editing and virtual reality. The toolless chassis is easy to access for repairs and upgrades, which is an appreciated plus for the IT staff supporting a design shop and the budget manager keeping an eye on ROI. The HP Z2 G8 Tower deserves a spot on your entry-level workstation shortlist.


Configuring All the Day Long

It’s almost certain you’ll be able to find a Z2 G8 Tower that suits your workstation needs and budget, as long as you aren’t looking for a dual-CPU setup. HP offers long lists of available CPUs, GPUs, memory configurations, and storage options, along with a trio of power supplies. Your processor choices start with six-core Core i5 chips and rise to eight-core Xeon-W CPUs.

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HP Z2 G8 Tower left angle


(Photo: Molly Flores)

As mentioned, both AMD and Nvidia graphics cards are on the menu. Nvidia options span from an older Quadro card to the latest RTX A-series. On the AMD side, there are a number of Radeon Pro cards on offer up to the 32GB Radeon Pro 6800. All are single-slot GPUs except for one, the flagship RTX A5000. Our test system featured a 16GB Nvidia RTX A4000.

HP Z2 G8 Tower interior


(Photo: Molly Flores)

The three power supply units on offer provide 350, 500, and 700 watts. To service the power-hungry RTX A4000, our test unit boasted the topmost PSU.

Four DIMM slots hold up to 128GB of RAM. Error-correcting-code (ECC) memory is available if you select an Intel Xeon processor. Our Core i9-based test system stocked 32GB in a dual-channel setup with two 16GB DDR4-3200 modules.

HP Z2 G8 Tower memory


(Photo: Molly Flores)

The motherboard has three M.2 slots, one occupied by a 1TB NVMe solid-state drive. You’ll also find two 3.5-inch bays for additional SATA drives. Power and data cables are in place for the 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch drive bays, making future expansion a breeze.

HP Z2 G8 Tower storage bays


(Photo: Molly Flores)

Two drive bays are accessible from the front panel. You can add a 5.25-inch optical drive and a removable 2.5-inch SSD. There are also places on the front panel to add an SD card reader and a USB Type-C port, though neither was included in our test system. Our system also lacked wireless networking, but you can add a Wi-Fi 6 card for $18.

Accessing the interior of the tower is a breeze. By flicking a lever on the back, you can pop off the side panel and get inside the case. Just look for the blue tabs to remove covers or drive cages to reach the motherboard. In addition to the abovementioned memory and storage expansion options, you’ll note a pair of PCI Express x16 slots and two PCIe x4 slots. One of the x16 slots is occupied by the Nvidia RTX A4000 graphics card.


Softening the Workstation Look

The HP Z2 G8 Tower is not the boxy, beige corporate workstation of yore. The mid-tower case is all black with a silver HP logo at top front and a silver Z2 logo at the bottom. The four corners are beveled to soften the system’s appearance and lend a dash of style. A pattern of tiny round holes occupying the bottom half of the front panel helps vent the interior. Behind these holes is an air filter, and you can remove the plastic front panel piece—it’s held in place by magnets—to clean the filter. 

The system features four cooling fans to keep thermals in check. There’s a fan on the huge CPU heatsink and another directly behind the CPU on the back panel. The third cooling fan resides on the RTX A4000 graphics card, and the fourth cools the power supply. The workstation is fairly quiet under normal operation, but the fans do kick into overdrive and can get quite loud for short stretches under heavy loads.

HP Z2 G8 Tower rear angle


(Photo: Molly Flores)

Speaking of heavy loads, it should be noted that the Intel Core i9-11900K processor in our test unit is unlocked and can be overclocked. Due to stability concerns, however, most workstation users will not opt to overclock the CPU, and HP does not provide any controls with the Z2 G8 Tower to do so.

HP Z2 G8 Tower audio ports


(Photo: Molly Flores)

As with its configuration options, the HP Z2 G8 Tower gives you a number of connectivity choices. Our test system’s three biggest port omissions are a USB-C port, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader, but you can add any of them if you like. USB Type-A and DisplayPort 1.4 ports abounded on the back of our system—six of each, to be precise. Two DisplayPorts are integrated to the motherboard and another four come courtesy of the Nvidia RTX A4000 GPU. Of the six USB-A ports, two are of the 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 variety, one is of the 5Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 1 type, and two are legacy 480Mbps USB 2.0 ports. You also get audio-in and -out jacks and an Ethernet port.

HP Z2 G8 Tower USB ports


(Photo: Molly Flores)

A quartet of USB Type-A ports are easily accessible from the front panel—two 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 connectors and two 5Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, one with power-off device charging. There’s also a headphone jack above the USB ports and placeholders for the optional front USB-C port and SD card slot.

HP Z2 G8 Tower front ports


(Photo: Molly Flores)

Our Z2 G8 Tower came with a pair of generic wired peripherals. The keyboard is an old-school desktop unit with thick keys and long travel. The mouse is a basic two-button affair with an optical sensor and scroll wheel. Both are serviceable, but the keyboard will take some getting used to if you’ve grown accustomed to typing on a low-profile laptop keyboard. There are various keyboard upgrades available, including a wireless unit. Oddly, there is only one mouse on offer.

One- and three-year warranties are offered, and you’d do well to spring for the three-year term, because it adds only $19 to the bill.


Testing the Z2 Tower G8: Like a Rocket

Our HP Z2 Tower G8 test system was based on Intel’s Core i9-11900K and Nvidia’s RTX A4000. The former is an 11th Generation, eight-core processor with base and turbo speeds of 3.5GHz and 5.3GHz respectively. The RTX A4000 is Nvidia’s highest-end single-slot professional GPU and features 16GB of VRAM. Rounding out the core specs are 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. 

HP Z2 G8 Tower GPU


(Photo: Molly Flores)

The occasional desktop workstation passes through PC Labs, but this is the first we’ve seen since updating our benchmark test suite a few months ago, which makes comparisons tricky. Therefore, we’re measuring the Z2 G8’s performance against a trio of gaming PCs. With its AMD Ryzen 9 5950X CPU, GeForce RTX 3090 graphics, and 32GB of RAM, the Maingear Turbo is arguably the closest to the HP’s configuration. The NZXT H1 Mini Plus is a step behind in performance and price with an Intel Core i7-10700K processor, GeForce RTX 3060 graphics, and 16GB of RAM. The Lenovo Legion Tower 5i is a budget gaming desktop that features a Core i5 CPU, vintage GeForce GTX 1660 graphics, and 8GB of memory.

Productivity Tests

The main benchmark of UL’s PCMark 10 simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content-creation workflows to measure overall performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, web browsing, and videoconferencing. We also run PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to assess the load time and throughput of the boot drive.

Three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to rate a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses that company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better). 

Our last productivity test is Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe’s famous image editor to rate a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It’s an automated extension that executes a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.

The HP Z2 G8 Tower performed admirably in PCMark 10; losing narrowly to the Maingear Turbo and its 16-core Ryzen 9 processor is not an objectionable offense. The HP’s score was comfortably ahead of the NZXT and its eight-core Core i7, not to mention the Legion Tower 5i with its six-core Core i5. We saw similar results in PCMark’s storage test, where the Z2 G8 was again second only to the Maingear.

In our multimedia tests, the Z2 G8 Tower again finished as runner-up to the twice-as-costly Maingear Turbo. It was two minutes slower in our HandBrake test, considerably behind in Geekbench, and well off the Maingear’s pace in Cinebench, where the latter’s double number of processing cores allowed it to nearly double the HP’s score. The two systems were fairly close in Photoshop, but that’s a relatively light workload for a workstation.

We also ran our suite of workstation and content creation tests on the HP Z2 G8 Tower. These include Puget Systems’ PugetBench for the Adobe Premiere Pro 15 video editor; SPECviewperf 2020, an industry-standard measurement of 3D performance in CAD and graphics rendering applications; and Blender, another 3D modeling test.

The HP turned in a strong showing here, trailing the pricier Maingear in most and dropping to third place in Blender’s CPU test but winning with SPECviewperf’s Creo viewset. The NZXT’s Core i7 likely edged the Z2’s Core i9 in the Blender CPU exercise since it runs at a slightly higher frequency.

Graphics Tests

We test Windows PCs’ graphics with two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL’s 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming or professional rigs with discrete GPUs). 

We also run two tests from the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which stresses both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. The 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase tests, rendered offscreen to accommodate different display resolutions, exercise graphics and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the HP Z2 G8 Tower finished second to the Maingear Turbo and ahead of the NZXT and Lenovo desktops in our graphics tests. Its RTX A4000 GPU delivered performance somewhere between a GeForce RTX 3060 and 3090 in our gaming simulations.


Verdict: Sounding Off

With Intel Core and Xeon CPU options, a host of available graphics cards, and scads of memory and storage configurations, there’s probably an HP Z2 G8 Tower to meet your workstation needs and budget as long as you don’t require dual processors. And to a great degree, you can also choose the ports and connections you want and not pay for those you don’t. Despite its roomy and neatly organized interior, however, the system engages its cooling fans under heavy loads and makes for a noisy office companion; you may want to shop elsewhere if you’re sensitive to acoustics. Still, the Z2’s pricing is reasonable and its design is both functional and surprisingly attractive.

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