HP ZBook Studio G8 Review: Rock Solid Performance, Painful Price Tag

The HP ZBook lineup, which includes the ZBook Firefly, ZBook Power, ZBook Fury, ZBook Power and ZBook Fury — isn’t very well-known. The ZBook Studio is a mobile workstation-class device that’s not as flashy or affordable as many gaming laptops. However, in many ways it’s better than either.

The HP ZBook Studio G8 is a “mobile computer.” Tech nerds call it a “mobile workstation.” It typically includes a Xeon processor, error correcting RAM (ECC), and A-series/Quadra graphics cards. These are paired with reliability testing (MILSPEC or MILSTD), as well as software certifications from major developers such Adobe. This all comes with a high price tag. You might get altitude sickness from staring at it too long.

We don’t usually review mobile workstations using PETAPIXEL as the price increases associated with enterprise GPUs and ECC memory doesn’t translate to a measurable performance increase for photo and/or video editing. But HP did something very interesting with the ZBook Studio G8. The company split the difference.

The Studio G8 does not use ECC memory nor an Intel Xeon CPU. It can also be configured with a regular GeForce RTX 30-series graphics card, but still has all the benefits of a workstation. It offers high-end gaming performance and professional design. The warranty is longer than the others and has better build quality. It is a bit cheaper than comparable options like the Dell Precision line.

It’s certainly not cheap. The model HP sent to us for review costs $4,400.

Even if you reduce the cost of some components, you will still end up spending a lot. The HP folks were kind enough to give us the “Good, Best, Best” configuration options they recommend. However, the most expensive option will still cost you nearly $2,800.

However, this doesn’t mean that the price isn’t reasonable or even justifiable. This laptop is amazing from design to usability and raw performance. It is important to establish expectations right from the beginning. We are not talking about a cheap laptop. It’s not even about a semi-affordable laptop. A mobile workstation is one that costs a significant premium for professional-grade reliability, guaranteed performance, and a high level of support.

A mobile workstation that costs $1,000 more for MIL-STD reliability testing and software certifications is not the right choice. If that sounds reasonable and you are happy that HP doesn’t force you to spend additional money on enterprise-grade specs that you don’t need or want, then continue reading. The HP ZBook Studio G8 is an excellent laptop for creative professionals.

Design and build

The HP ZBook Studio G8 is one of the few laptops that can match the quality of Razer and Apple in terms chassis design. The magnesium-and-aluminum alloy chassis is as rigid as a tank, extremely thin, and carved into a sharp design language that I loved from the moment I set eyes on this laptop.

The build quality is excellent. All HP workstation-grade Z devices are subject to MIL-STD-810 testing. This ensures a level that is unsurpassed by any consumer laptop. MIL-STD-810 includes a series of tests to determine resistance to vibration, dust, sand and temperature shock.

A three-year warranty directly from the manufacturer will increase the laptop’s reliability. This perk is usually extra expensive (if it’s even available) when you purchase a consumer laptop.

The ZBook Studio G8’s keyboard is a great combination of a satisfying click and a lot of travel. It also has zero mush and RGB lighting per key that adds a bit of gaming flair. HP’s OMEN dashboard controls the lighting, which is a nice touch to an otherwise professional-looking laptop.

The trackpad is glass-topped and provides an extremely precise experience. It can even compete with the best. The trackpad isn’t as large as those found on new Apple or Dell computers because it is located above the keyboard. However, it was sufficient for me.

The selection of ports is solid with a lot of room for improvement. The machine’s left side has an audio-combo and a USB Type A port. A Kensington lock is on the right. On the right side you’ll find a sealable SD Card slot, a Mini DisplayPort1.4 port that connects directly to the GPU and two Thunderbolt 4 ports, which can carry 40Gbps data, power and a display signal.

My gripes are minor. The main issue was that the Thunderbolt 4 ports were connected directly to the iGPU without any way to reroute the signal in the BIOS. This is according to HP. For true 10-bit color and high-refresh-rate gaming, those using high-end 4K external displays will want to use Mini DisplayPort.

This is why I wish HP included an HDMI 2.0 port in the configuration. The MiniDP toDP 1.4 cable was not included in any of the monitors that I have ever tested. This makes it difficult to use the ASUS ProArtPA32UCG as my laptop’s display and removes the possibility of using it with Thunderbolt to provide data, display and power.

The included display is good enough for professional creative work. Our model includes a touch-enabled, 4K AMOLED screen. It was capable of hitting well above 100% sRGB, 99.9% DCI–P3, and 91.6% Adobe RGB. The display has an excellent Delta E value of less than 2. and a maximum brightness setting of 400 nits.

OLED may not be your style, but the ZBook Studio G8 also has a 4K 120Hz LCD “HP DreamColor”, which boasts 600 nits peak brightness and 100% coverage by DCI-P3. There is also a Full HD model available that promises 100% coverage by sRGB at a more affordable price.

It is nice to see both a 4K LCD option and an OLED option with the same gamut coverage. There is also a cheaper, but still acceptable Full HD option. The lower-end screen option allows you to be creative with your configuration, especially when you intend to use an external monitor a lot.

You can view the DisplayCAL results for our OLED 4K unit below.

The only thing that is really bad about our high-res model’s high-resolution screen is battery performance. This is a middle of the road.

The ZBook Studio’s 83WHr lithium-ion battery cannot support the notebook’s 110W TDP (30W to CPU, 80W GPU) and you shouldn’t expect more than two hours of intensive photo editing when pushing it to its limit. I was able get six hours of writing and occasional content consumption in a battery-saving or balanced mode. But this laptop is not designed to be a replacement for an AMD-powered notebook.

Overall, the ZBook Studio G8 was a great laptop. I have nothing but praises for the design and build quality. This laptop feels like a small piece of military equipment, but with enough style flair. It’s a strong contender for serious creative work due to its excellent trackpad and keyboard, professional-grade display and dual Thunderbolt 4 ports.

Photo editing

Because of the HP’s thin design, I was skeptical that it would be able squeeze every ounce performance from its Core i9-11950H processor and NVIDIA RTX3070 GPU. I was wrong, but only a little. The ZBook didn’t perform as well in most benchmarks as the Razer Blade 15 Advanced. Although the Core i9-11900H is slightly slower, the ZBook Studio was still able produce top-quality performance.

The Studio G8 is a great choice for photo and video editing, regardless of whether you are using Lightroom, Capture One or Photoshop. It’s quieter than some gaming laptops that I have tested.

Today’s comparisons will show the HP results side-by-side alongside the same tests that were run on the M1 iMac and an AMD-powered ASUS Zephyrus G14. Below are the full specs:

Lightroom Classic

The ZBook performed slightly slower than the Razer Blade in our standard import/export tests but was still faster than any other test machine. These tests involve importing 110 61-megapixel Sony A7R IV files and 150 100-megapixel PhaseOneXF RAW files. They then generate 1:1 previews (Lightroom Classic), or 2560px for Capture One Pro previews. Then, they apply a preset with extensive global edits to the files and export them as 100% JPEGs or 16-bit TIFFs.

Below are the Lightroom Classic results.

Capture One Pro

Capture One is a better story, as the computer’s RTX 3070 gets to show its muscles.

Lightroom doesn’t use GPU acceleration for import or export. Instead, it relies solely on your RAM and CPU to produce the numbers you see. Capture One does not use the GPU. Therefore, when it came time to export heavily edited Sony a7R IV or Phase One XF variants, C1, the HP ZBook Studio G8 was able close the gap to the Blade and trade blows at top of the pack.

The results show that the three PCs are basically equal, with all of them benefiting from NVIDIA RTX30 series GPUs. The M1 iMac is far behind.

Photoshop

We then ran our Photoshop test using Puget Systems’ industry-standard PugetBench benchmark.

After timing a variety of tasks, PugetBench awards an Overall and Four Category score. This includes basic tasks such as loading, saving and resizing large.psd files, GPU-accelerated filters such Smart Sharpen or Field Blur, as well as RAM-dependent tasks such Photo Merge. We ran version 0.8 because it included a Photo Merge test, as we did in the past.

You can see that the NVIDIA RTX3070 GPU, 32GB 3200MHz RAM and the powerful GPU all put together impressive results in every category.

Performance Takeaways

The performance of the HP ZBook Studio G8 is unquestionable. It is the most powerful laptop you can buy. It is not. The HP ZBook Fury line, the Alienware x17 and the Lenovo Legion 7i can be configured with more powerful (and therefore power-hungry!) CPU/GPU combinations. These configurations would definitely outperform the ZBook Studios. It’s amazing to see such high performance from such a small device.

This photo editing power is incredible and it’s all contained in a smaller chassis than we thought possible for an Intel-based workstation.

Excellent Design, Great Performance, Painful Price Tag

The HP ZBook Studio G8 laptop is great for video and photo editors, provided you are able to bear the high price. This is a crucial point for professionals who frequently choose high-end gaming laptops that have lower build quality and lower-quality displays to attain this level of performance.

Despite all the benefits, it is hard to accept the Studio G8’s high price. This variant costs approximately $1,000 more than the Razer Blade 15 Advance, which has roughly the same core specs as mine. It also features a faster processor, more storage and an OLED display that covers all of DCI-P3 , and AdobeRGB.

If you want to justify a price increase, then you must value the un-sexy mobile workplace perks.

Pros

  • Outstanding performance
  • Lightweight, thin, and rugged design
  • Amazing trackpad and keyboard
  • Numerous color-accurate display options
  • Solid port selection, with two Thunderbolt4 ports and an SD card slot
  • MIL-STD-810 tested
  • 3-year guarantee included

Cons

  • No HDMI port
  • SSD is PCIe 3.0 and not 4.0
  • RAM cannot be upgraded
  • Sky-high prices

It is not my intention to spend too much time on a computer’s cost. A lot more goes into judging its real-world value than the cost of its components. In most cases, performance and usability will be the main focus. Individual readers with individual budgets won’t care if a laptop I consider “reasonably priced.”

Mobile workstations like the ZBook Studio G8 are a different reality. It’s crucial to understand these realities before you either a. spend too much on a laptop that you don’t use or neglect features and benefits that could make your laptop worthwhile.

A well-built consumer laptop is sufficient for me. There are many great options available, but I don’t use them as much as I should. The HP ZBook Studio G8 is a great choice for professional photographers and video editors who need a solid machine that can go everywhere with them for the next three to 5 years. It is cheaper than most of its direct competition in the workstation-class and offers more configuration options than expected.

What are the Alternatives?

Many major laptop manufacturers have their own workstation brands that offer similar benefits to ZBook Studio. Most popular are the ThinkPads from Lenovo and Dell’s Precision line. These laptops often swap NVIDIA GeForce graphics with a mobile Quadro, or A-series GPU. Sometimes they also use error-correcting RAM. They are more durable and include military-grade certifications.

We recommend that photographers avoid anything with ECC memory or an Intel Xeon CPU. These upgrades can also increase the cost of hardware, but they don’t improve real-world editing and photo quality. A Core i7/i9 CPU with DDR4 RAM, a GeForce RTX30 series GPU and Core i7 or Core i9 Core i7 processors are sufficient. If you are interested in a mobile computer workstation, consider features such as a solid manufacturer warranty and standard reliability testing. Also, look for a stunning LCD or OLED display that has close to-100% coverage of AdobeRGB or DCI–P3.

There are many HP ZBook laptops, several Dell Precision laptops and many Lenovo ThinkPad models. These laptops come in various price brackets and configurations depending on what kind of GPU, CPU and display performance you require.

You can still get the same performance and build quality with a laptop that is high-quality for gaming or consumer use, such as the ASUS Zephyrus G14/G15, Razer Blade 15 Advanced, Razer Blade 17 and the Dell XPS 15/17. You’ll get a lot more performance-bang-for-your-buck by going with a “consumer” or “creator” laptop vs a proper “mobile workstation,” just be aware of what you’re giving up.

Should You Buy It?

Yes.

These are the caveats, but I can’t fault the laptop. It’s an excellent choice for creative professionals. ZBook Studio G8 was a great chassis, light and quiet. It also looks and feels fantastic.

You will ultimately decide if the modest benefits of a mobile workspace are worth the high price. If they are, I would recommend this laptop.