The $3,191 ZBook that I looked at is built around Intel's quad-core Core i7-4800MQ processor. The chip runs at 2.7GHz and can sprint at up to 3.7GHz. Other ZBook 15 models are available; you can choose between the slower and less expensive Core i7-4700MQ, Core 97-4600M or Core i5-4330M processors.
Like the other laptops covered here, the review unit came with 16GB of RAM and can hold up to 32GB (you can also go as low as 4GB if you wish). The unit also came with a Blu-ray optical drive and a 500GB hard drive bolstered by an optional 32GB SSD for caching the most used items to streamline its operations. You can also purchase the system with a 320GB, 500GB or 750GB hard drive or a 128GB, 180GB or 500GB solid-state drive.
For graphics hardware, there's the choice of Nvidia's Quadro K610M, K1100M or K2100M processors. The K2100M video engine that came with my test machine had 2GB of dedicated memory and a 128-bit bus that tops out at 48GBps, less than half the bandwidth of the Eurocom Racer 3W's K5100M.
The ZBook relies on HP's DreamColor 15.6-inch screen that offers 1920 x 1080 resolution; to my eyes, it was the brightest and richest of the three workstations. It is calibrated to produce a broad range of standard colors; in a previous demo, I saw it being used with HP's DreamColor LP 2480zx 24-inch external display and was impressed with the quality of the image.
In tests, the ZBook was able to show CAD models quite well and smoothly zoom, pan and rotate them. This can be done while writing a memo or working a spreadsheet in an adjacent window.
The system's backlit keyboard has 18.6-millimeter keys and is surrounded by smooth plastics. I found it more comfortable to work with than the Toshiba Tecra's striated surface or the Eurocom Racer 3W's roughened case.
As with the Toshiba Tecra W50, the HP ZBook 15 comes with both a touchpad and a pointing stick. The system's speakers are located above the keyboard; for audio, it uses DTS Studio Sound HD. Unlike the Eurocom Racer 3W, it doesn't have a subwoofer, so while the audio was fine, I felt that the sound wasn't quite as rich as that of Racer 3W.
The ZBook comes with one USB 2.0 and three USB 3.0 ports. There's also DisplayPort and VGA ports for use with a projector or monitor. It has an Express Card slot as well as audio jacks, but no HDMI connection; however, it worked well with an inexpensive generic DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter.
The ZBook 15 also has something the others don't: a Thunderbolt port. When I tested it with an external 1TB LaCie Little Big Disk drive, the high-speed connector had a throughput of 95.0MBps compared to 31.4MBps for a USB 3.0 drive, a greater than three-fold improvement.
Unfortunately, the system's optional $250 docking station doesn't have a Thunderbolt port. What it does do, however, is tilt the system to 10 degrees for more comfortable use. In addition to containing space for an additional hard or solid-state drive, the docking station provides five USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, two DisplayPorts, a pair of DVI ports and a VGA connection. There's access to audio, wired Ethernet and a bunch of legacy ports: a parallel, a RS-232 and a pair of antiquated PS/2 ports.
The laptop itself has up-to-date security hardware, including a fingerprint scanner, a SmartCard reader and a Trusted Platform Module. The system has Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.