In the dock
All in all, it's well kitted out, but if I were to moan, then I'd have preferred HDMI instead of DisplayPort, as the Thunderbolt port can double up on display duties. Curiously enough, not even the bulky £166 docking station offers HDMI, though it does add a DVI port. For some, the inclusion of PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports might be handy option for certain peripherals, along with serial and parallel interfacing. You get separate audio in and out jacks too.
If serial and parallel interfacing is your bag, then HP has the dock for you – click for a larger image
Anyway, that's all on the dock, which suggests you might be carrying the ZBook 17 around from place to place. I tried it a number of times and I felt it, as the power supply is a hefty brick too. Still, inside a vehicle or in a lab somewhere, shifting it around might be a practical consideration.
If you're wondering who might want to use a ZBook 17, an event HP put together featuring dozens of animators suggests one possibility. The purpose was to showcase its Z-range of workstations and certainly the ZBooks on show hooked up to GTech GRAID Thunderbolt drives caught my eye, as did the fact that everything there was running Windows 7, as is the review sample.... and the second one that was sent.
Tear-riffic: the first ZBook 17 sample obviously had issues
I might as well say something about that now... Wonky graphics, anyone? Well it seems that the first HP ZBook 17 sent for review had some issues with its GPU implementation resulting in ridiculously bad image tearing. If you swiftly moved an open window across the screen, the rest would follow later as if on an elastic band.
Blu-ray movies played on PowerDVD also suffered when it came to fast-moving or panning shots, which, in The Bourne Ultimatum, is just about all of them. It also failed to get through the benchmark tests with the alert "Graphics Card Unrecognised" confirming something was up. Various attempts at resolving the issue, including a chat with HP, failed. So, another ZBook 17 was sent – which I'm pleased to report did behave itself.
Fingerprint reader to the bottom right and useful dedicated WiFi on/off and audio mute keys top right
Typing on the ZBook 17 had a few quirks but more to do with having to become accustomed to it rather than specific faults. The first thing you notice is that the keyboard is quite high up by modern standards due to the chunky base. In this beast, the keys themselves certainly don't suffer any flexing and have a positive feel and don't clatter too much either.
Having a 17-inch display allows plenty of space on the base to house a numeric keypad. You also get a Pointing stick control (in HP-speak) with three buttons below it, positioned at the top of the trackpad. At the bottom are another three buttons for ease of access during trackpad use. No doubt the presence of the middle button is for CAD user appeal as it can be assigned to panning tasks.
Lots of point and clickery here
So I asked a seasoned Solidworks user what he thought of the HP ZBook 17. While he liked the concept and the spec, he was unimpressed by the 16:9 aspect ratio with its 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution. A hi-res 16:10 display would deliver a 1920 x 1200-pixels, like on the old 17-inch MacBook Pro, and when it comes to using on-screen toolbars, those extra 120 pixels in height come in very handy, so you still have room for a full HD workspace.