HP ZBook laptops offer power, style and Thunderbolt

HP is attempting to take on Apple's MacBook Pro with a new line that includes the first ultrabook mobile workstation.

HP is attempting to take on Apple's MacBook Pro with a new line that includes the first ultrabook mobile workstation.

Much as Adobe's focus with Premiere Pro CC has been in winning over Final Cut Pro users, HP's brand new line of pro-grade laptops has one eye on attracting current Apple users – as well as satisfying current Windows-based creatives who are looking for a mobile computer that's more stylish as well as powerful.

The new models are the ZBook 14, ZBook 15 and ZBook 17 – with screen sizes as you'd expect from the name. Interesting new features include Thunderbolt ports, optional touchscreens or high-colour-gamut screens and a much-improved design.

The new ZBooks are named after HP's Z series of desktop workstations – which at the same time as this launch have been upgraded with Xeon E5-2600 V2 processors and optional Thunderbolt 2 – and bring over many of the industrial design elements of the BMW DesignWorks-designed desktops. The end result is a not-unattractive mix of matte black and brushed metal that not only a definite improvement on the previous generation of mobile workstations, the EliteBook, but HP says they're between 10 and 33 per cent smaller and lighter too.

Well designed use of curves and tailoring mean they appear smaller and thinner than they actually are, though they're noticeably larger if you put a current generation MacBook Pro or Air next to the competing models (which we did at an embargoed HP event last week in New York).

Use the slideshow controls above and right to see the new ZBook range and discover its specs.

The ZBook 14 (right) is the first mobile workstation that could be described as an 'ultrabook'. It measures 34 x 24 x 2.1cm and is light enough (1.6kg) to easily carry around for extended periods.

Being an ultrabook, it features lower-powered components than its 15- and 17-inch siblings. There's a choice of Core i5 and i7 processors running between 1.6GHz and 2.1GHz, and the ZBook 14 supports up to 16GB of 1,600MHz RAM. You can single hard drive up to 1TB (or 512GB if its an SSD). You can also add a small 120GB mSATA drive either as a cache to make the main hard drive run faster or as a system drive in its own right.

For graphics there's an AMD FirePro M4100 graphics chip with 1GB of its own RAM. There are a bunch of options for the 14-inch screen, including a 1,600 x 900 resolution touchscreen or a full HD screen with better colour depth.

The ZBook 14 has three USB 3.0 ports – but no Thunderbolt, that's only for the larger models. Both the ZBook 15 and ZBook 17 feature a single Thunderbolt port, plus you also get three USB ports, a USB 2.0 port, DisplayPort, VGA and an SD card reader. All feature Gigabit ethernet and docking station plugs.

Both larger models features screens with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, and you can choose a DreamColour option for a much higher colour depth that offers 10-bit colour to support a billion colour shades rather than the usual millions.

The ZBook 15 (right) is the one most creatives would plump for. This features Core i7 chips up to 2.8GHz and up to 32GB of 1,600MHz RAM. To power its 15.6-inch screen, you have a choice of Nvidia Quadro graphics chips: the K610M (1GB RAM), K1100M (2GB) or K2100M (2GB). There's also Intel's HD Graphics 4600 to save battery life if you're doing non-graphics tasks such as email.

The ZBook 15 supports up to 1.8TB of storage via up to three hard drives – one of them is an mSATA, and to get the full complement you need to swap out the Blu-ray drive. The chassis measures 38 x 26 x 3cm and weighs from 2.8 kg (depending on how many drives you put inside).

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The ZBook 17 is a monster of a laptop that's not for everyday travel – it's best suited when you need maximum performance but you're not the one carrying it, such as part of on-set film equipment. At the event, it was attached to a Canon C500 camera, showing real-time 4K video playback over Thunderbolt (right). It measures 42 x 27 x 3.4cm and weighs from 3.5 kg (again depending on how many drives you fit in it).

The larger chassis allows for more powerful chips – Core i7s up to 3GHz and a choice of Quadro graphics chips including the K610M (1GB RAM), K3100M (4GB), K4100M (4GB) and K5100M (8GB).

The ZBooks' new designs go further than its looks and ability to travel. Each features what HP calls an Easy Access Door, a latched bottom to each model that allows you to quickly replace hard drives in an emergency or add RAM (below). It's another attempt at a differentiating factor from the largely impregnable MacBook Pro and Air.

We're expecting review units of the new HP ZBooks soon, so stay tuned to see how they measure up.