Architectural design, financial modeling, and other such specialized computing tasks require hardware found only in a certain category of laptop: the workstation. But while many mobile workstations are hulking, expensive beasts, the revamped HP ZBook Firefly 14 G7 (starts at $1,806; $2,391 as tested) is not. It's an ultraportable laptop with a gorgeous 14-inch display and components powerful enough to just barely classify it as a workstation. If your software requirements extend to light workflows on specialized apps like SolidWorks, the Firefly will get the job done in style and for a lot less money than heftier flagship systems. It claims our latest Editors' Choice award for entry-level mobile workstations.
The Buzz Around a Baby Workstation
HP's ZBook workstation lineup has long included an inexpensive entry-level model with a 14-inch screen, but we haven't checked it out since the fourth-generation version came out in 2017. Many things remain the same in the latest seventh generation reviewed here: The Firefly doesn't carry the priciest or fastest processors and graphics chips in the ZBook line, but it does pack a fair amount of power into a form factor that's light in your bag and on your wallet. It's aimed at professionals whose software requires specialized hardware but not a ton of computing power—maybe your design team rendered a batch of architectural mockups or animations, and sent them to you to review and approve using AutoCAD. Besides being HP's smallest and lightest mobile workstation, it represents a more modest, budget-minded middle ground between brutes like the Dell Precision 7000 series and niche models aimed at creatives like the ZBook Studio.
HP started naming some of its lightweight business laptops after insects with the Elite Dragonfly last year, and the ZBook Firefly lives up to the tradition. The laptop measures 0.71 by 12.73 by 8.45 inches (HWD) and weighs just 2.96 pounds—dimensions that, given its 14-inch display, unequivocally qualify it as an ultraportable. Lenovo's thinnest and lightest workstation, the ThinkPad P1, weighs 4 pounds and measures 0.7 by 14.2 by 5.8 inches, though it does have a larger 15-inch screen.
Inside the Firefly, processor options include multiple Intel Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs from the 10th Generation "Comet Lake" family, as well as up to 64GB of memory, a 2TB solid-state drive, and an Nvidia Quadro P520 graphics chip. Our review unit is a relatively high-end configuration with a six-core Core i7-10810U processor with Intel's vPro IT management technology, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and the Quadro P520 with 4GB of dedicated video memory.
Noticeably absent from the configuration options are Intel Xeon processors and Quadro RTX graphics chips; these are simply too powerful and expensive to fit into a chassis like the Firefly's. As it stands, the roughly $2,400 list price of our tester is expensive by ultraportable standards but actually qualifies the Firefly as one of the most affordable mobile workstations we've tested recently, a key reason we're picking it as an Editors' Choice winner.
A 4K Screen All Aglow
The Firefly's other main achievement is its attractive, diminutive chassis. In addition to being slim and lightweight, it's far classier-looking than the brutish styling of earlier ZBooks or many members of the Dell Precision family. With a colored metal (HP refers to it as Turbo Silver) covering nearly every inch of the machine and a distinctive "Z" logo emblazoned in the center of the lid, the Firefly expertly walks the line between stylish and gaudy.
The HP's chassis is not completely sealed shut, unlike many other competing laptops such as the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro. Five prominently located Philips screws let IT departments easily remove the bottom cover to service or upgrade the components within. Companies that handle sensitive customer data can also opt to equip the Firefly with a tamper lock sensor that disables booting if the cover has been removed. While the machine's standard one-year warranty is adequate for a premium laptop, it can be upgraded to three years of coverage for an additional charge.
The display lid and hinge are thoughtfully balanced so you can easily open the Firefly with just your thumb, rather than having to pry the two halves of the laptop apart. Once it's open, you’re greeted with the 14-inch screen, available in the stunning 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) resolution of our review unit or a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) entry-level version. After viewing the 4K panel for a few days, I don't think I could abide the 1080p display. The 4K screen boasts an anti-glare finish that makes it easier to see in brightly lit rooms, as well as an exceptionally bright 550-nit backlight.
The Firefly's display lacks cutting-edge technologies and certifications like P3 color gamut support that some creative professionals may require. It also lacks the incredible color fidelity of an OLED panel like the one available on the ThinkPad P1. However, few other entry-level workstations include them either, even ones aimed at creative types, such as the MSI Creator 15 or the Asus ProArt StudioBook 15. (The latter does have a 4K display in the version we tested.)
The two side borders bracketing the ZBook's screen are remarkably thin. The top border is a bit thicker in order to accommodate a 720p webcam with both a physical privacy shutter and IR sensors to enable face-recognition Windows Hello logins. It's not often that a laptop webcam has both of these features, though sticklers for image quality may bemoan the lack of 1080p resolution. Note that our review unit has an upgraded camera; the base version omits the IR sensors.
Ready to Fly: Solid Connections, Wired and Wireless
Although the Firefly is a thin and light laptop (and therefore doesn't have a ton of spare room for ports), it does manage to offer a useful array of connection options. They include two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a headphone/microphone combo jack, an HDMI output, and two USB Type-C ports that also support Thunderbolt 3. Wireless connections include 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and Bluetooth 5.0, as well as optional LTE connectivity that works with a physical SIM card from either AT&T or Verizon.
There's also an optional NFC reader for quick file transfers to and from Android smartphones, as well as an optional SmartCard reader to accept the physical security cards that some IT departments issue to their employees in order to log in securely. An optional fingerprint reader mounted below the keyboard rounds out the list of password-free ways you can log in to your Windows account. Although most buyers will likely select the Windows 10 Pro operating system of our review unit, HP also offers a FreeDOS version of the Firefly for people who need to run specialized legacy software.
The Firefly's audio quality is remarkable for a laptop of its size. Sound from the dual stereo speakers emanates through two upward-facing grilles that flank the keyboard. I appreciated the crystal-clear vocals and surprisingly robust bass while listening to music tracks, and voices in videoconferences are easily loud enough to fill a medium-size room. If you're planning to use the HP for videoconferencing, note that there are dedicated audio controls (volume and mute) as well as a microphone mute button located in the function row of the keyboard.
The Firefly offers an excellent typing and mousing experience, with sturdy, well-spaced keys and a satisfyingly stiff clickable touchpad. The laptop also includes a keyboard-mounted pointing stick, but unlike Lenovo's TrackPoint, the stick resulted in erratic, inaccurate cursor movements in my testing. You'll want to stick to the touch pad.
ISV: It's All About the Software
HP works with independent software vendors (ISVs) to certify that ZBooks will run certain mission-critical applications optimally, from CAD drafting software to video editing apps. But many of these certifications are reserved only for the most expensive ZBooks, especially those requiring Xeon processors or error-correcting code (ECC) memory. Still, the Firefly does carry a few ISV certifications, including for the popular SolidWorks suite from Dassault; you can check with HP or the developer to see if the app you need is included.
Lacking a powerful Xeon chip, the Firefly lands in the middle of the pack in our performance benchmarks. It's somewhat faster than a comparably priced non-workstation business laptop like the Dell Latitude 9410 2-in-1, though it can't hold a candle to the code-crunching capabilities of the ThinkPad P1. (See more about how we test laptops.)
In addition to those two models, I'm also comparing the Firefly's benchmark results with those of the Asus ProArt StudioBook 15 and MSI Creator 15 machines mentioned above. All of these models are priced in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, except for the $3,500 ThinkPad. You can see their basic specs in the table below.
Productivity and Media Creation Tests
Most premium laptops, workstation-class or otherwise, perform just fine in the PCMark 10 and 8 holistic performance suites developed by the benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system's boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
With a speedy SSD and a Core i7 processor, the Firefly achieved scores of around 4,000 and 5,000 points in PCMark 10 and 8 respectively, which are the thresholds we typically consider to be excellent performance. Note that the MSI's beefier H-series Core i7 and the Lenovo's Xeon CPU helped them deliver significantly better PCMark 10 performance, though the ThinkPad could not run the PCMark 8 storage trial.
A similar pattern presents itself in the results of our Handbrake video encoding test, with the Firefly performing better than the Latitude but not quite as well as the Lenovo and MSI...
This test is a tough, threaded workout that's highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video to a 1080p MP4 file. Lower times are better.
Handbrake results often align with those from Maxon's CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. That's especially true here, with all of the test systems finishing in the same positions as in the video encoding test...
Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score (higher scores are better) indicating a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
Most of the systems finished much closer together on this test, with the Firefly in the middle of the pack.
Graphics and Workstation Performance
The Firefly's Nvidia Quadro GPU isn’t nearly as powerful as the GeForce RTX chips in the Asus and MSI, nor is it as capable as the upgraded Quadro unit in the ThinkPad. But it's far better than the integrated graphics in the Latitude, which is in part why many ISV-certified apps require Quadro GPUs. Our general graphics benchmarks are not among them, though. Rather, our Superposition and 3DMark simulations simply measure raw performance with gaming-style graphics. As a result, the Firefly finished in a familiar position: above the Latitude, but far behind the other workstation-class machines.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it's rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark for a second opinion on the machine's graphical prowess.
We also use the POV-Ray 3.7 app to assess the processor performance of creative and workstation laptops. Its built-in benchmark ray-traces a three-dimensional image using only the processor, not the graphics card. The Firefly finished last here, but that's to be expected given the more powerful CPUs in the competing notebooks.
Up last is our workstation-focused Cinebench R15 OpenGL benchmark, which taps the hardware rendering capabilities of the GPU. It's an older test, and the Firefly is actually quite competitive with the ProArt here.
During all of these benchmark tests, the Firefly's cooling fan spooled up to a clearly audible level. Even when the fan was at idle, I could still hear faint whining noises from the CPU and GPU, suggesting that the Firefly is not as well acoustically engineered as it could be. Still, from a machine designed to perform processor-intensive workflows, the noise isn’t a deal-breaker.
Battery Rundown Testing
As for battery life, the Firefly's discrete GPU and 4K display consume a lot of power, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it last for more than eight hours in our battery rundown test...
In this test, we loop a video with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out. Mobile workstations aren't known for battery life, and the Firefly lasted significantly longer than either the Asus or the Lenovo, though it can't hold a candle to the 24-hour endurance of the Latitude.
Compute Like a Firefly, Sting Like a Bee
The Firefly 14 G7 can't compete with the raw power of most mobile workstations, which tend to be beefy rigs that cost $3,000 and up. But in our review configuration, the HP is decidedly more capable than a non-workstation laptop in its price range, and it provides the added benefit of compatibility with specialized software that other business laptops lack. It does all of this in a remarkably thin and light package that's easy on the eyes.
If ECC memory, Xeon power, and saving time in complex 3D renders and whopping dataset calculations is of the utmost importance to you, you'll want to consider a larger, more expensive, and more capable mobile workstation like the Dell Precision 7540. But if you're after a laptop that will get your specialized tasks done in style and on budget, the Firefly is an obvious choice, and our new Editors' Choice award winner for entry-level workstation laptops.
HP ZBook Firefly 14 G7
The Bottom Line
An entry-level mobile workstation, the HP ZBook 14 G7 gains "Firefly" branding to emphasize that its chassis is as light (under three pounds) as it is sleek.
HP ZBook Firefly 14 G7 Specs
|Processor||Intel Core i7-10810U|
|Processor Speed||1.1 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||32 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||512 GB|
|Screen Size||14 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||3840 by 2160|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia Quadro P520|
|Graphics Memory||4 GB|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.71 by 12.73 by 8.45 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||8:21|
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