A tall monolithic tower comes to mind when the word "workstation" is mentioned.
Such an impression is valid for the majority of workstations, which are high-performance computers built for specialised tasks such as computer-aided design and video editing.
However, in recent years, PC makers have managed to shrink these bulky computers to a form handy enough to be carried even by a child.
Take HP's latest Z2 Mini Workstation, which is into its fourth iteration.
It is compact enough to be mounted on the underside of a desk or the back of a monitor. For those using it in a server environment, HP says 56 Z2 Mini units can fit in a standard server rack.
Small and boxy, with air vents at each corner, the Z2 Mini is largely similar to its previous version. It is powered by a fairly large external power brick.
PROCESSOR: Intel Xeon E-2176G (3.7GHz)
GRAPHICS: Nvidia Quadro P1000 4GB GDDR5
RAM: 32GB DDR4
STORAGE: 256GB PCIe SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm HDD
CONNECTIVITY (SIDE): 2 x USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, headphone jack
CONNECTIVITY (REAR): 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, 3 x DisplayPort 1.2, Ethernet, Flex I/O
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
Weighing about 2kg, the Z2 Mini has an internal volume of 2.7 litres, which can fit either a consumer-class Intel Core chip or an enterprise-grade Intel Xeon processor.
It can support either integrated graphics or a dedicated workstation-class graphics card.
The new Z2 Mini can support more powerful hardware, such as a six-core Intel Xeon chip. There are also more graphics options, including AMD and Nvidia workstation graphics cards.
For internal storage, it can be configured with a PCIe solid-state drive for the operating system and a secondary hard drive for other data.
Users can access the Z2 Mini's innards simply by popping open the top cover. The sizeable internal fan for the CPU can be moved easily out of the way without having to remove any screws, allowing access to the computer's two memory slots.
Up to 32GB of memory is supported, including for ECC (error-correcting code) memory that checks for data errors.
New to the Z2 Mini is a flexible port that can be customised at the behest of the buyer. This port can be anything from VGA display output to a second Ethernet port to a Thunderbolt 3 port.
The Z2 Mini is equipped with HP software and hardware to protect from malware and hardware failures. A Kensington lock at the rear helps to secure this portable workstation against theft.
There is hardly a peep from the Z2 Mini when it is idling. But when it is running an intensive application, its two fans (it has a second, smaller fan for the graphics card) are loud enough to rival a handheld vacuum cleaner.
In fact, the fans were noisy even during file transfer, while copying files from an attached flashdrive.
To be fair, the fans do seem to keep the Z2 Mini relatively cool even while it was running a benchmark.
In the Cinebench 3D rendering benchmark, the Z2 Mini scored 1,299 points, which is lower than AMD's eight-core Ryzen 7 1800X processor (1,622), but higher than an Intel consumer-grade processor like the Core i7-7700K (998).
The Nvidia Quadro P1000 in my review set is considered entry-level. But it should offer enough processing power for professional applications.
HP says the Z2 Mini, like its other workstation computers, is ISV certified, which means it has been tested by Independent Software Vendors to perform well in specific enterprise applications.
• Verdict: A compact yet capable workstation suitable for enterprise applications.