HP’s MacBook Rival Has a Lot to Love, but the Thermals Are Terrifying

HP’s MacBook Rival Has a Lot to Love, but the Thermals Are Terrifying
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

Sometimes the only thing differentiating a gaming laptop from a workstation laptop is the aesthetic. A lot of gaming laptops are dressed in a deep, matte black and accented with an RGB keyboard, or the air vents resemble a muscle car rear end. Mobile workstations blend into the coffee shop environment much more subtlety, only showing off what they can do once you sit down and start encoding videos or playing games. HP’s newest ZBook Create G7 fits right into the latter category. It’s fantastic and looks how I wish all gaming laptops looked and even has a keyboard layout intended to be friendly for Mac users. But the high-end features included with this laptop, ones that gaming laptops don’t normally have, made me spit of my coffee when I saw how much they increased the price in comparison.

HP’s ZBook Create G7 is part of an entire line-up of creative-focused laptops, starting with the budget-friendly ZBook Firely 14/15 and going all the way up to the ZBook Fury 15/17 for people who need a top-tier machine for 3D design and other ultra-heavy workloads. The Create G7 is smack-dab in the middle, targeting professional creators who need something hefty and have a lot of money to throw around.

This particular laptop comes in two models: the one reviewed here with up to an Intel Core i9-10885H vPro, RTX 2070 Max-Q; and the ZBook Studio with up to a 10th-gen Intel Xeon processors and a Quadro Quadro RTX 5000, although it can also be configured with 10th-gen i5, i7, and i9 processors. The cost will obviously vary depending on what components you want, but just know that the Create starts at $US2,750 ($3,864), while the model we received is priced at $US4,490 ($6,308).

HP ZBook Create G7

WHAT IS IT?

One of HP's latest mobile ZBook workstations

PRICE

Starts at $US2,750 ($3,864) ($US4,490 ($6,308) as configured)

LIKE

4K DreamColor display, Bang & Olufsen sound, range of configuration options

NO LIKE

Price, crazy hot skin temps, battery life

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.

The most stand-out feature of the ZBook Create G7 is the 4K AMOLED UHD 60 Hz DreamColor display. The 15.6-inch screen boasts an 87% screen-to-body ratio (slim bezels, baby!) and a next-gen DreamColor display with a max 600 nits brightness. (The official HP specs say 500 nits, but our testing showed 600.) Blacks were rich and dark, not faded like a shirt that’s been put through the wash dozens of times. Colours were vibrant and distinguished, which made editing photographs in particular so much better compared to my old, 1080p desktop monitor with a TN display. More than a billion colours make for smoother shading and more consistent gradients, and it shows. The display is part of the reason why the price of this laptop is so high; Configuring the Create G7 with this display adds $US445 ($625) to the overall price, but the display is that good!

The Bang & Olufsen sound system is surprisingly great, too. (Judging by the prices of the speakers it sells on its website, it’s no wonder this tricked-out Create G7 costs so much.) Cranking up the volume to the max, I could feel the bass gently vibrating through the laptop. Definitely a first in all my years of reviewing PCs! I’ve never encountered a stock sound system on a laptop that sounded this good, and it makes a lot of Bluetooth speakers pale in comparison.

While this ZBook has all the right components to double as a great gaming laptop, that’s not its primary purpose. (Don’t expect to do any competitive online gaming with that 60 Hz refresh rate.) This high-end laptop is aimed squarely at creative professionals. You know, the video editors, photographers, graphic designers, architects, and game designers of the world. Outfitted with an Intel Core i9-10885H vPro, RTX 2070 Max-Q, and 32 GB of RAM, you’re safe assuming this laptop will run most games at 1080p ultra (or highest graphical setting) over 70 frames per second. If you ever feel like taking a break from work and firing up Overwatch or Shadow of the Tomb Raider, this laptop will do that with ease.

But I wouldn’t use this mobile workstation for gaming at all. Even with HP’s new vapour cooling tech, which is supposed to collect heat from a larger area rather than discrete heat sources like heat pipes do, this is the hottest laptop I’ve ever put my fingertips too. After 10 minutes of playing Overwatch, the area around the WASD keys grew uncomfortably warm after reaching a max temperature of 126°F, which is what I experienced with Asus’ ROG Zephyrus G14. The entire area above the keyboard, where the speaker is, reached a max temp of 136°F! That’s too much. Several of the CPU cores maxed out at 210°F, which definitely caused some thermal throttling, according to HWInfo, and is only 33°F under the processor’s max operating temperature. It’s no wonder the chassis got so hot.

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

All that heat means the Zbook Create G7 is a zippy little machine, which is what creators will need to get work transcoding and rendering done as quickly as possible, so there’s that. It averaged under eight minutes in both of those tasks: seven minutes, 37 seconds transcoding a 4K video to 1080p at 30 fps in Handbrake; seven minutes, 40 seconds rendering a 3D image in Blender with the CPU, and seven minutes, 58 seconds with the GPU in the same program. That’s faster than the MacBook Pro 13 (2020) we reviewed not too long ago, which is configurable only up to a 10th‑generation Intel Core i7 with no discrete GPU. The Create is also faster in those tasks than the Razer Blade Pro 17, too, and is much closer in specs and price to that laptop than the MacBook Pro 13.

There’s also an optional feature on the Create G7 that’s there to try to woo Mac users over to the Windows side. If you get the Z command configured keyboard, the Ctrl, Windows (open Apple on a Mac), and Alt keys will be laid out in the same order as a Mac keyboard. It all has to do with muscle memory, and having Windows keys in the same place as Mac keys that perform the same functions means less frustration when switching over to a different OS.

In addition to those two programs, which are part of our usual benchmark tests, I also ran PCMark 10 and individual Adobe Premiere Pro and Photoshop tests to get an idea of how long colorizing photos, etc. would take. In PCMark 10, photo editing tasks like colour adjusting, unsharping mask, and contrast took between 2-3 seconds. Saving as a JPEG took 1.2 seconds and saving as a PNG took 12.9 seconds. Ray-traced rendering/visualisation took an average of 35 seconds. On the video editing side, sharpening with OpenCL took 106 seconds, while sharpening with the CPU took 37 seconds.

Things ran equally as fast during my non-synthetic Adobe Premiere Pro and Photoshop tests, too. Video encoding took 29.1 seconds, auto reframe 15.5 seconds, and subject select 18.9 seconds. Colouring photos took about 22 seconds for a total of seven images, and rescaling those same photos took 85.3 seconds. Thanks to the CPU/GPU/RAM combo, you won’t have to wait long at all.

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

It doesn’t have as long a battery life as you’d hope for a creator-focused laptop; seven hours isn’t bad, but it’s far from the 17.5 hours HP advertises. You’ll definitely need to charge it before the work day is over, especially if you are running heavy workloads that use a lot of power. Don’t forget or leave your charger at home. You’ll need it.

Taking everything into the consideration, it’s clear this is a lovely laptop — a lovely laptop with few faults, but its faults are big ones. I get the appeal of having a high-end workstation you can take with you on the go, and the Create G7 is small enough and light enough for that to never be a hassle. But the heat output is a major concern. For the amount of money this costs, you can get or build yourself a desktop workstation with some proper liquid cooling and not have to worry about the longevity of your CPU, or entire PC for that matter.

If you’d prefer a laptop, then for the sake of price and temperature, I’d consider getting a configuration with a Core i7 and 16GB of RAM to help tame the heat beast. The speeds won’t be the same, but you’ll still get the amazing sound and display for around $1,500 less.

README

  • Display and sound are the best I’ve ever seen in a laptop
  • Skin temps get insanely hot
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Fully tricked-out version is too expensive
  • Battery life is much shorter than advertised