How do you feel about a 15.6-inch, 4K-resolution display, Nvidia Quadro professional graphics, independent software vendor (ISV) certifications, and 5G connectivity in a slim, posh design? If that tickles your fancy, you’ll want to check out HP’s ZBook Firefly 15 G8 (starts at $1,615; $3,180 as tested). This lightweight mobile workstation is well-suited for 2D and moderate 3D work, though its quad-core Intel processor isn’t a heavy lifter like the six- and eight-core chips you’ll find in the thicker and heavier ZBook Fury 15 and Editors’ Choice-award-winning Lenovo ThinkPad P15. But considering the extra-long battery life and svelte 3.74-pound weight of our test model, the well-made ZBook Firefly 15 G8 is a more-than-respectable performer that earns Editors’ Choice honors, too, for being a rare bird indeed: a lightweight mobile workstation.
How to Harness a Tiger
The ZBook Firefly 15 has been refreshed for its eighth generation with Intel’s “Tiger Lake” Core processors and some new configuration choices, including the 5G mobile broadband of my review model. Its Core i7-1185G7 processor (3.0GHz base, 4.8GHz turbo) is the top available CPU, and it includes Intel’s Iris Xe integrated graphics to complement the optional 4GB Nvidia Quadro T500 graphics card when maximum 3D performance isn’t needed. The combination works well for 2D work such as photo editing, full HD (1080p) video editing, and basic 3D modeling. It’s noteworthy that HP backs this model with an array of ISV certifications for professional workstation apps.
The Firefly 15 G8 is physically unchanged from last year’s G7 model. Its aluminum and magnesium exterior is a class act in dark gray, complemented by a rather showy Z logo on the lid. By contrast, HP’s EliteBook 800 series business laptops are bright silver.
Thin display bezels complete the modern look. This review model’s 4K or UHD (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) screen resolution creates a richly detailed picture. HP rates the panel for 100% coverage of the sRGB color gamut and a lofty 400 nits of brightness. (It’s borderline blinding in a dark room.) You can’t get one of HP’s flagship DreamColor displays on the Firefly, though you can on other 15.6-inch ZBook models such as the abovementioned Fury 15.
A Truly Mobile Workstation
Moving or traveling with this ZBook is about as easy as it can be for a laptop with a 15.6-inch screen. The system measures 0.76 by 14.2 by 9.2 inches (HWD); it and its USB-C power adapter, which has a fancy braided cable, will add a bit over 4 pounds to your briefcase. Those numbers match or beat those of the Lenovo ThinkPad P15s Gen 2 (0.75 by 14.4 by 9.8 inches, 3.87 pounds), though the Dell Precision 3560 is a tad trimmer (0.59 by 14.1 by 9.1 inches, 3.5 pounds).
The fit and finish is topnotch, as you’d expect from HP’s ZBook line. The chassis shows some flex when subjected to abnormal force, something that’s almost inevitable with a notebook this thin, but it has a solid feel and should withstand unkind handling. HP seems confident that it will; the Firefly has a standard three-year warranty with on-site service, a perk of going with a premium business model.
The visual appeal extends to the smallest details. Above the keyboard, the Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers project nicely behind an artful-looking grille.
I like the large, centered typeface on the island-style keys and their precise up-and-down travel. There are two levels of white backlighting. All I can frown about is the power button’s location on the keyboard; ideally, it would have been a separate button on the chassis.
A smooth, press-to-click touchpad is another highlight. Traditionalists can opt for the pencil-eraser pointing stick centered in the keyboard; it has two dedicated buttons below the space bar (a bit unfortunate since many ISV apps rely on a third or middle button).
For extras, my review unit has a built-in Near-Field Communication (NFC) element (mostly used for Android phones) at the top right of the touchpad. The optional fingerprint reader is further right, and a 720p webcam with a biometric IR sensor sits atop the display, complete with a sliding privacy cover. Its image quality is suitable for a premium laptop PC.
The ZBook Firefly 15 G8’s physical connectivity starts on the left edge with a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, a headset jack, and the optional SmartCard reader seen here.
The right edge includes another USB-A port, an HDMI 2.0b video port (notable for its 4K/60Hz output), and a pair of USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 capability.
The tiny cutout forward of the Thunderbolt ports is a nano SIM card slot for this unit’s built-in Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G WWAN card. The system also has an Intel AX201 card for Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 signals.
Testing the ZBook Firefly 15 G8: No Lightweight Performer
The $3,180 Firefly 15 G8 seen here is nearly fully optioned. In addition to its Core i7-1185G7 processor and 4GB Quadro T500 graphics card, it has 32GB of dual-channel memory and a 512GB PCI Express 3.0 solid-state drive. The memory and storage are user-upgradable. Intel vPro remote management is enabled with this processor. The operating system is a clean, bloatware-free install of Windows 10 Pro.
HP’s pricing is about where it should be. I configured a comparable Dell Precision 3560 for $2,948, though I couldn’t get one with both a 4K display and mobile broadband (and other screens offer only 4G WWAN), and it sticks with a lesser 2GB version of the Quadro T500. Meanwhile, Lenovo’s ThinkPad P15s Gen 2 came in at $2,675, though it also stops at 4G connectivity.
You can get more raw performance for less money with a non-business, content-creation-focused notebook like the MSI Creator 15, which offers a six- or eight-core CPU and gaming-oriented graphics for under $2,000. It lacks the ZBook’s polish, features, and warranty support (as well as the ISV certifications), but the temptation is there.
Time to put the Firefly 15 G8 on the test bench. I compared it with the following mobile workstations and creative laptops in our performance benchmarks; their basic specs appear in the table below.
The Creator 15 and the ThinkPad P15 are this group’s heavy hitters with their eight-core Intel H-class CPUs. The value-driven Lenovo ThinkBook 15p is no slouch, either. However, the one to watch is the HP ZBook Firefly 14 G7; its U-class processor is older, but it has two more cores than the quad-core chip in the Firefly 15 G8. Let’s see how that math works out in real life.
Storage, Media, and CPU Tests
The ZBook Firefly 15 G8 started by scoring a strong 5,537 points in UL’s PCMark 10, our real-world office productivity and general performance benchmark. That’s well over the 4,000 points that we consider a sign of excellent productivity (the Firefly 14 G7 fell just short), though it predictably trailed the mighty ThinkPad P15 and Creator 15. Meanwhile, the new ZBook matched its rivals in PCMark 8’s storage exercise, no surprise with today’s speedy solid-state drives.
The next two tests may be bad news for the Firefly 15 G8 since they’re CPU benchmarks that reward extra cores. Cinebench R15 stresses all available processor cores and threads while rendering a complex image, while in our Handbrake test we time systems as they transcode a 12-minute video clip from 4K down to 1080p resolution.
The 15.6-inch ZBook wasn’t destined to challenge the MSI or the two Lenovos, but it kept pace with the Firefly 14 G7. Its newer Core i7 chip has a higher clock speed and more efficient architecture, which made up for its comparative core count deficiency.
The final test in this section is photo editing. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the total. This test is not as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, bringing the performance of the storage subsystem, memory, and GPU into play.
“Dominant” is the keyword for the ZBook Firefly 15 G8’s excellent time, an indication that its 11th Gen processor has superior single-threaded performance versus the older “Comet Lake” chips. Sometimes core and thread count aren’t everything.
Our first two benchmarks in this section measure a PC’s gaming performance potential. In UL’s 3DMark, we run two DirectX 11 tests, Sky Diver (lightweight, capable of running on integrated graphics) and Fire Strike (more demanding, for high-end gaming PCs). Unigine Corp.’s Superposition uses a different rendering engine to animate a complex 3D scene.
Both tests show the new ZBook’s Quadro T500 GPU to be a relatively shallow performer, though appreciably faster than integrated graphics. (For reference, the fairly potent AMD Radeon integrated graphics of the 15-inch AMD Ryzen-based Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 scored 3,689 points in Fire Strike.)
Our workstation-specific tests start with POV-Ray 3.7, a CPU exercise that uses ray tracing to render a complex 3D image. (Note that the benchmark doesn’t use the ray tracing features of Nvidia’s RTX GPUs; it’s purely focused on the processor and its floating-point unit.)
This test’s multithreaded nature gave the six-core Firefly 14 a slight edge over the Firefly 15, though the margin is hardly noticeable in real-world use.
Our last, and most workstation-savvy, benchmark is SPECviewperf 13, which renders and rotates solid and wireframe models using real-world viewsets from popular ISV apps.
The Lenovo ThinkPad P15 and MSI Creator 15 were untouchable with their powerful graphics cards, but that doesn’t mean the ZBook Firefly 15 G8 is a disappointment. In fact, it challenged the MSI in the SolidWorks viewset thanks to its optimized Quadro drivers. Its numbers suggest that it can handle 2D and basic 3D rendering without making you wish you had a desktop workstation.
Thermally speaking, the Firefly 15 G8 remained quiet throughout my testing. Its rear-facing cooling fan was active during most of the benchmarks, though its noise was dismissible even in a quiet room. The bottom center of the chassis warmed up after extended use, though it never got close to untouchable.
Battery Rundown Test
For our final benchmark, we measure a laptop’s unplugged runtime while playing a locally stored video with screen brightness at 50% and audio volume at 100%. We use the energy-saving rather than balanced or other power profile where available, turn off Wi-Fi, and even disable keyboard backlighting to squeeze as much life as possible out of the system.
The Firefly 15 G8 set a high standard, sailing past the 14-hour mark. That’s no small feat for a laptop with a bright 15.6-inch 4K display.
A Pricey But Polished Mobile Workstation
The HP ZBook Firefly 15 G8 offers less raw performance than a bulkier desktop-replacement model, but its Intel “Tiger Lake” CPU and available Nvidia Quadro T500 graphics make it peppy enough for 2D and mild 3D design and rendering needs. Its trim and light chassis, admirable input devices, and mobile-friendly 5G and long battery life make it a practical on-the-go choice. With little to dislike except a posh price—corporate buyers can hope for fleet discounts—the Firefly 15 G8 wins our Editors’ Choice seal of approval among lightweight mobile workstations.
The Bottom Line
HP’s slim ZBook Firefly 15 G8 is a compelling mobile workstation for professionals and creators with 2D and mild 3D needs.