Z2 G4 front image

In Praise of the Z2 G4

I have a hatred for HP that the English language can’t really articulate. From them getting in bed with Microsoft and being paid to kill off OpenVMS to selling printers with “starter cartriges” holding just enough ink to print the alignment page, to any number of other underhanded things. One cannot forget they also allowed the rise of Carly Fiorina. Y’all saw her presidential run. She lost because her staff failed her. That’s her story and she’s sticking to it. The fact she was a shit candidate isn’t allowed to exist in her mind. Spying on reporters and directors seems so trivial now, in a world of Google and Facebook.

After that there was the whole “selling off the PC division” debacle. More proof successful companies never let an MBA make a decision. For those who don’t know the story, the failed CEO of the day announced they were getting out of the PC business without first finding a buyer. Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be MBAs, because they all do stupid shit like this. That announcement was in 2011. Guess what, in 2015 they had to spin off the PC and printer business into Hp Inc. That’s right. Nobody wanted to buy a “dead” business when competitors like Lenovo could just get bigger.

Well, Lenovo could have just gotten bigger, but it was Chinese owned. Yes, the Chinese tech espionage was in full swing even back then. Lenovo had to move production back to America to get the business of American corporations again.

The Unholy Windows Mating

For much of its PC existence HP was the #1 Microsoft bedfellow. They cemented that when they purchased Microsoft’s #1 prostitute, Compaq. About the time of that 2011 announcement HP came to the realization it had contracted corporate AIDs from Microsoft’s constant coupling. The new business still couples far too much with Microsoft, but it is trying to create some non-diseased equipment.

It started with a pilot program in Australia. Companies of a certain size or greater could order computers with Red Hat Enterprise Desktop or even OpenSuSE. This was followed up with the 2020 story of pre-installed Ubuntu 20.04 for just about anyone. Given the incredible rise of Manjaro as the desktop OS of choice I will not be surprised if HP starts selling versions of it pre-installed. Hopefully they will choose the Cinnamon version as it is the nicest.


Early PCs were big hulking boxes. Even the “desktop” units had a massive footprint. Real geeks bought towers with at least six 5.25 inch drive bays. The cases needed a lot of air space to help dissapate the heat. While the home hobbyist and the professional software developer loved these big boxes, corporate America bitched. They wanted computers for secretaries and managers.

Enter the SFF. The Small Form Factor shrunk the motherboard and the case. They used lower heat components and had few drive bays. They still used standard memory and drives which kept the cost down. It wasn’t just HP. Lenovo and Dell got into the small form factor market. The race to shrink the desktop went to extremes. First with the “paperback” computers. I call them that because they are about the size of a paperback book. Others call them “bookshelf” computers.

Some of these tiny things even get mounted to the back of a monitor and sold as an All-in-One. These are situations where laptops simply don’t work.

The SFF became a staple of corporate America. It hit the sweet spot between minimal realestate and ease of support. In fact companies started going out of their way to make it easy to replace drives, memory, etc.

HP EliteDesk image
HP EliteDesk

I own quite a few of these computers. Corporate America leases them for 3-8 years then they get dumped onto the secondary channels. The reality is that, unless you are doing Yocto builds or compiling some other intense amount of code, a fourth generation CPU with a bunch of RAM and an SSD is more than enough. You don’t need 24-core to surf the Web or run a word processor.

Z2 G4

Despite all of the promises I’ve made to myself to stop building computers and to stop buying computers and to reduce my total computer count to a number under four, I can’t help myself. One of my i7 gen-4 EliteDesk computers died the other day. It was one I had used a lot and always wanted to get rid of. It had an annoying fan. Even after I replace the fan twice it still had an annoying fan. Whenever it was “idle” and BOINC would go into some serious number crunching you could hear that fan from a room away.

Did I just live with one less computer despite having way more than four and making all of those promises to myself? No. I hopped onto eBay and found a Z2 G4 up for sale.

Z2 G4 front image
My “new” Z2 G4

I ordered a custom configuration from this seller and got it for just under $400. It came with 32GB of RAM. They did screw up and ship it without the DVD I wanted, but this seller had a DVD with the green bracket for under $50. I haven’t exactly figured out what I want to put in the external 3.5 inch bay. I’m torn between one of my LS-120 drives so this can become my new primary book writing machine or sticking in one of these “everything” card readers.

I do a lot of embedded systems work for clients so I guess I need to decide if this machine will be used to earn money the old fashioned way, or to create books that might earn money in the future.

The Inside Matters

They shipped this computer to me with a 512GB M.2 SSD that had Windows 10 installed. I immediately took that out and put it in a box. If I never have to run a virus known as Windows, it will never be used. Western Digital had a sale. For just under $70 plus tax and shipping they sold me a 1TB WB BLACK M.2. Sweetness!

HP uses a carrier bracket to protect and mount M.2 drives. There is also some sticky heat transfer padding. This machine can have two drives and one wifi-bluetooth card. When I open the lid I realized what a changed company HP Inc. has become. Oh, they still crew the world with ink cartridges, but the PCs have stepped up their game. It helps that I didn’t buy from a shit refurbisher.

underside of lid

There on the underside of the lid is the bracket with sticky pads for the second M.2. You will also notice the Mobo documentation identifying every connector and slot. How many decades have we lived without that in PCs? Every time you wanted to add something to your computer you had to rummage around for documentation.

My next real stunner came underneath the drive cage.

Drive screws included

The funky HP drive screws are included inside of the case. How far we have come from the EliteDesk days where vendors charge you $12 for four of them if you could find them that cheap? The plastic rail kits were included for the other bays as well.

Nine times out of ten when you buy a used or “refurbished” computer on eBay every spare screw, rail kit, cable, and drive cage has been removed from it. When I bought my Z820 for Yocto builds I had to pay extra to have all of the cages included. With the Z2 G4 line HP has turned over a new leaf. Either the refurbishers are just too lazy to strip them anymore, or they have turned over a new leaf as well.

The Specs

This unit has an i7-8700 with 6-core. There was already 32-GB of RAM installed. I had to turn off the secure boot stuff (see Unholy Windows Mating above). That just won’t work with anything other than Microsoft Windows. Thankfully you can turn it off! I have no idea what it has for video. It wasn’t NVidia and all my machines run BOINC when idle so I stuck in an NS-310 I had lying around. Got to have CUDA core for number crunching.

Yes, it has only been a few days and there is still a bit of new toy syndrome going on, but I’m impressed with this box. HP even included a second screw hole for the bezel screw. When you remove the bezel you are supposed to put the screw in that second hole so you don’t lose it. I kid you not, watch their video.

It looks like engineering might have somehow found its way back into HP. They must have stopped using Agile!