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Laptop Comparison: Zbook Firefly vs. Dragonfly Max

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The ZBook laptop.

I was returning the HP Dragonfly Max I had in for testing last month when HP sent me their new Firefly Workstation laptop. When I compared the prices as configured, they were close to each other. The Dragonfly Max was, as configured, $2,789, and the Firefly mobile workstation was $2,687. That’s only a $102 difference.

So, given both are about the same cost, why would you get a Firefly over a Dragonfly or vice versa?  Since the industry does a pretty poor job helping buyers find the right product, let’s talk about why far more people want the Dragonfly Max than the Firefly with Dreamcolor, but why those who want the Firefly might not even bother looking anything else.

A Workstation vs. A PC

Workstations go to a dedicated and focused audience of animators, engineers, architects, and their related management. This focused audience is because workstations have to run specialized software and need to be certified to run that software. Unfortunately, this tie to the apps that run on them adds to the cost, lowers the overall volume, and leads to configurations that most users wouldn’t appreciate.

For instance, Firefly has a T500 NVIDIA GPU certified to work with most of the potential professional applications that would run on it. However, when building a game, developers don’t target GPUs of this class which means that for entertainment, this extra performance may not work as well with consumer apps like games.

Additionally, with this configuration, you are also paying extra for a Dreamcolor display, which promises incredible color accuracy. However, unless you are an artist building to a spec, this level of color accuracy isn’t as attractive as the 1,000 nit privacy screen Dragonfly Max had.

With the privacy screen, and HP has the best one in the market right now, you can prevent people sitting next to you on a plane from seeing your work, and, outside, the 1,000 nit screen on the Dragonfly Max is far easier to see.

This focused capability doesn’t mean the Firefly doesn’t outperform the Dragonfly; it does and by an impressive amount with off-the-shelf benchmarks. For instance, with PCMark 10, the Firefly got a score of 4,565, while the Dragonfly Max scored 3,901; on 3Dmark, the Firefly got 1,728, while the Dragonfly got 1,258.

Likewise, with Geekbench (64 bit), the Firefly got a score of 5,556 for single-core and 19,716 for multi-core, while the Dragonfly Max got a score of 4,522 for single-core and 16,063 for multi-core.

On top of the 1,000 nit HP Sureview display that makes for a better outdoor and more secure usage model, you also get a far better 5MP camera (over the Firefly’s 720p camera) and standard 5G WAN networking (you can also get 5G on the Firefly, but that’ll cost you a lot more).

While the Zbook Firefly does have a remote boost that can connect you to a complete remote workstation, the Dragonfly Max is context-aware and knows when it is in your lap, on a table, or in your bag and sets the power accordingly.

The Dragonfly Max is the most feature-rich notebook that HP builds, while the Z Series Dragonfly is the lightest workstation they make. It is like the difference between a car you want to show off and one that the military gives you to do your job. For those who need a workstation that is as portable as a light laptop, the Firefly is arguably their best choice, but the Dragonfly Max would be the product that comes closest to our ideal for the rest of us.

One of the differences, while the original Dragonfly had a unique and lovely blue/black color, is that the Dragonfly Max is black and less distinctive (and I’d argue less likely to be stolen as a result). The Zbook Firefly has a big Z on the cover that most won’t connect to HP and makes this laptop look unique.

Wrapping Up

Workstation buyers tend to follow the applications they use to the hardware product they buy and have unique requirements like the hyper-accurate color that this Zbook Firefly has in spades.

But most of the rest of us would prefer the outdoor viewable display, privacy, and better web camera that the Dragonfly Max has. I should note that for engineers who want the 1,000 Nit outdoor Sureview display, it is an option, and you may not need the exceptional color accuracy of the Dreamcolor display.

It is also interesting that both products are unique in their way, the Firefly is the lightest workstation I’ve ever tested, and the Dragonfly is the most feature-rich laptop I’ve ever tested.

Both products would likely make their target buyers very happy, and, for my use, I’d pick that impressive 1,000 nit display over the Dreamcolor display any day of the week.  But imagine how impressive a 1,000 nit Sureview Dreamcolor display might be?  Maybe next year….

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