There are a lot of powerful laptops you can buy for your money. Most are catered to gamers or those who are editing videos on the go. If you’re a mobile worker who is into product designing, STEM, or are a technical and creative manager, it’s often hard to find a laptop that’s designed just for your needs. You’ll often have to settle for something else that’s not quite right.
If you’re familiar with HP’s lineup, that’s where the ZBook Firefly comes in. The firm sent me the ZBook Firefly G9 for review. Coming with a 12th generation Intel Core i7-1265U processor, 64GB RAM, and the Nvidia T550 laptop GPU, this laptop is powered differently from any other consumer laptop I’ve used before.
The HP ZBook Firefly G9 packs a lot of raw power and performance in a really sleek package. Along with the lively DreamColor display, and some cool built-in security features like Tile tracking, this is a really well-capable machine, but there are some gripes that I had. The battery life is not the best, and the keyboard feels a little too shallow and small. Even the cooling isn’t the best, either. Still, though, it’s a machine that’s too hard to pass up, especially if you’re a creator dealing with 2D content or a mobile worker that needs a PC with lots of power on the go.
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HP ZBook Firefly G9: Pricing and availability
- There are three versions of the HP Zbook Firefly G9 that you can buy
- The version I am reviewing doesn’t have an exact price just yet, according to HP, but you can get a model starting at $1,669.
The HP Zbook Firefly G9 14-inch is now available for purchase. It’s actually one of the most customizable ZBooks yet. However, the mode I got for review doesn’t appear to have a final price just yet. I asked about this and HP pointed me to three tiers of the HP ZBook Firefly 14 G9 instead. There’s an entry-level model that’s $1,659, a mid-range model that’s $2,099, and a high-end model that’s $2,600. Differences in configuration include RAM, storage, display type, and CPUs or GPUs.
HP ZBook Firefly G9: Specs
|CPU||12th generation Intel Core i7-1265U (VPro optional) 1.8 GHz Base frequency, up to 4.8 GHz Max Turboboost 12 MB L3 cache, 2 Performance cores, and 8 efficiency cores, 12 threads|
|Graphics||Integrated: Intel Iris X
Discrete: Nvidia T550 Laptop GPU with 4GB GDDR6 memory
|Display||HP DreamColor 14-inch WUXGA (2560 x 1600), IPS, anti-glare, 120Hz refresh rate|
|Dimensions & weight||12.42 x 8.8 x 0.78 inches & 3.43 lbs|
|Storage||2TB PCIe Gen 4 x4 NVMe M.2 2280 SSD|
|Battery||HP Long Life 3-cell, 51 Wh Li-ion polymer|
|Ports||Left side: 1 SuperSpeed USB Type-A 1 HDMI 2.0, 2 Thunderbolt 4 with USB4 Type-C, 1 Smartcard reader
Right side: 1 headphone/microphone combo; 1 SuperSpeed USB Type-A
Fingerprint reader below keyboard deck
|Audio & microphones||Audio by Bang & Olufsen, dual stereo speakers HP World Facing Microphone dual array digital microphones|
|Connectivity||Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX211 (2×2) Bluetooth 5.2 M.2,
Intel XMM 7560 LTE Advanced Pro Cat 16; Intel 5G Solution 5000
Optional Near Field Communication (NFC) module
|Camera||5MP Windows Hello IR Webcam|
|OS||Windows 11 Pro|
Design: It looks like an HP Envy
- The HP ZBook Firefly G9 is made out of aluminum and looks just like HP’s other mainstream Envy or Pavillion laptops from the outside, except in a darker silver color.
- It’s quite compact for a laptop with a dedicated GPU.
- There are a ton of ports that are helpful to creators and mobile workers.
When I unboxed the HP Zbook Firefly G9, I wasn’t immediately struck. The laptop looks almost just like an HP Envy from the outside. The first difference I noticed was the darker silver finish. The other dismmiliarlity is the big Z and Zbook branding on the lid, which has a cool reflective finish. Other HP laptops have the traditional HP branding on the lid.
And yes, this laptop is made of aluminum, some of which is recycled. HP says that 50% post-industrial aluminum is used in the C&D covers. This is quite durable, as bending the lid and pressing my hands hard on the keyboard deck didn’t cause it to flex. It’s one of my classic tests for durability.
Those are just the surface details. The highlight of the design is the overall compactness of the laptop. Gaming or creator laptops that have a GPU inside that are used by creators are typically heavy or thick. This one comes in at 0.78 inches in thickness and just under 3.43 pounds in weight. For a non-gaming laptop, the overall screen size is special. This is technically a 14-inch device, so it’s blending the screen size difference between 13 and 15 inches to be just right for those who need big screen space on the go. Gaming laptops like the Asus ROG Zephyrus have done this in the past.
Part of the design has some security features, too. The bottom cover has a tamper lock, so you’ll be alerted if someone tries to open the bottom of the system. There’s also a Tile tracking feature built-in, so you can track a lost laptop.
As a laptop that HP says creatives and mobile workers will end up using, I am also happy with the port selection. There’s Thunderbolt 4, as well as USB-A and HDMI. This means I was able to live a life free of dongles. For creatives who might hook up to a monitor, that’s a huge plus. Interestingly enough, HP also included optional NFC on my unit, though I didn’t find a way to use it. A smart card reader was on my unit, too, but I didn’t test it out as I don’t have a compatible accessory. These are more business features than they are for creatives.
Display and sound: Colorful, but not as good as OLED
- HP’s DreamColor display is quite vibrant and bright, but still not as good as an OLED panel
- The webcam is 5MP and there’s a privacy slider
Since this is a laptop focused on creators who deal with 2D content, the display is of a big focus. HP configured my unit with a DreamColor display, which is a special display type that’s designed for media & entertainment with a focus on color management. Combine that with the 120Hz refresh rate, a 16:10 aspect ratio, and WUXGA (2560 x 1600) resolution, and this display is colorful, responsive, crisp, sharp, and immersive.
In web browsing, I really noticed how bright this DreamColor IPS display can get. I put my ThinkPad right next to it (it has a regular IPS 60Hz display) and realized how much sharper and more vibrant web pages looked on the HP. The HP also felt a lot more responsive when scrolling through web pages thanks to the 120Hz panel. Other than that, blacks in text stuck out a lot more and pictures of tech products on the XDA website look a lot more alive than they did on the ThinkPad. Even in watching YouTube nature videos, the scenes were quite lively. The insanely high contrast ratio and brightness my colorimeter recorded (26:770:1 and 542 nits of brightness) can account for that. This helps avoid reflections on the screen, even when I took the laptop outdoors.
I still don’t think it’s as good as an OLED display, though. I say that because of the numbers I got on my colorimeter. The HP Zbook Firefly G9 hit some really good spectrums but was not as great as a device with an OLED panel. It got to 100% sRGB, 87% of Adobe RGB, 91% of the P3, and 82% of the NTSC spectrums.
The 80% scores are good, but OLED is better. Compare that to an XPS 13 OLED model, for example. The numbers are 100% sRGB, 96% Adobe RGB, 100% P3, and 94% NTSC. The numbers put on the HP aren’t bad and are still accurate for content editing on an IPS display, but nothing can beat the color accuracy of an OLED panel.
At the top of that display is a 5-megapixel Windows Hello IR webcam. Most HP laptops have moved beyond 720p and 1080p, so this isn’t a surprise. HP includes some software that can boost the webcam with AI-auto framing, and I really enjoyed how accurate it was, and how clean I looked when on Google Meet calls. My review unit also had both a Windows Hello fingerprint reader and a Windows Hello webcam, so the security is doubled up. The added slider to hide the webcam when not in use helps with privacy, too. Most times I slid it to the off position. I prefer a physical slider to an electronic one, ad it adds to my confidence that I truly won’t be captured by my web camera when I don’t want to be.
As for the speakers, there are dual speakers tuned by B&O onboard. The speakers are at the bottom sides of the device. The sound is alright, but I’ve heard better on a laptop. The location doesn’t really make things sound immersive, and sometimes, sounds came out a bit muffled. It’s much rather HP have used the space on the keyboard deck for speakers.
Keyboard and touchpad: Not the best
- The keyboard isn’t quite tactile
- The touchpad has a nice soft feeling to it
While I was reviewing the HP ZBook Firefly G9, I was also reviewing the HP Envy 16. It’s interesting to me that with the size difference the keyboards can be so different. It might just be that I have fat fingers, but the keyboard on the HP ZBook Firefly G9 seems a little too cramped. I sometimes found myself pressing more than one key, especially when speed typing through this review. The keycaps themselves have a nice feeling and softly go into the chassis, though but aren’t quite as tactile as a MacBook’s or even a Surface.
HP includes the standard media keys and function keys on this keyboard. You can customize the F2 button as you see for a specific function. A mute microphone button is there, too, which is always appreciated in this era of working from home.
As for the touchpad, it’s quite big for a laptop that’s 14-inches. It’s actually a third of the size of the entire bottom part of the keyboard. That gave me plenty of room to scroll, drag and drop files with ease. It was very effortless, and I really like the softness of it as you click down. It’s hard to complain about this.
Performance: So much power, so little battery
- The HP Zbook Firefly G9 has an excellent performing Nvidia GPU catered just for content creators, also paired with Intel’s U-series chip
- That CPU and GPU combine for really bad battery life
The HP ZBook Firefly G9 comes with Nvidia’s special T500 GPU. This is catered just for professional mobile workers who are into product designing and engineering, STEM or are technical managers. I’m used to reviewing with laptops from the RTX mobile series and H-class chips, but after trying out a laptop T550, I must say it’s quite powerful and unique for creative tasks but not the best for gaming. This is even true when paired with Intel’s latest 12th-generation U-series chips and the 64GB of RAM on my unit. Most productivity tasks like browsing in Microsoft Edge, and rendering watermarked and background-less images in Photoshop, were fast and efficient.
Looking at the other benchmarks, you can the power of this chip and GPU combination. In a lot of my tests, this Intel U-series chip and T500 combo almost came half as close to a laptop with Intel’s higher-powered H-series chip, and Nvidia’s RTX graphics. It even comes close to what AMD has to offer, and destroys a laptop without a GPU. You can see that with the overall Crossmark creativity scores, which at 1,758 touch close to that of a Dell XPS 15 laptop with RTX graphics.
The Cinebench scoring also shows the power of the CPU, as it hits similar single-core numbers across the board for all comparative laptops. Only when multi-core comes into question do you see the U-series weakness against more powerful H-series chips. That’s because the 2 performance cores and 8 efficiency cores and 15 watts of power can only do so much. H-class chips from gaming laptops have more of both and run at higher wattage for better performance.
|HP Zbook Firefly G9/ Intel Core i7-1265U/ Nvidia T550||Dell XPS 15
Core i7-12700H, RTX 3050 Ti
|Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X
Ryzen 9 6900HS, RTX 3050
|ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 7
|3DMark: Time Spy||2,189||4,535||4,091||1,458|
|Geekbench 5 (single / multi)||1,717/8,552||1,774 / 11,580||1,341 / 8,296||1,419 / 6,915|
|Cinebench R23 (single / multi)||1,806/6,590||1,797 / 11,695||1,293 / 10,581||1,375 / 6,831|
|CrossMark (overall / productivity / creativity / response time)||1,550/1,467/1,758/1,257||1,855 / 1,735 / 2,053 / 1,671||1,306 / 1,298 / 1,409 / 1,059||DNR|
|VR Mark (Orange/Cyan/Blue)||3,126/2,102/634||4,745/2,753/ 1,325||DNR||DNR|
|3D Mark: TimeSpy Extreme||1063||2,250||DNR||DNR|
Outside of common creative tasks for things like gaming, the T550 isn’t the best GPU for playing big games. This isn’t what the Zbook Firefly G9 is for. Yes, it did score well in TimeSpy, but the scores are nearly half that of a gaming laptop, and almost double that of what you get with standalone integrated graphics. I had to tune down the graphics settings when playing games.
I managed to get about 38 frames per second on Fornite on ultra 1080p settings. A more demanding game like GTA V played well too at 1080p, near 40 frames. Microsoft Flight Simulator though did not run well at all on ultra settings at 1080p. It froze a lot, and I had to sit through many plane crashes as a result. Tuning down the settings a bit to low and medium was a better experience and I hit a solid 30 frames on 1080p.
I do know a lot of other laptops with Intel’s U-series chips that have good power efficiency. The Lenovo Yoga 9i is a great example. Paired with power-hungry T550 graphics, though, I had two issues with this on the HP. One is cooling, and the second is battery life.
This laptop got hot quickly, particularly when under heavy loads and doing heavy web browsing. The fans kick in a lot and try to chill things down, and it helps keep the keyboard deck and palm rest cool to the touch However, the cooling still isn’t the best as an HP Envy is. My desk is warm to the touch when moving the laptop around when those fans kick in.
As far as battery life goes, I did do a few tests. With the screen at 120Hz and at 38% brightness, I only got 3 hours of battery life during my workflows of Google Meet calls, typing in WordPress, and web browsing. Tuned down to 60Hz, I got a slightly better battery result, closer to 4 hours. All of this was with Windows set to best power efficiency. I usually expect 5-6 hours out of my laptop, so this was a letdown.
Security & other features: Lots to keep your laptop safe
My laptop reviews typically end with performance, but since this is a Zbook, there’s a little extra to mention. HP includes a lot of things to keep this laptop safe. I already mentioned the tamper resistance, but there are two additional things. Tile tracking, as well as HP Wolf Security.
The Tile tracking isn’t new. HP’s other laptops have had this, particularly the Elitebook series. It’s pretty cool to see on the laptop though. Once I activated it, I was able to see the laptop on a map or follow the Tile signal to find where it was in my home. For businesses that like to keep track of laptop inventory, this could be huge.
HP Wolf Security isn’t new either, but it’s on this laptop and is of mention. This is basically endpoint security and a form of antivirus. It will scan your system for security issues, and scan files you’ve downloaded, too. It’s really great to see HP take security seriously.
Should you buy the HP ZBook Firefly G9
Unless you’re a content creator a mobile worker who is into product designing, or STEM or are a technical and creative manager, then no. There are other laptops with better CPU and GPU options that are better and can double down for gaming, too.
Who should buy the HP ZBook Firefly G9
- Business folks, or those into STEM, or handling 2D creative content.
- Anyone who wants a laptop with built-in security from the manufacturer
Who should not buy the HP ZBook Firefly G9
- Everyday consumers who need raw power for gaming or video editing
In using the HP ZBook Firefly G9, I’ll say it’s a great laptop for the right person and market. I really enjoyed general day-to-day usage, but I hated the battery life and the poor cooling and thermals.