HP xw8400 Workstation Editing Computer Review

Rip-Roarin' Fast

Intel's latest screaming processor announcements included not only the Core2 Duo and Core2 Extreme, but also the new Dual-core Xeon processor, two of which are the brains behind one of HP's newest workstations, the xw8400.

The Dual-core Intel Xeon 5160 processor is a 64-bit chip that operates at 3GHz, with a 1.3GHz front side bus (technically, 333MHz, but each clock cycle carries four instructions) and includes a 4MB cache. If this description makes you think "rip-roarin' fast," you are correct. And even better, there are two of these chips on the motherboard! This was our very first quad-core experience and could well be yours as well. But more on that later.

Moving In

We immediately noticed a striking similarity between the xw8400 and its close cousin, the HP xw9300. The case is almost identical, but the insides are a bit different, naturally. The motherboard trades the 9300's onboard SCSI controller for an SAS controller on the 8400. Of course, the chipset and processor and memory sockets are different, as well. However, the case is still designed for expandability and airflow, and the cables are routed quite carefully within the case to maximize the potential for airflow. The case also includes a couple of 120mm case fans to move a lot of air, albeit very quietly: the machine produces hardly any noise at all. Even the hard drives are better suspended in the case than previous HP workstations, so there's very little extraneous noise that can be heard from the system at all.

Other hardware highlights include a similarly smokin'-fast (and gorgeous) NVIDIA Quadro FX1500 PCI-E x16 video card with 256MB of memory, a Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet controller and a Texas Instruments FireWire controller.

Booting the xw8400 is a trifle slow at first, since the machine polls for SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives upon boot. Interestingly, like previous SCSI configurations we've seen, the SAS ports are controlled by a separate onboard LSI Logic controller that allows you additional control over the configuration of the drives on the bus. This was the first time we have had any experience with any SAS-equipped hardware. Our machine, however, was equipped with two Seagate 160GB SATA (7200 RPM) hard drives instead.

Our xw8400 came to us with a pretty much stock software configuration, so we got the chance to mold many things the way we like having them configured. This was perfect timing, as we were getting geared up for a Videomaker Workshop on DVD authoring. So we applied a few modifications to Windows Explorer (primarily how different things are displayed, such as turning off the default behavior of hiding the file extensions of known file types and utilizing the detail view). We also installed Adobe's Production Studio Premium, Apple iTunes, the Opera Web browser, Open Office.org's free office suite, Raxco's PerfectDisk disk defragmenter and SiSoft's Sandra benchmarking utility.

After installing everything, we defragged the machine and experienced a notable performance increase, particularly during boot and while launching applications. It doesn't surprise us that there was a performance increase, but how a performance increase was as noticeable on a machine this fast was quite striking.

Low-Flying Plane

Over the course of the Workshop, we were all impressed with the machine's stability and high speed. Hours of quality time spent doing some pretty advanced DVD authoring flowed by with nary a hitch. We had only one minor problem with the software, but we recovered successfully with no further drama and were unable to recreate the error.

The 8400's Sandra benchmark scores bear this out: it smoked the HP xw9300, our previous high water mark, on Processor Arithmetic (3x faster), Processor Multimedia (5x faster) and the Performance Index (the 9300 scored 4352, while the 8400 scored a whopping 12048). Other benchmarks were similarly impressive. Oddly, though, the memory bandwidth score wasn't that much faster than the xw9300 (the xw8400 scored 9414, while the xw9300 scored 8685). We had expected the xw8400's quad-channel DDR2 memory to trounce the xw9300's performance, but we're still not disappointed in the least by the xw8400's performance.

A Xeon in Your Future?

With Intel's recent shift in logo, they have also shifted their product lines and their intended audiences around as well. While the Core and Core2 family has certainly gained power over the Pentium parts that they supplanted, the Xeon family also became a bit more accessible for the video editor needing extra power for big, complex render jobs. Some of the Xeon family's prices have slid down from their previous stratospheric levels, while gaining some dual-core parts in the lineup. And HP already has some competition in the dual-core Xeon field: Apple's Mac Pro and Dell's Precision 690, among others, are similarly very powerful choices. We would say that any of these would be very safe choices for a very powerful machine that could rip through any video-related jobs (and more!) that you could possibly need to perform. Of course, since we haven't seen the other two machines yet, we can report that the HP xw8400 did a particularly speedy, yet quiet job doing everything that we needed to do.

TECH SPECS

OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional

RAM: 2GB, DDR2-667, ECC

Processors: Intel Dual-core Xeon 5160, 3GHz, EM64T

Number of Physical Processors: 2

Hard Drive Capacity: 320GB

Hard Drive Interface: SATA

Video Editing Software Included: Windows Movie Maker

Analog Video Capture Card Included: no

DVD Burner: LG GCA-4166B

DVD Authoring Software Included: no

Multiple Monitor Connections: yes

Strengths

  • Super fast processing
  • Room to expand
  • Quiet, effective fans

Weaknesses

  • Pricey

SUMMARY

If you need a computer with superior processing power, this is definitely a great solution.

Charles Fulton is Videomaker's Associate Editor.


HP

825 14th St SW Bldg E

Loveland, CO 80537

(800) 833-6687

www.hp.com

$5,576 as configured

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