Speed Demon, Part 8
It seems like every new computer that comes through our doors is now the fastest. Or using the most bleeding-edge technology. HP didn’t disappoint us with its latest workstation, the xw6600. It utilizes Intel’s newest Xeon processor and chipset, and it delivers great performance.
The machine, as configured, includes two Intel Xeon E5450 processors, which are four-core, 64-bit chips running at 3.0GHz with a 1333MHz front-side bus. It’s also a surprisingly quiet system, decked out with quiet Seagate hard drives and nice big fans.
The biggest part of the story is the new processors, which are running in concert with the Intel 5400 chipset. The new chipset is optimized for the latest Xeon processors and also can accommodate processors with a 1600MHz front-side bus.
Also included in our system’s configuration: the aforementioned Seagate SATA hard drives (a 160GB boot drive and a 500GB storage drive were included with our system). The system’s optical drive is a Lite-On SATA unit that includes LightScribe. If you’re looking to burn Blu-ray Discs, though, you’ll have to wait a little while to be able to order something directly from HP, as none of the current Blu-ray Disc burners out there have sufficiently impressed HP at this point. However, we are told to expect Blu-ray Disc burners to be available for configuration in the xw6600 in early ’09.
Rounding out hardware, our system included an NVIDIA Quadro FX370 graphics card with 256MB of memory, a Broadcom NetXtreme gigabit Ethernet connection, a FireWire card, an eSATA connection on a slot cover (note: this is an optional accessory), and Realtek HD Audio. The case is tool-less – HP’s product manager tells us that the system can be taken down to a component level reasonably fast with just a user’s bare hands.
If your needs are similar but could be just as easily fulfilled with a single Intel Core 2-family processor, you might consider the xw4600 to save quite a lot of bread. Just about everything else available with the xw6600 is available with the xw4600.
We saw some unusual software choices. There was an AOL toolbar installed, which we deleted as quickly as we found out it was there. Also present was PDF Complete, an alternative yet inexpensive PDF reader and creation package. Our machine also came with Adobe Creative Suite CS3 preinstalled. (Note that the price we list for the system does not include CS3.) But more on pricing later.
HP includes a very cool set of “Cool Tools” that are specific to their workstations and include a set of power user web links. The highlight is the Performance Tuning Framework, which gives you a complete listing of configuration information, information on the installed graphic drivers, tuning options for applications, resource usage (including an option to turn on Large Memory Address Space and use more than 3GB of memory on a 32-bit operating system) and OS tuning.
Another nice touch is HP’s SoftPaq Download Manager, which allows for the quick downloading of any drivers that are available. However, we didn’t find a way to show only updates that are newer than the driver already installed, nor a way to filter out hardware that your system doesn’t include. It also doesn’t support all of HP’s hardware in the wild – HP’s website is still the best source for a lot of the drivers out there.
We put this machine to work over the course of a Videomaker Workshop. The machine ingested our HDV source video with aplomb. After capturing, we had a little break, which allowed the machine some time to conform the footage. As soon as we came back to the system, we were able to scrub through the video (in its native HDV format, mind you) very smoothly, in real time. Rendering for a print-to-tape operation was reasonably quick, and we could render a clip for YouTube (as H.264) in about double real time, making this machine a very quick performer indeed.
On the test bench, the storage hard drive outperformed the boot drive by a comfortable margin. The average transfer rate of the boot drive was 61.1MB/sec, while the storage drive can do 65.3MB/sec. CPU utilization was quite low on both drives – 0.8% for the boot drive and 0.7% for the storage drive.
On the List?
Sure, it’s a powerful machine, alright, but all that performance does not come cheap. Even the most basic version of the xw6600 will set you back $1,389. That’s not bad for a Xeon-based workstation, but the question lingers … fully configured and tricked out, do you really have to have it? The only way we could justify shelling out more than a couple grand on a workstation is if we had some really relentless deadlines.
We like the xw6600 a lot. It’s a polished machine that performs great. We enjoyed playing with the machine and putting it to work.
OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional 32-bit
RAM: 4GB, DDR2-667, ECC, fully-buffered
Processor: Intel Xeon E5450 (Quad-core), 3.0GHz
Chipset: Intel 5400
Number of Physical Processors: 2
Hard Drives: Boot-Seagate 160GB, 7200rpm (formatted capacity: 149.1GB); Storage-Seagate 500GB, 7200rpm (formatted capacity: 465.8GB)
Software Included: Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 (price quote does not reflect inclusion of CS3 Production Premium)
Analog Video Capture Card Included: No
DVD Burner: Lite-On DH-16A1L
Software Included: Adobe Encore CS3 (price quote does not reflect inclusion of CS3 Production Premium)
Multiple Monitor Connections: Yes
- HP Performance Tuning Framework
- Really, really fast
It’s fast, but whether its speed is something you need now or can wait for is between you and your pocketbook.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker’s Associate Editor.
3000 Hanover St.
Palo Alto, CA 94304
$5,612 as configured (not including Adobe suite)