HP xw9300 Workstation Review

Screamin’ Meemie

In the constant march of video editing desktop computers that have come through these doors, each is just a little faster, a little slicker, a little smoother than the one that came a month earlier. This is certainly the case with HP’s xw9300 workstation, a remarkable Opteron-based system with the ability to wiz through video with reckless abandon.

Intel Not Inside

We have to admit that this is the first AMD Opteron-based system that has paid us a visit. Having read some of the grandiose things bandied about by system administrators and power users who have fallen in love with the 64-bit AMD processors, we were giddy to get this piece of iron on our desk. And not surprisingly, it is quite a lug.

Pulling the handle on the easy-to-open (but lockable) case, we immediately saw the most likely source of the weight gain: the machine’s gargantuan 750 watt power supply (HP’s website says 700 watt but the little sticker on the power supply said 750). The two Opteron 250 chips were safely nestled under nice, big, aluminum CPU coolers, and there was plenty of room for hard drives (with four internal 3 1/2" drive bays, although HP can build your system with up to five hard drives. Our system came with two Maxtor MaXLine Plus II 250GB Serial ATA drives.) 2GB of PC3200 DDR memory were installed in two banks. There were also some big chassis fans installed–a 120mm fan in the rear of the case, and an 80mm fan at the front of the case.

Other ports include two internal Ultra 320 SCSI ports, front and rear FireWire ports, three 64-bit PCI-X slots, one 32-bit PCI slot and two 16-lane PCI Express slots, which give the machine support for dual graphic cards with an SLI connection between them.
Standard video for this particular system was an NVIDIA Quadro FX1400, a dual-head behemoth. (Really–we don’t remember the last time we saw a full-length video card.)

We hooked the machine to the provided keyboard and mouse (oh, and by the way, we’d gladly spend the extra $20 for the optical scroll mouse–who uses a roller ball-based mouse anymore?) and one of our 21" CRT-based monitors.

We fired up the system and the fans roared to life, quite literally. It seemed overly loud to us, until we figured out that the BIOS had the "full speed fan" enabled. When we disabled that, the roar subsided to a mere purr. This demonstrates the type of airflow that those big fans are capable of–you’ll probably never hear them unless you’re doing some heavy-duty rendering.

Workin’ It

A quick look at a few areas of Windows’ control panel showed that the machine was equipped with an NVIDIA nForce 4 chipset, with internal LAN and audio controllers. An AMD processor information utility revealed the stepping of the CPUs. A little bit of digging on AMD’s Web site revealed that those particular Opteron 250 processors suck up to 89 watts of power when running at full bore, and can withstand temperatures of up to 70C (hence, all of the fans and that gigantic power supply).

We installed Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5.1 to see what kinds of editing chops this machine had. The NVIDIA Quadro’s dual DVI outputs really got a chance to shine as we attached a second monitor to the card and spread out the timeline for the ultimate in scrubbing precision. Pair this machine with some nice DVI monitors and a shuttle dial, and we can pretty much guarantee that you’ll find yourself in hog heaven.

If you’ve got HD in the back of your mind, this machine likes the way you’re thinking. We played with some HD clips with Premiere Pro, and everything worked well. Video scrubbing was very smooth through the 1440×1080 footage. We also played some WMV HD sample clips through Windows Media Player. All of the HD footage played with fluid motion and deep, saturated colors–in a word, gorgeous.

Cha-Ching!

Alas, all of this raw power comes at a rather steep price. HP xw9300 configurations start at $1,799, although additions of free HP LCD monitors with some configurations sweeten the deal. If flexibility is what you’re after, you will certainly find what you’re looking for on HP’s machine configurator Web site. If you’re looking for SCSI hard drives for some reason, or you want to try Windows XP 64-bit Edition (although we’re not quite sure why you’d want to do that yet, since no editing apps that we’re aware of are 64-bit savvy yet), you can find the machine that strikes your fancy.

As configured, our machine would run $6,327. If that’s a little much for you, downgrade the video card first, unless you need to do some really serious 3D work. Any of the available video cards will be able to make short work of your video work.

TECH SPECS

Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional

RAM: 2GB, PC3200 DDR

Processor: AMD Opteron 250

Number of Physical Processors: 2

Hard Drive Capacity: 500GB

Hard Drive Interface: SATA

Video Editing Software Included: no

Analog Video Capture Card Included: no

DVD Burner: HP DVD Writer 400i

DVD Authoring Software Included: no

Multiple Monitor Connections: yes

STRENGTHS

  • Wicked fast
  • Well-built
  • Much potential for HD work

WEAKNESSES

  • Pricey

SUMMARY

A lightning-quick machine that is ready for the 64-bit and HDV future.

Charles Fulton is Videomaker’s Associate Editor.

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