HP xw4600 Workstation Computer Review

A New Side of HP

Workstations are funny things, really. Defined as a step above a run-of-the-mill desktop PC and a step below a server, the workstation niche has seen prices creep down ever so slightly over the past few years. As with everything in computer-land, prices just keep on falling as the equipment keeps getting more powerful. (For those of you who aren’ t grizzled old fogies in the world of computer science, workstations are usually set apart from regular ol’ desktops by having more-powerful-than-average processors and video hardware, memory that is more error-tolerant, and sometimes specialized storage. A server gets the best of the best processors, memory and storage but foregoes the spiffy video hardware.)

As a result of the escalating processor arms race between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, processors from desktop processor families are now finding themselves in workstations. HP’ s latest workstation family, the xw4600, is interesting in that the systems within can be configured with a choice of Intel processors that come from a strong desktop heritage (e.g., we’ re more used to seeing workstations with Xeon or Opteron processors). HP offers dual-core (Pentium D and Core 2 Duo) and quad-core (Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Extreme) processors. Our machine shipped with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 (2.66GHz, 65nm, 8MB L2 Cache, 1066MHz FSB, 64-bit) processor. The machine utilizes Intel’ s X38 Express chipset.

Gearing Up

The xw4600′ s full-size ATX case is every bit as handsome as any of HP’ s other machines of recent years, though it is a bit narrower than the xw8400 and xw9300 that we’ ve reviewed in the past. Under the cover, you’ ll discover the many expansion slots: 3 PCI, 1 PCI Express x1, 1 PCI Express x8 and 2 PCI Express x16. Only one of the slots was occupied – the top PCIe x16 slot had an NVIDIA Quadro FX1700-based video card installed.

Our review unit also shipped with a Windows XP “downgrade” from Windows Vista, labeled as such, we understand, so that Microsoft can claim a sale of a Windows Vista license (sneaky). In the spirit of flexibility, if you don’ t want to use Windows XP Pro or Windows Vista (32- or 64-bit), you can also request the 64-bit version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux instead.

True to its workstation heritage, the machine includes 2GB of Micron DDR2 PC2-6400 ECC memory, set up as dual-channel.

Our machine also included a Hitachi/LG SATA DVD burner with LightScribe and Broadcom NetXtreme gigabit Ethernet. We had HP send us their USB input devices, a standard 104-key keyboard and a scroll mouse. There is an oddity: the floppy drive. Seriously, who actually uses these anymore? Anyone?

HP has also stepped up to the plate for complying with the EPA’ s new standards for Energy Star 4.0 compatibility. The machine ships with a 475W Delta 80 Plus-compliant power supply that includes active power factor correction, making it run much more efficiently.

Off to Work We Go

Powering up, we found the machine extremely quiet. The hard drive’s clicking is about as loud as it gets. (Seagate has a reputation for being quiet, and the ST3160815AS SATA drive is no exception. Its performance was quite good for a 7200rpm part. SAS and SATA drives at speeds of up to 15,000rpm are available, if you need em.)

The machine’ s trial by fire was the October Videomaker Workshop. The machine worked great with Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium, and the video performance was excellent (though any of the available video cards would’ ve been more than adequate for the majority of our readers who are considering this machine).

We overlooked one small detail, though: FireWire is optional on this machine. We had started to become complacent: we see so many FireWire-equipped machines come through the doors that we didn’ t think to ask (we’ ve even gotten used to seeing mass-market desktops that include FireWire!). So we had to get into our closet to locate a FireWire card in order to import some video we wanted to cut together for the Workshop.

Wait – How Much?

The $3,374 price tag for the system we reviewed is definitely not low – we could build a machine very similar to this for roughly half the price. What you get, though, is HP’ s outstanding 3-year warranty with on-site service. (And, of course, if you did buy all the parts to build a machine like this, you’ d have to build it first before you could play with it – HP gives you a very satisfying out-of-the-box experience.)

If you dropped the video and processor choice down from what came with our review system, though, you’d find the prices would immediately get much more competitive. The machine’ s base $778 pricetag is quite noteworthy in and of itself – we remember when even the cheapest workstations started in the low $2,000 range. Ah, progress…


Operating System: Microsoft Vista or Windows XP Professional

RAM: 2GB, PC2-6400 DDR2 (ECC, dual-channel)

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 (2.66GHz)

Number of Physical Processors: 1

Hard Drive Capacity: 160GB

Hard Drive Interface: SATA

Video Editing Software Included: Windows Movie Maker

Analog Video Capture Card Included: No

DVD Burner: Hitachi/LG GDRH10N, DVD-/+R, LightScribe

DVD Authoring Software Included: No

Multiple Monitor Connections: Yes


  • Powerful
  • Energy-efficient
  • Great warranty


  • Can get expensive, depending
    on configuration


A workstation that will let you hit the ground running, though depending on how you configure it, it might cost quite a bit.

Charles Fulton is Videomaker‘ s associate editor.


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