What a Workstation…
HP is justifiably proud of its new line of workstations. In a massive set of launch events, HP hosted the international technology press and shared a number of achievements its new workstations have accomplished for customers spanning the gamut of hardcore computing needs – feature-length 3D animated pictures, oil and gas exploration, commercial rocketry, race car teams, CAD/CAM and, of course, video editing (among others).
When we first saw the Z800’s innards, we thought “Mac Pro” first and foremost. While imitation is, indeed, the sincerest form of flattery, there’s more going on with the Z800’s design. Like the Mac Pro’s, the design is compartmental: it’s easy to get to everything important, it’s efficient when it comes to airflow and it can also get quite a nice amount of wind going inside. Between HP’s engineers and BMW’s design center in greater LA, a lot of very thoughtful extras came into play with this design (as well as with the Z400 and the Z600, the Z800’s cousins in the product line). The machine sports a modified extended ATX form factor motherboard. An integral handle makes the workstation easy to move around, and there are no rubber feet, so it’s easy to slide around on carpet (when the need arises).
HP has marked each user-serviceable area of the computer inside with a little green stripe, each of which it calls a touch point. This makes it easy to navigate your way through the workstation. The other thing you’ll notice right away is the lack of cables throughout the system; this keeps things very clean. All necessary cables connect behind the motherboard. That said, though, there are still power connections available for things like video cards; they are tucked into a little garage area near the slots.
The 1110W Delta power supply has an 89% efficiency rating, meriting an 80 Plus Gold certification for efficiency. It is also easily field-replaceable; you can remove the power supply with one hand. The power supply is self-cooled; in fact, its two fans do not contribute to cooling the rest of the machine.
That doesn’t mean the Z800 runs hot, though; there is no shortage of fans in the system – and, even better, they’re all quiet fans. There are also cowlings that masquerade simply as covers for the slots, processors and memory, but these are functional pieces of plastic that help to route air through the system. The slot access cover also includes a cam, helping to ensure that you remembered to close the bulkhead access flap after installing or removing a card.
HP has put a lot of effort into making a self-diagnosing computer. For example, if a memory module fails, the computer can tell you which socket’s module has gone bad. If the computer won’t power on, there’s a green LED on the power supply that you can check – just remove the power supply from the machine and plug in the power supply. If the LED doesn’t light up, you know that it’s the power supply that is your problem component.
It’s easy to get access to all of your drives, and, even better, it’s really hard to install drives incorrectly. Rubber grommets on the drive sleds also help absorb the vibrations generated by your drives, which is particularly helpful if you’re using fast (e.g., 15,000 rpm) drives.
Future improvements that will be available soon include solid-state drives, a closed-circuit liquid cooling system and a Blu-ray Disc burner. Optical drive-wise, our system shipped with a slot-loading drive, but that is primarily for looks. The drive tops out at 24x for reading and writing CDs, 8x for reading and writing single-layer DVDs and 6x for reading and writing dual-layer DVDs. If speed is a factor, order a tray-loading drive. (Another thing that may make you consider a tray-loading drive: we had some trouble with discs jamming inside the slot-loading drive.)
The first time you boot the system and any time you make a configuration change to the hardware, pressing Power will turn on all of the machine’s fans full-blast until the system’s video is initialized and you see the big white HP logo (against a blue background) on the screen. The fans then die down to a whimper, but you can place your hand near the front grille to feel the volume of air flowing through the case.
The machine is rock-stable. We can generally make the average machine do some weird things over the course of a review session, but not this one. Like the typical workstation, it includes ECC memory, which adds a trivial amount of overhead to the machine’s operations, but it’s a good trade-off, since it eliminates the possibility of a random single-bit error cropping up.
The machine uses Intel’s new Xeon W5580 processor, which is a quad-core, 64-bit, Hyper-Threaded part running at 3.2GHz with an 8MB cache, including Intel Virtualization Technology and support for the execute disable bit for an additional safety margin. Intel sells these processors for $1600 each in quantities of 1000. Each chip consumes a massive 130W when running at full bore, which is a lot of power, no matter how you slice it. However, Intel designed the chip to throttle back when it’s not being fully utilized, but the chip can also increase its own speed, core by core, when load conditions are right.
Through the Paces
The Z800 handily outperforms its predecessors in the HP workstation line. It is certainly not a slouch in the performance department. We must report, however, that some of the benchmark scores we were getting with the system were lower than the Polywell Core i7-based system we recently reviewed here. In all of the tests that we ran, single-processor and dual-processor performance was largely the same (whether we physically removed the processor or simply disabled it in the BIOS); therefore, at this time we cannot recommend a dual-processor configuration for doing video work with this machine.
The disk subsystem, however, handily smokes the performance numbers you’d get from a typical hard drive configuration; 15,000 rpm hard drives are a rather rare, but extremely fast choice for a boot drive and are also a good place to put swap files. The data volume is a single drive, not a stripe set, so HP chose stability over raw speed for storing large files.
In the real world, we were able to convert some AVCHD files to P2 format very quickly. The nine files, at a total size of 5.31GB, would play out in six minutes and 36 seconds in real time, but the conversion took only two minutes and 30 seconds to complete. This probably isn’t a conversion path for video that many of us would use too often, but it should still give you a good idea of how fast the machine operates.
Return That Investment
HP’s take on the pricing for these machines is “full speed ahead.” While it’s true that HP is aware that a lot of us are hurting, they do make a good point in that, if you have a fast, stable machine that uses less power to do more work, you are working smarter and you get more work done in less time. In terms of man-hours and the value of your time, the machine pays for itself quickly. HP notes that, in terms of the value of time alone, the typical Z series workstation will pay for itself in about a month.
It’s certainly true that not all of us can afford to pay what most people pay for a used car to get a new computer. In that case, you can get a pretty comparable – yet still very powerful – HP workstation in the Z400. You can configure one for $2788 that includes a 475W 85% efficiency power supply, an Intel Xeon W3520 2.66GHz quad-core processor, an NVIDIA Quadro FX1800 video card, 6GB of ECC RAM, a 160GB 7200 rpm SATA boot drive and a 500GB 7200 rpm SATA data drive, a tray-loading 16x DVD burner, a FireWire card, an eSATA bulkhead connector, USB keyboard and mouse. But considering the very reasonable base prices for these machines, you should be able to easily find a configuration that does what you need it to do for an agreeable price point. (Besides, if you wait a little while, the Xeon W5580 will probably drop in price by a few hundred bucks.)
OS: Microsoft Windows Vista Business, 64-bit; Windows XP Pro 64-bit (“downgrade”)
RAM: 12GB, DDR3-1333, ECC, triple-channel
Processor: 2x Intel Xeon W5580 (3.2GHz)
Chipset: 2x Intel 5520
Number of Physical Processors: 2
Video Card: NVIDIA Quadro FX4800
Hard Drives: Fujitsu MBA3147RC, 147GB, 15,000 rpm; Seagate ST3146356SS, 146GB, 15,000 rpm; Seagate ST31000340AS, 1TB, 7200 rpm
Video Editing Software Included: Windows Movie Maker
Analog Video Capture Card Included: None
Disc Burners: Toshiba/Samsung TS-T633A
Disc Authoring Software Included: Windows DVD Maker (Vista)
Multiple Monitor Connections: Yes, 2 DisplayPort, 1 DVI
- Well-designed chassis
- Extremely stable
- Expensive as configured, but there are a lot of configuration options available
- Adding a second processor not worth it
Another great performer from HP provides some major steps forward in the world of workstations.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.
3404 E. Harmony Road
Fort Collins, CO 80528
Price: $1999 base; $10,787 as configured