Hardware

HP xw4600 Workstation with LP3065 30 LCD Monitor (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Jun, 2008 By: Ron LaFon

An in-depth look at a quiet, powerful, and affordable workstation.


For this review, Cadalyst Labs evaluated a workstation/monitor combination for a longer period of time and in a significantly broader context than we normally do for workstation reviews. Cadalyst will evaluate only a few systems per year in this manner, with the purpose of using the systems for a variety of projects and gaining a deeper sense of how well they function in extended use. For this particular review, Hewlett-Packard sent a new HP xw4600 workstation with one of the company's LP3065 30" LCD monitors.



Some characteristics — be they positive or negative — aren't immediately apparent when testing a system, but they do become apparent over time. Having a system for an extended period (in this case, three months) also provides the opportunity to test that system well beyond what Cadalyst normally does. During the course of this review, for example, I tested graphics cards, backup software, and large LCD monitors, all for reviews that either have appeared or will appear in Cadalyst. This extended use gave me much greater experience with the system.

Testing Procedures

When I initially received the system, I installed the most current versions of the software I use for testing, along with the Cadalyst benchmark testing software. In this case, the system was preloaded with Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2, as Cadalyst requested, and was configured with 2 GB of DDR2 800-MHz ECC RAM. Graphics were powered by an NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 graphics card using NVIDIA drivers v.6.14.11.6252 (dated July 20, 2007).

For the first part of the benchmark tests, I ran the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark (available at www.cadalyst.com/c2008) under AutoCAD 2008 with Service Pack 1, which I used to test performance with both AutoCAD's native OpenGL drivers and Direct3D drivers. I tested the HP system at 1,280 x 1,024 resolution at 32-bit color depth. The Cadalyst C2008 benchmark adds two additional 3D tests — Hidden Shade and Flat Shade — and works with AutoCAD 2008 under both Windows XP and Vista. In addition to the single OpenGL and Direct3D tests, I also ran side-by-side simultaneous sessions of C2008 to make use of the additional microprocessor core. These two test times were combined to obtain a final result. Because AutoCAD is not yet multiprocessor aware, this procedure seems to be the best method currently for testing AutoCAD on multicore systems.

The HP xw4600 workstation with the LP3065 display combines thoughtful engineering, good performance, and a moderate price. (Screen image courtesy of PTC)
The HP xw4600 workstation with the LP3065 display combines thoughtful engineering, good performance, and a moderate price. (Screen image courtesy of PTC)

The second benchmark tested was MAXBench4 with Autodesk 3ds Max 2008, which I tested in two configurations: with the native OpenGL drivers and with the native Direct3D drivers. Ordinarily, I would test with the NVIDIA accelerated 3ds Max driver, MAXtreme, but when I tested the system, a version of MAXtreme that supported 3ds Max 2008 was not available.

The final benchmark test for the HP system was the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark (www.spec.org), which works under both Windows XP and Vista. I've listed the scores for each of the component tests below in the performance evaluation section.

The System

The HP xw4600 is based on a proprietary motherboard, which is based on a Foxconn design, that uses the Intel X38 Express chipset. Although it is available with a variety of microprocessors, the system Cadalyst tested had an Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 processor rated at 3.0 GHz and that featured a front-side bus speed of 1,333 MHz.



In addition to 2 GB of DDR2 800-MHz ECC RAM in two of the four DIMM sockets (the system accommodates a total of 8 GB of RAM), the HP xw4600 included a 250 GB SATA hard drive and a DVD±RW double-layer Super Multi (SATA) optical drive. Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 was preinstalled.

The HP xw4600 is a relatively compact system, measuring 17.7" x 6.6" x 17.9" (H x W x D). It has six drive bays: three 5.25" and one 3.5" that are externally accessible and two 3.5" internal drive bays. The system was powered by a 475 W power supply with 80 PLUS efficiency, which should be ample for most system-expansion options. It had 10 USB 2.0 ports, two on the front of the system, seven on the back, and three internal sockets. The internal sockets are ideal for hardware dongles to keep them hidden and, with the case locked, relatively secure. As equipped upon arrival, the system had no MIDI/game ports or external SCSI connectors, though there was one standard serial port, one parallel port, and an eSATA port. An integrated Broadcom 5755 NetXtreme Gigabit PCIe network adapter was built into the system.

All told, the workstation had four PCI Express slots and three PCI slots, with one 16x PCI Express slot occupied by the NVIDIA graphics card and all the other slots available for use. The system also included integrated high-definition audio with jack retasking capabilities, a standard HP keyboard, and a USB optical scroll mouse.

Hewlett-Packard invests a lot of effort into engineering its systems, which was obvious in several ways during the course of evaluating the HP xw4600. HP has done extensive acoustic engineering on its PCs, which resulted in this workstation being one of the quietest systems I've seen — but not heard. In fact, it was often difficult to determine if the system was running, even when in close proximity, without looking at the monitor screen or power lights. If you're looking for a quiet system, you'll be pleased with this one.

Another way that HP engineering manifests itself is in the tools-free case. This workstation really is tools free, and it includes a lot of little things that combine to make the system easy to work on. For example, the slot cover panels at the back of each system slot are slightly grooved, so they stay in place even before you anchor the lever that locks the covers into place. Certainly this is a small design feature, but it's indicative of the thought that went into each component of the system, no matter how small.

Performance evaluation. On the Cadalyst benchmark tests, the HP xw4600 performed quite well. Running AutoCAD 2008 Service Pack 1 with the OpenGL drivers selected, I ran the C2008 benchmark and got a C2008 total index score of 207 in 94 minutes. With the Direct3D drivers selected, a C2008 total index score of 234 was produced in 76 minutes. With two simultaneous sessions running concurrently using the Direct3D drivers, one test produced a score of 213 in 84 minutes and the second test produced a score of 223 in 77 minutes, for a combined score of 436 in 84 minutes.

With Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 running MAXBench4 using the native OpenGL driver, the system produced a combined high/low average score of 84.30. With the Direct3D driver, the combined high/low average score was 142.05.

For the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, the workstation yielded the following composite scores: 37.24 for 3dsmax-04, 47.14 for catia-02, 30.01 for ensight-03, 111.14 for maya-02, 43.52 for proe-04, 61.30 for sw-01, 15.06 for tcvis-01, and 14.29 for ugnx-01.

The Monitor

The monitor provided with the HP xw4600 was the LP3065 30" LCD monitor, which proved to be exceptionally usable for the series of tests run with the workstation. Color purity was excellent, as was brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, and geometric distortion. Raster rotation showed no problems, and the on-screen menu was very limited — I loved having all the visual real estate that a monitor of this size affords, but I really would have loved to have had more control of the display settings. Thus far, none of the 30" LCD displays I've tested offer much control of display functions. All in all, the LP3065, a landscape-only display with a native 2,560 x 1,600 resolution, was both pleasing and very useful.

Pricing for the HP xw4600 as equipped upon arrival was a very moderate $2,275, with the HP LP3065 monitor priced at an additional $1,500, or $3,775 for the combination. The display carries a three-year warranty that covers labor, parts, and the backlight and includes on-site service and next-business-day direct replacement. The HP xw4600 pricing includes a limited 36-month warranty, with next-business-day parts, labor, and 8 x 5 phone support. Replacement parts are available in 24 hours.

The pricing and performance and overall quality of the system are excellent, making it ideal for an exceptionally broad range of work. The moderate price makes the HP xw4600 an affordable option for almost any situation. This system, with or without the LP3065 display, easily earns approval. Highly Recommended.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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