Workstations

HP Z600 Workstation (First Look Review)

30 Mar, 2009 By: Ron LaFon

New design is innovative, impressive, and superbly engineered.


HP today launched its Z line of entirely redesigned and re-engineered professional workstations: the HP Z400, offering what the company calls breakthrough performance for the price; the mid-range Z600, offering optimized performance in a small footprint; and the top-of-the-line Z800, designed for the most demanding applications. HP gave Cadalyst Labs the opportunity to put a prerelease model of the Z600 through our battery of tests, and the new system – packed full of power and priced around $9,000 -- passed with flying colors. The rare A+ grade we award this model is a testament to the leap in processing technology brought about by this new generation of hardware.

The new HP Z600 workstation is a prime example of the old adage: Good things come in small packages. The Z600 is built on Intel’s new Nehalem-based processors and is housed in a case measuring only 17.5" x 6.5" x 17.3" (H x W x D).

HP Z600
Mid-Level Workstation

HP
800.888.0261
www.hp.com/go/workstations

Pros:
Compact, quiet, innovative
design, extensive certifications,
speedy, superb engineering, highly
configurable.

Cons: None significant

Overall Grade: A+

Price:
$9,071 as tested. (Base price $1,679.)

The Z600 that Cadalyst received was based on the newly introduced Intel Xeon X5560 2.8-GHz processor that used the Intel 5520 chipset. This configuration had 8 MB of shared L3 cache and offered Turbo Boost technology. The front side bus has been replaced with Intel's QuickPath Architecture (6.4 GT/s). On a single-processor motherboard, a single QuickPath Interconnect connects the processor to the I/O hub; with multiple processors, the separate QuickPath Interconnects connect one or more processors and one or more I/O or routing hubs, allowing all components to access other components through a network. The net result is improved performance and workload balancing.

The HP motherboard, based on an Intel reference design, had four PCE-Express slots -- two Gen2 x16, one Gen2 x8 (x4), and one Gen1 x8 (x4) -- and two PCI slots. On the Z600 system we tested, one of the Gen2 x16 slots was occupied by a 10th-generation NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 graphics card with 1.5 GB of onboard GDDR3 memory. Several professional-level graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD are available for this line of workstations, including two 2D cards. In most cases, the Z600 can use two 2D or 3D graphics cards to support as many as four displays. Using two NVIDIA Quadro NVS 450 multidisplay 2D graphics cards, it can support as many as eight displays. Neither parallel nor serial ports were included on the system Cadalyst reviewed, but both are available options. An integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet provides network connectivity.

The next-generation HP Z600 workstation delivers outstanding performance and state-of-the-art technology in a new small-form unit.

Expandability options included two 5.25" externally accessible bays and two internal 3.5" bays. The system had a total of 12 USB 2.0 ports: six at the rear of the system, three in front, and another three inside the system case. Three FireWire 1294a ports were included: two on a PCI card and one on the front of the chassis. Although the workstation had no external SCSI port, it did offer support for four eSATA devices. The test system included a 650-W power supply (85% efficient) and an onboard high-definition sound subsystem; a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Titanium sound card is available as a configuration option. The system uses GDDR3 memory, and it arrived with 12 GB of installed RAM.

The test Z600 system arrived with a 145-GB SAS primary drive and a 1-TB SATA data volume. HP uses a variety of choices for both hard and optical drives, so those vary with individual system configurations. Our system had a slot-load DVD+/-RW 8X drive, and the only indication of its existence was a thin horizontal slot -- large enough to accommodate an optical disk -- midway down the mini-tower. Solid-state drives should be available in the second quarter of 2009.

The full list of Z600 technical data is available on the HP web site.

Green Machine
For those looking for green products, HP offers 85% (80 PLUS Bronze) efficient power supplies on all new products. An 89% (80 PLUS Silver) efficient power supply is available as an option for its Z800 workstation. ENERGY STAR v5-qualified configurations are available on all new platforms, and HP was the first to market EPEAT Gold registrations -- throughout its workstation line. EPEAT evaluates electronic products according to three tiers of environmental performance, including 23 required criteria and 28 optional criteria in eight categories. The Gold certification indicates that the product meets all required criteria plus at least 75% of the optimal criteria that apply to the product.

Additionally, the Z600 also incorporates HP WattSaver technology that uses less than 1 W of power when the system is powered down. More than 90% of the Z600 workstation is recyclable.

Included with the HP Z600 workstation was the HP LP2475W 24" widescreen monitor. This monitor works in combination with the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 via a DisplayPort or DVI-I connection. Taken alone on or in combination with the Z600, the LP2475W display is exceptional.

Outstanding Engineering and Design
HP has long been noted for its engineering prowess when it comes to designing and building workstations, but the new Z600 is a standout even in this context. The Z600 and the whole Z family of workstations incorporate innovative design elements that redefine expectations of computer design with quieter, greener, and more acoustically engineered systems that take the tools-free concept to a new level.

Even a cursory glance at the system exterior shows that carrying handles have been incorporated into the design -- not as an add-on but integrated into the chassis. A look inside shows even more profound changes. For example, the power supply is located at the bottom of the mini-tower and plugs directly into the backplane without using cables. Hard disks also plug into the backplane -- no cables there either.

The HP Z Series is no simple update of an old design. Rather, it is a whole new vision of the computer workstation. Virtually everywhere you look, subsystems have been rethought and redesigned and made tool-free. These workstations are the most forward-thinking that I’ve seen HP produce to date and will, I think, change what we define as a modern workstation. For more information about this new direction in workstation design and engineering, see Robert Green's coverage of HP's launch event for the new Z line.

New modular internal components snap in for ground-breaking serviceability.

The cooling system and an acoustic engineering enhancement have resulted in a quieter and cooler-running system, while the plug-in component architecture has made the system much easier to service. These changes also have resulted in more compact systems that are easier to move in the workplace and occupy less valuable space. The tested Z600 system was exceptionally quiet, even when equipped with an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 graphics card and its associated fan.

Testing and Performance
In testing the HP Z600, I had to make some decisions, primarily because of the Intel Nehalem processor living at the heart of the system. For example, this machine had a Turbo mode that could be turned on to balance performance, and it also had the ability to assign single or multiple processes to a single core in the processor. Ultimately, I decided to test the base configuration, but for those who are so inclined, this system has several avenues for fine-tuning performance to your particular needs.

With the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 included in the test system, I tested under Vista 64 using display driver v7.15.11.7883 (dated January 30, 2009) and took advantage of the integrated performance drivers for AutoCAD 2009 and 3ds Max Design 2009. Vertical sync was turned off, and background processes were minimized as much as possible, although Vista 64 has several required processes. I can't advise it as a standard operating procedure, but I had to disable User Access Control (UAC) to be able to run the Cadalystbenchmark suites.

The test suite included AutoCAD 2009 x64 with the latest service packs and patches installed, running the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark; Autodesk 3ds Max 2009 x64, running SPECapc 3ds Max 9 v1.2, and the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark. All tests were done at a screen resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 at a color depth of 24 bits. The AutoCAD tests were also run in two concurrent sessions of AutoCAD, each running a separate instance of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark. Because AutoCAD is not yet a multithreaded application, this proved to be the best means of using the additional processor cores in the system to get an indication of performance in such situations.

For the first run of AutoCAD x64 and the C2008 benchmark, I configured the system to use the AutoCAD default native Direct3D driver. For this run, I generated a C2008 total index score of 264, completing the run in 45 minutes. The particulars for this run were a 3D graphics index of 320, a 2D graphics index of 307, a disk index of 226, and a CPU index of 205.

The next run used the NVIDIA accelerated driver for Autodesk 2009 x64 and executed the multiple iterations of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark, and the best score provided a C2008 total index score of 333 in 20 minutes, which is less than one-half the time required for the native Direct3D driver. This configuration generated a 3D graphics index of 626, a 2D graphics index of 304, a disk index of 197, and a CPU index of 205.

The final runs of AutoCAD 2009 x64 also used the NVIDIA accelerated driver, but with two concurrently running sessions of AutoCAD, with each running a separate copy of the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark. Each of the individual sessions produced a C2008 total index score of 260, for a combined total of 520. The dual sessions completed in total time of 27 minutes.

The next test was the 3ds Max benchmark using Autodesk 3DS Max 2009 Design x64. I tested with a new, and as-yet-unreleased, version of SPECapc for 3ds Max 9 (v1.2). The performance for this benchmark also was quite good, producing a CPU render score of 16.38, a graphics score of 4.58, and a hardware shaders score of 12.29.

The final test was the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, which is designed to indicate how various CAD and design applications work with a given system configuration. The results for the single threaded test were 50.17 for 3dsmax-04, 58.46 for catia-02, 46.68 for ensight-03, 189.46 for maya-02, 55.37 for proe-04, 119.00 for sw-01, and 26.45 for tcvis-01: 26.45. With threads enabled (Composite 2 thread/Composite 4 thread), the results were 87.04/144.59 for 3dsmax-04, 84.10/85.54 for catia-02, 170.84/151.72 for maya-02, 72.69/76.18 for proe-04, 184.27/210.10 for sw-01, and 25.23/25.23 for tcvis-01.

All test results were good, indicating performance that's suitable for a broad range of applications. The Z600, along with other workstations from HP, has extensive professional software certifications -- as does the included NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 graphics card in this particular system.

The Fine Print
Pricing for the HP Z600 workstation as configured for this review is $9,071. This is pricey, without a doubt, reflecting the fact that this system was packed with extras – an expensive graphics card, lots of RAM and hard-disk capacity, and other options that increased the price. Cadalyst Labs acknowledges that an expenditure such as this isn’t practical for many, if not most, companies during difficult financial times. However, we hope our look inside this high-powered Z600 illustrates the processing potential made possible by this leap in technology. Keep in mind also that the productivity that you stand to gain from a system such as this one could easily justify the investment, particularly if you do a lot of 3D modeling, rendering, or the like.

For those who desire optimized performance for a lower price, extensive configuration options are available for the Z600 starting at $1,679. Further options are coming soon – for example, up to 24 GB of RAM and 4.5 TB of hard disk space will be available on the system later this year. The Z600's big brother, the Z800, offers even more options.

The warranty coverage for the Z600 is three years for labor, parts, and next business day on-site service. Extended warranty plans are available. Warranty parts replacement is next business day delivery. The company's return policy/restocking fee is a 30-day dead-on-arrival return policy, with a standard repair process thereafter.

No matter how you look at it, this workstation is impressive. It is compact, quiet, speedy, and highly configurable. It has innovative design and superb engineering and is forward looking in terms of expansion. The attention to detail in this system is remarkable, as is the design philosophy. It isn't often that I would consider an A+ grade for a workstation, but the HP Z600 deserves it. Highly Recommended

Related content: Cadalyst Software & Hardware Reviews; Workstations


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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