First Looks: Hewlett-Packard?s xw4100

31 May, 2003 By: Ron LaFon

Versatile CAD workstation.

HP xw4100 Workstation
CAD workstation

pros: Well-built; tool-free.
cons: None significant.
price: $2,390 (Internet price)


In mid-April, Hewlett-Packard introduced the xw4100 line of workstations, which are unique in many ways. What first catches your eye is the sleek and compact case, which is much smaller than those typically associated with Hewlett-Packard workstations. The redesigned chassis still allows fast and easy conversion from deskside to desktop system-just rotate the optical drive bays. A convenient front I/O panel provides access to headphone connections, two USB 2.0 sockets, and a FireWire 1394 connector.

The smaller chassis is more tool-free than any previous workstation shipped by Hewlett-Packard, but still maintains the rugged internal construction that makes HP systems durable. An optional solenoid hood lock eliminates the need for a physical key to lock the chassis. A local user or the administrator can lock the chassis using a password. You can still physically lock it with a Kensington cable lock via a small oval opening on the back of the system.

Hewlett-Packard xw4100 workstation
Hewlett-Packard’s xw4100 workstation comes in a range of configurations and offers solid performance at a good price.
Even though the case and chassis are significantly smaller, expandability has increased rather than diminished. The xw4100 offers three externally accessible 5.25" bays, and the power supply is now 280 watts.

When you start the system, the next unusual feature is what meets the ear-or rather, what doesn't meet the ear. This is without question the quietest 3GHz system that I've seen. This remarkable quietness is a product of good acoustic management that ranges from using software to track molecules of air throughout the case to maximize cooling to the incorporation of smart and variable fan control.

The motherboard is based on the Intel 875P chipset, and the system I tested used a 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor. Currently, the 3GHz and the less-expensive 2.4GHz processors are available. We expect other options soon. Remarkably, this system is available in an entry-level configuration with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor for as little as $799, but can be expanded to a very high-level workstation with many configuration options. This is an impressive range of options for a single design.

Front-side bus speed is 800MHz. The xw4100 system uses dual-channel PC3200 400MHz ECC DDR memory. Linux and Windows XP users gain varying degrees of additional speed from Hyperthreading technology, but all benefit from Intel PAT (Performance Acceleration Technology). The front bus speed, combined with the motherboard design and PC3200 memory, gives a very noticeable performance boost to the system. The graphics card included in the test system is the NVIDIA 980 XGL, the performance card of choice among workstation vendors. Including the 980 XGL, a 160GB hard disk, a 48× combination DVD/CD-RW drive, 1GB of RAM, 3GHz Intel processor, a keyboard, mouse, and Windows 2000 Workstation, the system tested carries an Internet price of $2,390.

We ran the Hewlett-Packard xw4100 workstation through our usual set of tests using Windows 2000 Workstation with Hyperthreading turned off, using NVIDIA driver version at a resolution of 1280×1024@85Hz in 32-bit color. Running AutoCAD 2002 and the Cadalyst C2001 benchmark test, the xw4100 workstation achieved a speedy combined 3D index score of 127.05. The ViewPerf benchmark proe-01 test produced a score of 23.19. The MaxBench4 test with discreet's 3ds max 5 and the default max driver gave an averaged score of 51.22. With the accelerated NVIDIA MAXtreme 4.00.29 driver, the xw4100 posted an averaged MaxBench4 score of 72, which puts it in the middle of the price/performance rating in the Cadalyst Labs March 2003 workstation review.

It's hard to find fault with the Hewlett-Packard xw4100 workstation. A winning combination of good looks and design, a remarkable range of flexibility in configurations, advanced technology, and low prices makes this family of systems likely to be popular for some time to come.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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