HP Aims to Support Emerging Design Workflows with New Workstations

15 Sep, 2017 By: Cadalyst Staff

Virtual reality, machine learning, and advanced design join 3D CAD, rendering, analysis, and simulation as drivers of desktop power increases.

HP introduced three desktop workstation models this week that Xavier Garcia, general manager and global head of workstations for HP, called “the most powerful PCs in the HP portfolio.” The completely redesigned HP Z8, Z6, and Z4 will take the place of the Z840, Z640, and Z440 in HP’s workstation lineup. The new models were designed with the guidance of three primary goals: performance, reliability, and "intentional design." (The latter, Garcia explained, means that the HP team considered “every single corner, every single feature” of these products to optimize access to components and other aspects of use.)

In addition to the workflows that currently define the requirements for powerful desktop computing — including simulation, rendering, and visual effects — HP designed the new workstations with an eye toward “new workflows that are increasing in importance in this market,” said Garcia. These include:

  • Virtual reality. With a nod to the backpack-style virtual reality kit HP launched recently, Garcia noted that VR is a “very important area [that] HP is going to be focusing on.” Both the creation and the exploration of VR environments are very demanding in terms of computing power, with the need to import huge amounts of data, process it, and deliver high-resolution experiences at a high frame rate.
  • Machine learning/deep learning/artificial intelligence (AI). Like virtual reality, machine learning includes multiple phases that require heavy-duty computing power. Garcia explained, “Machine learning has two different processes, two different stages: The development of the learning, of the process by itself, and the deployment of that knowledge.”
  • Advanced design/computational design. HP uses these terms for nontraditional digital design processes, including designing for 3D printing and processes wherein the engineer defines the constraints, properties, and requirements of a design, then hands the creative burden off to the software. HP defines “computational design” as “the application of computational strategies to the design process to solve problems, work within constraints, and solve for efficiency.” These technologies will call for more and more computing power, according to Garcia.

From the Ground Up

Josh Peterson, HP’s vice-president of product management, workstations, explained that in addition to the immediately visible changes to industrial design, the HP Z8, Z6, and Z4 feature new chassis with greater expandability, better cooling systems, and more security features than their predecessors.

HP's new workstations, the Z8, Z6, and Z4 (left to right) follow the industrial design path laid out by the Z2 Mini the company launched last year. Image courtesy of HP.

The new workstations incorporate dual Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports to support high-bandwidth data transfer, and USB 3.1 G2 Type C ports. The Z8 and Z6 models can support dual CPUs, and an optional dual 10 GbE network module that enables high-speed networking without taking up a PCIe expansion slot. “[Workstation users] consider those slots highly precious,” said Peterson.

The Z8 is the most powerful of the three — indeed, it’s “the most powerful desktop workstation on the planet,” according to HP — and it’s intended for extremely demanding tasks, such as intensive design simulation. It features as many as 56 processing cores; up to 3 TB of main memory; 24 DIMMs; seven full-length, full-height PCIe slots; and two internal PCIe slots.

The Z8 also features a 1,700W power supply with a locking mechanism. Despite the high wattage, the workstation is “just as cool, just as quiet as the previous generation” thanks to a cooling system that moves fresh air to the second CPU, instead of air that’s been warmed by contact with the first CPU, said Peterson. The cooling system has been redesigned to incorporate more air intake points and more and larger fans, but has not become noisier, said Peterson: “Customers care a lot about how quiet the systems are.”

The Z6 workstation, geared toward visual effects artists, supports 384 GB of system memory, dual M.2 slots for HP Z Turbo Drive PCIe SSDs, and an optional second processor and memory riser solution.

The Z4’s place in the lineup has been HP’s best-selling workstation. It’s suited for CAD and related tasks, including some simulation. The single-processor system features support for the Intel Xeon processor W family, a smaller chassis with front and rear handles, and a new dust filter option for industrial environments. The Z4 also features dual 1GbE networking, dual M.2 slots for HP Z Turbo Drive PCIe SSDs, and the ability to upgrade the front USB to include two USB 3.1 G2 Type C ports.

Keeping IP Safer

In addition to horsepower, the new models also emphasize security. Peterson commented, “The people working on workstations are working with the most sensitive data in the entire company. They’re the ones developing the IP, manipulating the IP, they have access to the company secrets that are completely invaluable.”

Peterson went on to explain that attacks on networks, servers, and other major components of companies’ IT infrastructure have been eclipsed by attacks on the client machines. “There’s a critical flaw in security, and that’s the human that’s sitting at the keyboard or mouse … end-point attacks are much more successful, and therefore we’ve seen a tremendous increase in end-point attacks,” he said.

To support HP’s claim that they are “the most secure workstations in the planet,” the new models feature multi-layer security that includes, in part:

  • HP SureStart Gen3, which the company describes as “the industry’s first self-healing BIOS with intrusion detection”
  • TPM 2.0, which provides hardware-based encryption
  • As many as four authentication tools for login
  • HP Secure Erase, which overwrites deleted data five times.

Availability and Pricing

The HP Z8 and Z6 workstations will be available in October, with starting prices of $2,439 and $1,919, respectively. The Z4 is scheduled to launch in November, at a price of $1,239. Thunderbolt add-in cards will be available shortly after launch.

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