Want to know who’s still pouring in the development time and money to keep workstations on top for today’s production needs? Credit HP. Hot on the heels of the launch of the very cool Z1, the world’s first all-in-one, small form-factor workstation, HP offers up key enhancements to their line of production-ready Z series workstations. (If you haven’t heard about the Z1, read our hands-on look at that sleek new machine here).
In our production and post business, the trend towards ultra-thin notebooks or tiny tablets won’t find much headway (although they might succeed in carving out a niche). Rather, workstations still rule and the more powerful the better. The list is long for all that they handle in a postproduction suite where slower CPUs and GPUs won’t do. Don’t try non-linear editing, color grading, high-end visual effects, sound mixing, animation or many other high power multi-threaded applications with an ultra-slim machine.
If you’ve ever taken the tour of HP’s Ft. Collins, Colorado workstation division, you’ll know that the company works and tests their hardware to the Nth degree. This makes it easy to recommend their gear if you’re basing your business around projects that get into serious, 24/7 production schedules.
HP rounded up a number of companies for their World Wide Workstation event in Las Vegas to show how other major players are on board. There we heard testimony from Autodesk, The Foundry and Bandito Brothers as to the readiness of HP gear for their software and projects. (LA-based Bandito Brothers used Canon DSLRs along with HP Z800s and HP DreamColor displays to create their surprise hit, Acts of Valor, the Navy Seal sponsored drama that topped the charts on its opening weekend.)
Let’s take a look at today’s announced gear.
We start with HP’s top of the line, their badge of honor (as they put it) the Z820, engineered for the “most demanding” and compute-intensive tasks. All of HP’s new workstations have their benefits, but since the production of motion pictures demands much, the Z820 is naturally the most compelling to my eyes.
Not too long ago, we reviewed its predecessor, the Z800 (you can read that review here). The Z820, however, features some noteworthy advancements that make this tower of power even better.
While the Z800 was limited to two six-core Xeons (12 cores total), the Z820 provides up to 16 processing cores (two eight-core Xeons). Xeon, Intel’s workstation class processor, enables you to move data faster through the system as well as add much more memory. In the Z820, the additional four processors found in Intel’s latest Xeon E5-2600 family will offer a significant throughput boost.
Because of the added memory controllers available in the Xeon series, the HP Z820 permits up to an astounding 512 GB of ECC memory. No, that’s not a typo. Previously, the Z800 allowed for 192 GB of RAM and that seemed very impressive. Now with the ability to put in half a terabyte of RAM I’m doubly impressed. Of course that much RAM doesn’t come cheap whatever the system.
I surveyed other workstations by manufacturers such as Boxx, Dell, Rain and Apple and no one came near as high in maximum RAM installation. The closest was a top of the line Mac Pro which offered 64 GB, still a far cry from the 512 GB on the Z820. Sure that’s as big as some hard drives, but in our line of work, is there ever such thing as too much RAM? In any case, the retail price on a Z820 should still beat a Mac Pro, even though it exceeds it in power and performance.
The Z820 can also support dual NVIDIA Quadro 6000 video cards for top video performance for demanding tasks such as color grading and multi-stream editing. The device also offers up USB 3.0 ports for high speed peripheral I/O. For more information about the internal structure of the machine, tool-less serviceability and upgrading, be sure to check out our review of the Z800. Keep an eye on these pages for a future full review of the Z820.
Next on down the line is the HP Z620. Think of it as designed for those who desire a somewhat smaller solution/price point yet still want a machine that packs a solid punch when it comes to video and animation. With the Z620 your software can access up to 16 processing cores, 96 GB of ECC memory and up to an impressive 11 TB of internal storage. You also have the option of dropping in dual NVIDIA Quadro 5000 GPUs or a single Quadro 6000. A solid performer, I’d say.
Engineered with mainstream computing in mind, the HP Z420 can still deliver the goods when it comes to video editing, photography and other production jobs. It supports up to eight processing cores using the Intel Xeon E5-1600 and E5-2600 product families. In addition, you can toss in up to 64 GB of ECC memory (the same amount of a current top shelf Mac Pro), up to 11 TB of high-speed storage, and either one NVIDIA Quadro 5000 or dual Quadro 2000 GPUs.
The latest Intel Xeon E5-2600s available in the new workstations not only pack in up to 16 physical cores in a single system, but offer 32 concurrent threads for processing, a real boost for properly coded software. In addition, the new processors include Intel vPro technology (for security management) and Intel Turbo Boost technology which intelligently bumps up the speed of the processor depending on system conditions.
In a prepared statement, Boyd Davis, vice president, Architecture Group, Intel noted the new chips deliver an increase in computational capacity and proficiency along with an optimized I/O infrastructure. Boyd adds “HP Workstations based on our new Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 product family are helping workstation users fast track the way they create, test and modify their innovative ideas.”
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I continue to be impressed by HP’s workstation division as they introduce new products and enhance their current product lines which I feel are the best in class. I do not hesitate to recommend them to those seeking power without compromise at prices very much within reason.
The HP Z420, Z620 and Z820 Workstations are expected to be available worldwide beginning in April. Estimated U.S. pricing starts at $1,169 for the HP Z420, $1,649 for the HP Z620 and $2,299 for the HP Z820.