Since today’s modern laptops have become more potent than ever, ideal for working on location or at your home, why buy a workstation?
Well, ‘big iron’ workstations are, of course, the real workhorses of our industry. Whether you’re editing commercials in 4K or creating visual effects, you turn to a workstation because they are steady and reliable. Besides, unlike the cramped interior of a laptop, you can easily add gobs of memory or multiple graphics cards to a workstation if the job calls for it.
HP Bolsters Entry-Level Lineup
If you’re looking at workstations, you’ll probably want to start with HP, the long time market leader and a company that offers great value for you workstation dollar.
The Palo Alto-based company continues to offer a full range of machines, ranging from its top of the line model, the HP Z840, through to the mid-range Z640 and Z440. Over the past couple of weeks HP rounded out its workstation line with the entry-level Z240 (an update of the Z230) which comes in a tower as well as a small form factor (SFF) — what you’d call a desktop model.
Last week, I met with HP’s Andrew Willard at their Z240 launch event in New York. He’s their global product manager for entry workstation platforms. Andrew gave me a tour of the most interesting features of these compact machines that, solidly built in HP’s typical we’re-still-an-engineering-company-first manner.
Here’s a video about the machine at the event (I forgot my lavaliere mic so the audio suffers a bit):
With a price point that is similar to a standard desktop PC, moving to an HP Z240 will appeal to a broad range of users, including those with a limited budget or facilities and large studios which need a fleet of workstations for their artists. Whether you are doing 3D, video editing or designing interactive media, the Z240 boasts a long list of innovative enhancements and features that is remarkable for an entry-level machine.
Entry Level Doesn’t Mean Skimping on the Latest
One new feature – the M.2 slot – shows that innovative technology can find a place in an entry-level product.
What’s cool about M.2 on the motherboard is that you now have a high-speed slot that replaces the little used 2-channel PCIe slot, which was too small to run a graphics card or anything very useful. Instead you can have a number of expansion cards and connectors that can be installed, including HP’s super-fast Z Turbo Drive G2.
Developed in collaboration with Samsung, The Z Turbo drive delivers a blistering fast read time of 1GBps (gigabytes per second), yet price close to standard SSDs. Editing multiple streams of 4K video on an entry-level workstation is now a reality. (Well, okay, one stocked with these optional drives in any case.)
One design innovation might seem a bit more pedestrian at first: removable dust filters. However, the addition of dust filters are claimed to be able to reduce dust levels up to 47 percent. this is a practical way to keep important system elements from overheating after sitting around in a dusty workspace, and is a welcome addition to any workstation.
The Z240 is compact in either the tower or desktop model when compared to its fuller-sized companions. In part that’s due to a reduced-size motherboard on the tower as well as simpler cable layouts. This is something to keep in mind if you’re dealing with tight spaces in a cubicle or dormitory room.
To make it easier to move it around, the Z240 tower features integrated front and rear handle ledges. This is a nice touch, and is something usually seen on higher end workstations.
An improved airflow design and enhanced acoustic damping are also worth mentioning. While the two Z240s we’re looking at are entry-level models, HP shows it’s not skimping by integrating temperature sensors throughout the motherboard and power supply of both the tower and SFF systems. The result? Better cooling and quieter operation, since you can keep on top of heat buildup that could otherwise cause problems while keeping the machine quiter in cooler environments.
Using the latest Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 CPUs, or the upcoming Xeon E3-1200 v5 series, enables the Z240 to handle up to 64 GB of the latest DDR4 ECC memory. That capability is twice the amount of the previous Z230 generation. That should probably be enough for most ambitious 3D models and simulations – if your budget can handle it. While I prefer a more versatile tower model myself, the small form factor version of the Z240 is only 57 percent the size of the tower, so it can find a place on most desktops.
The HP Z240 Tower and Z240 SFF ship with Windows 7, Windows 10 or Linux (Red Hat and SUSE) installed. Availability is expected in November. Systems start at $879.
The Z240 Series is a significant upgrade to that seems to redefine the definition of “entry-level computing”. Properly tweaked with the right amounts of RAM and SSDs, you can expect to speed your way through the world of increasingly high-res projects.