While some creatives can get by with today’s more powerful laptops, most full-time professionals rely on workstations. You might be doing video editing, 3D animation, color grading or compositing, so you know that you simply require the high power, enhanced capabilities and sheer ruggedness that a workstation class machine offers. Among workstation manufacturers, there are not many left who give it their all to pull this off at the highest level.
The one manufacturer that I feel does this because it’s in their DNA is HP. They can’t seem to help it. For years they’ve built the most popular machines around, as a number of market studies consistently rank them as worldwide leaders in workstation sales. Meanwhile, top studios like DreamWorks Animation rely upon their gear, while leading storage makers like Fusion-io (with computing legend Steve Wozniak as Chief Scientist) are integrating their potent storage tiers into HP’s workstations.
Well, yesterday HP kept at it, unveiling several products including lower cost gear for those of us who may have been thinking about getting a workstation but have been hesitant due to the higher cost of the first iterations of HP’s Z-series machine. The HP Z230 workstation series deliver considerable power at near standard PC prices. HP also unveiled some very tasty new displays too. Optimized to work with Z workstations, the HP Z22i, Z23i and Z24i IPS displays also provide excellent performance and color accuracy at affordable prices.
The best of the displays has to be the Z24i, a 24-inch model with resolution of 1920 X 1200. All three new displays are built with IPS (In Plane Switching) Gen 2 technology — not the TN (twisted nematic) technology found on lower quality displays. IPS panels maximize viewing angles, allowing you to view your images with a quality experience (i.e. no color shifts) even if you’re sitting a bit on the side. That’s important for anyone who happens to have a client sitting by their side – you don’t want them to start talking about how the colors just aren’t right.
In addition, the new displays provide excellent coverage of the sRGB color space which is used in the majority of engineering, creative and professional apps. The HP Z22i and Z23i offer 95 percent coverage while the Z24i monitor, the monitor I would most recommend, offers 99 percent coverage of that full color space. While you would be better off getting an HP Dreamcolor display for extremely color-critical work, the color accuracy of the Z24i is great for most applications.
Finally, the HPZ Displays are ENERGY STAR qualified and EPEAT Gold registered. It’s nice to know that HP is conscious about the environment, but energy efficiency also helps with your utility bills. For quality displays such as these, you might expect to pay a lot. You’d be wrong though – the HP Z22i, Z23i and Z24i displays are $239, $259 and $399 respectively — affordable by most anyone, even artists just starting out.
As mentioned before, the Z230 is a perfect choice for those looking to acquire their first workstation, since it comes in at standard PC-like prices. Don’t think that calling it “entry level” means it’s a workstation with poorer performance. Not only does this little baby pack a serious punch, but it is designed for heavy 24/7/365 workloads.
Joining HPs popular (and powerful) family of Z workstations such as the top-of-the line Z820, the Z230 comes in two styles. You have the choice of getting it in a compact (yet expandable) tower design or in a small form factor, perfect for limited desktop environments where space is at a premium.
Both the tower and small form factor include, as you might expect, the latest Xeon processors from Intel, as well as Intel’s own built in graphics support if you want to save some money to start out. But if you go with the discrete graphics option, you’ll be able to support up to an impressive six independent displays. This is a dream, but if I had the room, I’d like to have six displays on my desk, one for each application, and maybe a couple to watch movies and surf the web. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too much.
For those that want to get a dedicated graphics card, the tower model can run the potent NVIDIA K4000 or AMD FirePro W700 graphics cards, GPUs that can really speed up demanding applications such as advanced 3D modeling and video editing.
On the inside of the tower, there are three hard drive bays — two 3.5-inch bays, and one 2.5-inch bay for an SSD drive. You can get into new storage trends via Intel’s Smart Response Technology, which allows you to create a hybrid of older magnetic hard drives and newer solid state drives (SSDs). Here’s how it works. Traditional hard drives, as you know, are capable of handling massive amounts of storage but, by themselves, are not as fast as solid state drives. SSDs, on the other hand, are speedy but normally don’t hold as much data, since bigger SSDs are still pretty pricey. With Intel’s Smart Response Technology, you can set up a RAID using the two 3.5 inch magnetic drives and have them work with the SSD, which acts as a huge disk cache. In this way you can create a massive storage system that feels about as snappy as an SSD.
The Z230 tower contains four PCIe slots as well as 1 PCI slot for legacy cards. The Z230 also features an impressive 14 USB ports in a mix of USB 3.0 and 2.0. It also has a handy USB charging port on the front of the chassis since it turns out that not every USB port does a good job of charging external devices (such as smartphones and tablets).
The HP Z230 workstations start at $999 for quad-core configurations. Look for them to be available worldwide in August.