HP xw4600 WorkstationLet me begin by saying that the HP xw4600 Workstation was not what I was expecting. When I knew that I was going to get a workstation priced at $3,044, with 1.5 TB of storage and a Core 2 processor with an NVIDIA Quadro FX video card, I was sure that the FedEx guy would probably need a visit to the doctor after he dropped it off, but I was pleasantly surprised and admittedly very doubtful when I saw the size of the machine, as it was literally about half the size of my current “under-desk space heater.” How did they get everything in there and how was it going to stay cool? I was sure that, with the small footprint of the box and all that horsepower, something was going to give.

So…I took it out of the box and proceeded to open it, noting that the wiring and components were very well organized and nothing was out of place or difficult to get to. I then put the cover back on and, within minutes, had it hooked up and running. Now it was time to get to the good stuff. I loaded the Adobe Creative Suite and Autodesk’s Maya software on the workstation without a problem.

But, here’s where the fun began. I wanted to put the HP xw4600 through its paces, so I simply used it in my studio for a project that I’m working on, which included illustration, animation, voice-overs, video, and special effects. You can do all of the benchmarking you want but in the real world, what it comes down to is how many programs can you have open (and move between) before you bring the system to its knees. I have to admit that I dubbed this the “little machine that could.” There were many times that I had Maya, Adobe After Effects, Premiere, and Photoshop open all at once (not intentionally, until I figured out that the machine could handle it). Not once did I notice the machine bogging down or hesitating.

To give you an idea of what I put the xw4600 through: I was character modeling in Maya while rendering out and exporting a 42-minute video that included 120 illustrations, 15 sequenced short animations, complete voice-overs, and transitions. I don’t know about you but I’ve never found a box in this price category that could do that.

Well, the HP xw4600 Workstation performed well above my expectations and with the flexibility of being able to customize the machine to your own specs online (depending, of course, on your budget and needs), I think HP has a serious contender in this market and a very welcome alternative to the machines that are designed for gamers (nothing wrong with that, I play and design games) and not creative professionals. (For a list of the specs of the HP xw4600 Workstation that I tested, see “Customized Specs.”)

I would recommend the xw4600 to anyone on a reasonable budget who’s looking for a machine designed with creative professionals in mind.—Bruce Bicknel

PRICE: From $628
FROM: Hewlett-Packard

HOT Customizable; energy efficient; very quiet
NOT Needs a better sound card