The New HP Z Workstations

At a recent special press event held at BMW Group DesignworksUSA, Jim Zafarana, Vice President and General Manager, Global Business Unit, Workstations unveiled HP’s new Z Workstations. To say the least, Zafarana and everyone else from HP were very excited about the new workstations, and having had the opportunity to try out the workstations ourselves for the past few weeks, we can understand why they were excited.

The new workstations—which consist of the Z400, Z600, and Z800—have been redesigned from the inside out. The new design came about from a joint effort between HP and BMW Group DesignworksUSA. The designs are sleek with brushed aluminum sides and black grill in the front. HP was also able to include integrated handles at the top in both the front and the back without extending the chassis. The handles make it easy to lug the computer to wherever you need it.

But the real beauty of the design is what’s on the inside. According to Terry Pilsner, Vice President Research & Development, Workstation Global Business Unit for HP, the new modular workstations require only the tools we already have—our hands. Everything from the motherboard to the hard drives can be removed without any tools. For example, the hard disk drive enclosures slide out easily and use posts to snap into the screw holes of internal drives. No screwdrivers are needed.

One of the most impressive design features revolves around the power supply. The power supply resides at the top and runs most of the length of the Z800. Just grab the handle with the green tab (green indicates serviceable areas) and the power supply comes right out. And even better, you can plug the power supply into an outlet once you’ve removed it from the computer and it will run a self-diagnostic check. If the green light comes on, the power supply isn’t the problem. If the green light doesn’t come on, HP can have a new power supply to you within 24 hours. Just snap it in and you’re up and running again.

The new design also offers less noise. Every new component is designed with airflow in mind. Airflow is monitored and fans run only at the necessary speed to keep components cool, thus reducing noise. HP claims the new workstations run 2db quieter than previous workstations. To increase airflow, just about every cable is hidden behind a panel behind all the internal components.

The new workstations also support the brand-new Intel Xeon 5500-series processors that were just announced. The dual-socketed Z800 can take two Intel W55800 processors that run up to 3.2 GHz. The new processors each contain four cores, and with an enhanced version of Intel Hyper-Threading Technology that enables a core to run two threads at the same time, two processors are now capable of running up to 16 threads simultaneously. When only one thread is being used by an application, the processor can actually go into Turbo Boost mode which turns off unused resources and increases the frequency of the processor as long as it stays within an acceptable temperature range.

The processors use the new QuickPath architecture from Intel, which eliminates the frontside bus. Each processor now has its own integrated memory controller, eliminating the bottleneck created by the frontside bus. According to Kirk B. Skaugen—Vice President, Digital Enterprise Group and General Manager, Server Platforms Group—this new architecture offers 3.5x the bandwidth compared to the previous-generation 5400 processors.

Along with the new processors, HP has been able to lower the power consumption of the Z workstations. In fact, they use up to 35% less power. In idle mode, consumption drops an additional 35%; in sleep mode, it drops to 5 watts; and in hibernation mode it drops to 2 watts. Less power consumption means less money.

And speaking of money, HP claims these machines can pay for themselves in just a couple of months based on the increased power and performance. For example, HP says that someone using an app like 3ds Max could see a return on investment (ROI) in as little as 19 days. Designers using CAD applications can see an ROI in just 41 days.

So from design to performance, the new Z Workstations are something to get excited about. Click here to read our initial hands-on review. You may be surprised that in our tests the Z600 performs just as well if not better than the Z800 in some cases. Keep in mind that HP loaded up these machines so they could outperform any competitor. The Z800 is a much more expandable machine. By the end of the year, you’ll be able to put up to 192-GB of memory into the Z800 (versus 24 GB in the Z600) and 7.5-TB of storage (versus 4.5 TB in the Z600.) HP is also adding optional liquid cooling (on the Z800 and Z400 only) and solid state drives this year. If you’re a print or Web designer, the Z600 should offer enough expandability for your needs. But if you plan to edit multiple HD streams or 2K (up to 120 fps) and 4K (up to 30 fps) video from cameras such as the RED One, and you want to edit in real time, than you may want to consider the Z800.

We plan to update the review over the next few weeks with benchmark and real-world tests, so be sure to check back for the latest information. And if there’s a particular test you’d like to see us run on the new workstations, just leave us a comment at the bottom of our review, and we’ll do our best to accommodate your request.

After the press conference, we had the unique opportunity to tour BMW Group DesignworksUSA. The facility was very impressive from the large and open design area (which was redesigned in 2007) to the mill, where prototypes from cell phones to cars can be etched out in Styrofoam-like material of various densities. It was like a giant printer that can print in 3D. One interesting aspect throughout the complex was the white walls. According to Alec Bernstein—Senior Director, Strategy, Research & Strategic Partnering—white was used so as not to influence the color of any designs that someone is currently working on.

Next on the tour was the Dreamworks Campus. Dreamworks is a strong HP partner and they use HP workstations and monitors for everything they do, and that includes their massive (and heat intensive) render farm. The HP Dreamcolor display that was announced last year came about as a solution to a problem that Dreamworks was facing: CRTs were being phased out and they needed a (relatively) inexpensive, color-accurate LCD to replace their CRTs. Thus the Dreamcolor was born.

While at Dreamworks, we had the opportunity to view Monsters Vs. Aliens, their just-released 3D animated film. We have to admit, while the story was entertaining, the 3D just blew us away. If you get the chance to see this movie, go see it. You’ll see the future of animation before your very eyes.