Review: HP’s Z800 workstation

Probably the best way to describe the HP Z800, which is the top-end model of the new Intel Xeon-powered Z-series workstations that PC vendor Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) released earlier this year is to say that it’s a beast of a machine.

We’ve had the machine for testing for just over a month, and we’ve really enjoyed our time with the X800.

Before even powering the machine up, the Z800 impresses from a design perspective, with a burnished aluminum chassis and handles at the top to facilitate easy transport. But you don’t see the most impressive parts of the BMW-influenced design until you open the box, which is easy to do with a turn of a key to pop off the side panel.

(See inside the Z800 in this CDN video feature:)

Inside, the modular design is completely tool-less, allowing components such as the hot-swappable hard drives, fans, and even the power supply to be popped-out with a click. What cables there needs to be are mainly tucked behind the motherboard.

Powering-up the Z800, I was concerned at first about the rather noisy fans, but within 20-30 seconds of booting the machine was generally as quiet as a church mouse.

While HP is selling the Z800 running Windows Vista with downgrade rights, our test machine came pre-loaded with Windows XP. I found this amusing, given that the Z800 is about as powerful a machine as you can get from HP. Needless to say, it ran XP like a dream. I also loaded the Windows 7 RTM, with no noticeable performance degradation.

HP is offering 5 different configurations of the Z800, ranging from $2,554 to as much as $4,109, depending on your processor, RAM and hard drive choices. Two quad core processors can be supported, as well as up to 192GB of RAM, as long as price isn’t a limiter.

Our test unit was running two Intel Xeon W5580 3.20 GHz processors, and 12GB RAM.

The workstations are designed for data intensive applications such as video editing, financial modeling and geographic imaging. We’re not drilling for oil, but we did run Adobe Premiere Elements and Adobe Creative Suite 4 to get a taste for the Z800’s processing power.

CS4 ran very smoothly with nary a hiccup, and video editing with Premiere was a breeze. The proof-point is in the rendering, and we saw much faster rendering times than we’ve had with HP’s last generation of workstations.

HP’s main pitch for these workstations, and counter to the high price-point, is that they’ll enable significant productivity gains. You’ll have to decide if the price is right for you, but we can attest to the productivity gains. It’s a speedy machine.

Along with the Z800, HP also sent us their new high-end monitor, the 24” LP2480zw Professional LCD Display, which starts at $2,499.

The first thing I noticed about this display is that it’s heftier than other flat panels, with a backend that’s a few inches thick. This is explained by the tri-colour LED backlight, which HP says helps enable 64-times the colour supported by traditional LCDs.

It’s a nice monitor with a very nice picture but, frankly, I didn’t notice a discernable difference in picture quality from other, far less expensive LCDs I’ve used. HP also says you need to give it 30 minutes to warm-up before you get the best image quality, which seems troublesome.

However, the Z800 is certainly a winner. It comes with a hefty price-tag, but if you work with graphics intensive applications and need a lot of processing power, the investment may well make sense for you.

Probably the best endorsement we can give comes from our own IT department, who really don’t want to send the Z800 back to HP. Sorry guys, that’s probably not in the cards.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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