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The Z400 And Benchmarking Notes

HP's Z400 Workstation Runs The Tom's Hardware Gauntlet

All in all, the Z400 sports a fairly standard X58-based motherboard. The one exception is the memory slot configuration on our first-gen board, which HP has since rectified with a six-slot follow-up, allowing two modules per channel.

While it may seem that this is greatly reduced from your average enthusiast board, remember that these platforms have a different purpose and market segment than those boards. These systems stress reliability and availability as much as performance. There won’t be any detailed conversations about overclocking settings available in the BIOS, because there are no such provisions.

Most workstation motherboards only have a single PCIe x16 slot for graphics. It was only recently that workstation software supported SLI and CrossFire, and thus the systems weren’t equipped for it either. Most server-oriented motherboards have onboard video and lack an x16 slot at all. Instead, they include multiple x8 slots for storage and networking controllers.

The Intel Xeon W3520 processor the machine is equipped with is very similar to Intel's now-EoLed Core i7-920, which shares the same clock speed and most of the same features. There are only two differences to be seen between the two: the Xeon W3520 supports ECC memory and Intel Demand-Based Switching, whereas the Core i7-920 does not. With that said, DBS in the workstation space is what SpeedStep is on the desktop.

Testing Workstations

Testing workstations for Tom’s Hardware is quite a bit different from evaluating the latest desktop CPUs and graphics cards. In approaching the methodology, the benchmarks need to persist for longer than the typical mainstream app, and they need to be intensive enough to demonstrate the performance differences between very similar machines, meaning tests that only take a few seconds to complete are out of the question. Also, the tests must be repeatable and objective. That is, the differences between systems must be measurable in a quantifiable way. “It feels faster” doesn’t cut it.

Over the past several years, SPEC (the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation) has attempted to create tests that can be used to benchmark systems against each other, including the SPECapc (SPEC application performance characterization) tests. The SPECapc tests are scripted workloads that measure the performance of actual applications. Unfortunately, the SPECapc tests usually only work correctly under the version of the software that they were designed under, and if the test isn’t updated for newer versions of the software, then people trying to evaluate workstations are left trying to size them up using older software. This can lead to disparities between old and new code that go on for five years or more. Also, the SPECapc benchmarks may be enough to weigh down the machine for substantive testing purposes, but those tests, in many cases, do not accurately represent a ‘production workload.’

So, we here at Tom’s Hardware have developed a few workstation tests of our own that we feel are a better approximation of real workloads. In many cases, they should be familiar to people performing production-type tasks. With experience in the digital content creation industry and regular contacts working in the industry, we were able to get a feel for active professionals would like to see in benchmark tests.

Hewlett-Packard supplied the Z400 workstation on extended loan, both as a review unit and as a test case for the development of our new workstation tests. These workloads were developed on the Z400 with the express intent of bringing it to its knees, and we managed to do that after months of work. The suite, as it stands, is not written in stone. And it is our aim to expand them and possibly change some tests to increase their demand--hopefully with some suggestions from you. We tried to cover multiple market segments, but the initial tests are heavy on the DCC (Digital Content Creation) market segment and light on others. This is something we hope to remedy.

Benchmarks And Settings
NewTek LightWave 3D 9.6

Custom workload: High-polygon-count Tom’s Hardware logo

Modeler test: Scripted cloning of surface details across a segment of the logo

Render test: 1920x1080 render of logo with photoreal motion blur, ray-traced shadows, global illumination

OpenGL Test: Generate OpenGL preview of animation for real-time playback on screen

e-on software Vue 8 PLE

Custom workload: Landscape generated in Vue 8 full version and imported into PLE

Autodesk MatchMover 2011

Custom Workload: 720p HD clip tracked in 3D space

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4

Custom Workload: Edit of 59.94 fps 720p DVCProHD footage, with transitions and some color correction, Render To Work Area.

Adobe Media Encoder CS4

Custom Workload: Take above edit and render to H.264 for Blu-Ray

Adobe Photoshop CS4

Custom Workload, Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates filters

Adobe After Effects CS4

Custom Workload:  SD motion graphics sequence with three picture-in-picture frames sourced from 720p HD

REAPER v.3.63

DAWBench Universal 2010: Test number of simultaneous effects that the system can effectively run

Custom Workload: Render and mix down to .wav custom score project, multiple tracks of audio, VST synthesizers and reverb

Synthetic Benchmarks
Maxon Cinebench 11.5

3D Rendering and OpenGL Benchmarks, built-in benchmarks with default settings

CASE Euler3D

CFD simulation over NACA 445.6 aeroelastic test wing at Mach .5

SiSoft Sandra 2010

Memory Test: Bandwidth Benchmark

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