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

Conclusion

In addition to the workstation-specific benchmarks on previous pages, we also ran the memory benchmark from SiSoftware’s Sandra 2010. We’re definitely going to expand the synthetic tests to better reflect the bank of synthetic tests used on non-workstation machines.

So, the memory performance on this system is nothing special. We've certainly seen higher numbers from more aggressive-tuned subsystems on the desktop. But we can be relatively sure that this result isn't going to bottleneck the Bloomfield-class processor in HP's Z400-series workstation.

Conclusion

Workstations aren’t gaming PCs.

There, we said it. They aren’t. And they need to be held to a different set of standards than gaming PCs. They need to be tested differently. And to that end, HP supplied us with a moderately-priced all-around workstation.

For pure 3D work, the onboard RAID isn't necessary, especially if the user has a file server on his network for centralized storage. That being the case, video files and animation work can consume large amounts of drive space, and someone working alone may be storing files on the workstation and editing them as well. A professional working purely with video editing will likely want an even larger and faster array, which would necessitate one of the larger workstations, if only for the additional drive bays.

This system is well put-together. However, we did have repeated problems with the desktop manager for AMD's FirePro V5700, which didn't correctly restore window sizes and positions. Both HP and AMD worked with us to resolve this problem, but it was really only fixed when a much later driver revision was used under Windows 7.

Compatibility-wise, all of the hardware HP chose for the Z400 worked well together. As stated earlier, professional components inside a workstation are incredibly important for the folks who make money with their PCs. This is a bit of a hold-over from the days when non-linear editing required expensive cards (like the Velocity and Altitude from Harris/Leitch/DPS, and the Matrox DigiSuite cards) as these were known to be finicky about motherboard selection. Editing cards still exist (the Black Magic Design Decklink series and the Avid Nitris series come to mind), and the Avid DS system is based around a preconfigured HP Z800, but most non-linear editing these days is purely software-based. These are real substantial reasons why you won’t see workstations that are slightly overclocked just to give the machine a performance edge over competitors. Doing this could substantially harm the ability of the machine to perform as intended for certain market segments.

In looking at the tests, you should be able to tell that some of the benchmarks aren't well-threaded (or in some cases, threaded at all). Of course, Intel's Hyper-Threading technology only demonstrates a benefit when the application is threaded. In a piece of software that can't take advantage of multiple cores, as is the case with LightWave 9.6 Modeler, having HT enabled actually hurts performance. LightWave Layout is a different story, as the main application doesn't take advantage of threading, while the renderer does (and quite well, we can add), in addition to the physics and cloth simulation modules. Of course, if you are multitasking between various content creation programs having Hyper-Threading on will likely benefit.

With all of that said, the Z400 is a well-designed system for its market segment, and it was nice to work on a professional-class machine that didn't like it was on a runway before takeoff. The case design is reasonably attractive, and the smart layout means that swapping internal storage and expansion cards is a breeze. Aesthetically, it's nice to have a box in something other than ‘basic black,’ which has replaced ‘basic beige.’

The system worked well for developing our new workstation benchmarks, and is representative of an affordable mid-range single-socket workstation, which we'll use moving forward as a baseline to judge other workstations.

  • bitter
    So JF was right to say that HT should be disabled in some scenarios
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  • haplo602
    hmm ... I wonder if you could make a D3D/OGL comparison test in some 3D modeling software ? I don't actualy know if any of them supports both APIs.

    BTW you dual PCIex16 comment is wrong. There were dual PCIex16 slots in HP workstations since xwX400 models (6400,8400,9400).
    Reply
  • Draven35
    Some of the other models have dual x16 slots... but they are rare in baseline models. At some point we'll look at how well an SLI config works in workstation OpenGL tests.

    3dsMax uses Direct3D (and OpenGL), but prefers Direct3D (it is 'recommended' by Autodesk on my GTX 460-equipped primary machine...), but Maya does not, it requires OpenGL.

    As for whether HT should be disabled? Still questionable. If you're doing animation, and have HT off, you'll gain some interactivity when working, but as soon as you need a test render you'll be losing time. If your 3D application does multithreaded interactiivty tasks, then you're better off with HT on- for instance, the VPR interactive shading mode in Lightwave 10. Its largely dependent on how your software responds to what, and hopefully we'll have more answers on that with the next workstation we look at.
    Reply
  • ares1214
    Nice cable managment...
    Reply
  • Draven35
    It came that way! The other models in the z-series have better cable management even, specially with the shrouds.
    Reply
  • HibyPrime
    Lets see.

    2GB Ram - Not even close to be considered a usable workstation. - Nevermind, I messed up. I didn't see the (x3)

    250GB main/2TB raid 0 - raid 0 setups in workstations are used for scratch disks, and thats it - storage is too risky. 2x 250GB in raid 0 makes much more sense cost wise as you'll never use more than 500GB on a scratch disk, with a 1TB for temporary storage. I say temporary because a workstation is just that, once the work is done (and during) it's backed up and rarely used again.

    Creative Labs X-Fi Titanium PCIe - Any Audio professional needing sound quality is going to be using almost exclusively external hardware. The analog outputs all anyone else is going to need.

    Who ever chose the specs for this machine needs to be shot.
    Reply
  • MU_Engineer
    This was an interesting review, but the real machine to test would have been the dual-processor Z800. The big advantages of a workstation are better reliability and stability than a standard desktop and the ability to use multiple processors and more RAM than a typical desktop. Perhaps a Z400 vs. Z800 test would have been interesting as there were a mix of poorly-threaded and well-threaded applications in the test.
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  • warezme
    This machine is pathetic. Any decently configured OC'ed quadcore i7 will run circles around this thing, ugh.
    Reply
  • Draven35
    It was agreed to start with a z400... the workstation tests were actually developed on this machine, hence why it has a Gen 1 board. Mayhap we'll look at a z800 later.

    Most video editors use a RAID array for their video files unless they are just editing DV. HD footage shot on a decent quality camera would quickly overwhelm your proposed 500GB array- the raw P2 footage alone for my film project was 350 GB, and that's before the scratch files generated for color correction and transition renders- and the P2 footage is pretty strongly compressed for semi-pro camera footage. (40 Mb/s) If you're editing uncompressed 1080 HD, you're dealing with 124 MB per second of video. With a larger array, a system like this could be set up for editing uncompressed HD with the simple addition of a BlackMagic Decklink in one of its HD flavors, or the HD version of the Avid Mojo if you prefer to work in something like Media Composer. With the transition of TV to HD, more and more projects are being finished for HD in an attempt to future-proof them- which has actually been going on for about five years before the transition. If you want to see something truly horrible, look at the data rates required for 2k or 4k playback...

    HP doesn't sell their machine configured with any kind of professional audio interfaces. They submit their machines for certification by Avid, and the 'full' Pro Tools (Pro Tools HD) comes from Avid on a z800.The audio interface choice for the system was either the Creative card, or the onboard RealTek codec, because that's what HP had and could configure a system with.

    You'll find a surprising number (like, most) audio guys including musicians these days working with a mix of software and hardware, and the mixing is done on a computer, not on external hardware. There are audio interfaces with two, four, six, eight and more inputs... my personal music workstation has eight analog inputs, plus ADAT and S/PDIF in. (Note, I need more like twice that in inputs.) You need all these input to capture multiple instruments on completely independent tracks simultaneously , so that they can be given separate effects and the mix can be adjusted on each track. (That's right, you can capture all those tracks at the same time.) Some of these audio interfaces are an internal card , some are an internal card plus an external breakout box (M-Audio Delta series, MOTU 2408, etc), and most are USB or firewire external (Presonus, TASCAM, Echo, Digidesign, Focusrite, et al) boxes with all the hardware located within it. In addition, many have PCI or PCIe DSP accelerator cards from UAD or TC electronic for effects processing and synthesis.
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  • cadder
    The big advantages of a workstation are better reliability and stability than a standard desktop

    I'm not sure I understand this. A machine built with the best enthusiast-class hardware should be basically 100% reliable. The most unreliable part is the hard drive. This machine uses Seagate hard drives, probably the most unreliable brand of drives. This machine also uses an HP motherboard, and HP is below average in reliability in their retail products. Should we expect the workstation components to be better? As for stability, it's using the same OS that everybody else has access to.

    All of our CAD machines here use i5/750 CPU's, aftermarket coolers, 8GB, Gigabyte motherboards, a Velociraptor or SSD for the boot drive, a WD Black for the storage drive, ATI FireGL video cards, Win7 Pro 64bit. The machines run at 3.5GHz 24/7 with no problems. I add 2 cooling fans to each case and that in conjunction with the aftermarket cooler keeps things running real cool.
    Reply