HP Z800 Workstation – all about performance!

When a few weeks ago, I was contacted by a local company to test out an HP Workstation, I sure wasn’t particularly excited. I was saying to myself… “What could be different from any other computer system? Why are they calling it a Workstation considering that any computer in the world can be a workstation?” After some research on the net, all my scepticism started to wear off when I realised this was going to be an incredibly powerful, almost super computer like system.

For those who think computers are dull, functional and slightly boring, the name ‘workstation’ isn’t going to change their minds, and adding in a few technical “gigs, cores and rams” in the way, will probably just make all this worse. After all, it does what its name suggests – it’s something that you sit at to get a job done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The Z800 sits at the top of the tree from all the HP workstations, and is aimed at serious computing tasks where multiple processors and huge amounts of memory bandwidth is required. We’re talking here on intense data crunching like animation, games developers, graphic design, broadcasting video etc…

When this workstation was delivered to me, I was actually quite shocked at the weight of this system (thank god for elevators). The case of this computer is absolutely fantastic and can be also perhaps described as “cool” compared to other systems. Its design gives it a very smart, efficient look, but also enables air to flow into the case from front to back, cooling all the lovely internal stuff, the stuff that counts most. It also has handles on top (front and back sides) to facilitate moving this workstation around if need be.

An interesting part was definitely the opening for the slot loading optical drive where you can say it’s totally invisible. I’d be interested to see if it would be problematic to add on further drives in the future. Strangely enough this slot loading drive bay is also able to take the mini-dvds, but you might have to give it a good push so it reaches the loading mechanism.

There are also three front mounted USB ports, headphone and microphone sockets and a full 6-pin FireWire port, which makes a lot of sense for its target audience, which could well be editing digital video. Round the rear of the machine you’ll find six more USB ports and another FireWire socket along with two Ethernet ports.

Embossed on the large brushed metal side of the workstation is the HP logo, plus a handle at the top that allows you to easily remove the cover to reveal the impressive insides of this workstation. The design of this workstation from the inside is absolutely impressive and its tool-less approach is definitely a massive advantage.  To help out with this marginally different setup, HP took great care to include a full schematic on the side panel, which seems to be printed on the side panel, so you wont even have to worry about the sticker peeling off years down the line.

A tool-less approach is evident in this system where for example, the hard disk removal is absolutely fantastic and you can plug in or remove a hard disk in seconds. Tool-less entry extends to a cover hiding the PCI cards, and retaining flaps at the back of the PCI slots, so if you need to fit a large dual slot professional graphics card, you can do without needing a screwdriver.

Internally on the motherboard you’ll find four x16 PCI Express ports, two x8 and one 32-bit PCI port. Things are motored along by dual Intel Xeon 5560s and these run at 2.8GHz, feature 8MB.

These two monster processors are covered by two large fans and unlike your average desktop the memory is too. Then again, the Intel 5520 chipset based motherboard is a heavyweight in every sense, featuring 12 DIMMs slots, which enables it to support an eye popping 192GB of RAM, using 16GB DIMMs.

With all these fans, it would be a bit much to expect the machine to be absolutely silent, but that said I did manage to easily ignore the sound of the machine after a while.

Performance is very much what this machine is about. Even though this test workstation was delivered to me running Windows Vista (which is well known to be a resource hog, and not the best performing OS) this HP workstation easily handled (actually blasted through) every intensive graphic demo I threw at it, and even while running multiple instances in the background! Since I don’t personally own any video editing software or extreme 3D rendering, my tests were only limited to the graphic and general day to day operations.

I installed the latest version of Assassin’s Creed, which is to my knowledge, one of the most graphically intensive games and the performance was absolutely jaw dropping with MAX settings. No hiccups at all and the performance was as smooth as it could be. Normal day to day operation like software installations, zipping and unzipping files was the best I ever saw.

As far as negative points for this system, I was very surprised with the keyboard and mouse supplied. Very basic cheap versions that simply don’t match at all with such system, I’m positively hopeful that these are not the standard keyboard and mouse shipped with such a system. Second negative point with the system is simply the reason that its front fins design in Malta might actually be a bit of a nightmare to keep clean since of all the dust in the air. Very minimal –ve points compared to the vast list of +ve’s!

The raw power of the HP Z800 Workstation mean that for those in industries where performance is everything – be it analysing data, or rendering 3D visuals – investing in this system could potentially pay for itself in a matter of months, which would make the upgrading to one of these a totally no brainer. You’ll be saying to yourself…. Why didn’t I get one sooner! As a self admitted geek, this is a dream come true machine. All good things come to an end, and I’m absolutely dreading the moment the machine has to go back to the supplier. I might beg them on my knees to leave it here in my office!!


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