All posts by Joe Herman

Days Go By Blog 1:
A Nice Hand

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Hands can be difficult. They’re tricky to model, rig, and weight, and they’re not particularly easy to animate. I thought I had a modeled a good hand a while ago and saved it to my computer for future use. However, while I was working on the main character for Days Go By, I realized that the hand that I made wasn’t as good as I remembered. The knuckles weren’t deforming all that well, and I wasn’t crazy about how the thumb was connected to the main body of the hand. It was time to go back to the drawing board.

After a considerable amount of work, I finally came up with a better hand. The knuckles and the thumb now look a lot better and the point weighting has been improved. For those of you who don’t do character animation, every vertex on a model needs to be bound to an underlying structure of joints and bones which is also known as a rig. By manipulating the rig, you deform, and thereby animate, the mesh of polygons that form your model.

The thing is that each vertex on the mesh may be influenced by more than one joint. Therefore, in order for the model to deform correctly while you are animating, you must define the joint influences for each point. This is called weighting.

I made the following video to test out how my new hand model performs with the rigging and weighting. It is officially the first video of the Days Go By Blog:

For the test, I did not concern myself with textures or shaders. That will come later.

The 3D software that I am using to make Days Go By is MAXON’s versatile and easy to use application CINEMA 4D. The Studio version of C4D has a full set of character animation tools including the ability to build your own complex rigs. You can also use the Character Object which allows you to easily build entire advanced character rigs (for humans or animals) in just a few clicks. That’ll save some time.

The hand was modeled and rigged in C4D and the test was rendered in Redshift Render.
The hand was modeled and rigged in C4D and the test was rendered in Redshift Render.

For this test, however, I built the rig myself using the Joint tool and manually bound and weighted the points since I wanted to focus just on the hand.

To render out this test, I used Redshift Render, a new unbiased third party GPU render that I had heard good things about. While I am still learning how to use it, I must say that I am impressed by it and looking forward to seeing what else it can do. I’m not sure which renderer I will use for the final frames, but it very well could be Redshift.

Well, that’s it for this installment of the Days Go By Blog. I’ll see you on the next one.

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Days Go By Blog: Introduction

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In addition to being interested in filmmaking, animation, visual effects and the arts, I also happen to like writing songs. In fact, I’d love to make a musical one day since musicals combine so many of the things I’m interested in such as storytelling, art, design, animation, and music. It’s hard for me to imagine much else that would be as fun, or as creative.

With that in mind, I decided to make an animated music video of a song I wrote titled Days Go By. While a music video is not quite a musical, it is not that different either. You can think of it as a musical on a smaller scale, and, after all, what works small should work big.

A wise person once said that the journey is the reward and so I’m looking forward to this creative journey. In addition, the best way to get better at something is to do it. So, besides the fun of the journey, I’m looking forward to increasing my knowledge about 3D animation, rendering and music along the way.

Blog and Vlog

I also decided it would be a good idea to document my progress on the video by posting reports about it right here on this blog as well as videos on my YouTube channel. This would give me a chance to show others what I am making and hopefully foster a lively discussion about 3D animation and the creative process. I hope you will learn something from me (or even get some inspiration). In turn, I would appreciate any opportunity to learn from you.

Comments are, of course, welcome and encouraged both on the blog and on the YouTube channel. Therefore, if you’d like to be informed about updates as soon as they happen, please subscribe to the YouTube channel or send me a message through the Contact area of this blog and request to be added to my email list. I look forward to taking this journey together.

About The Song

I wrote the song Days Go By about a year ago, with the intention of it being used in a musical from the get-go, and recorded it in my home studio. The song has sort of a poppy feel, with touches of jazz and rock.

The DAW that I use currently is Avid Pro Tools 12. I’ve used other recording applications in the past such as Cubase and am interested in Studio One, but I am used to using Pro Tools. It also happens to be the industry standard.

The workstation that I use to record with is an HP Z840 which is just an awesome machine and one of the world’s most powerful workstations. If you are interested, you can read my review of it here.

The audio interface I used to record Days Go By was a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2. However I’ve since replaced it with a Behringer U-Phoria since the Focusrite stopped working when I brought it to Florida last winter (maybe I banged it somewhere along the way). I must say I’m liking the Behringer however. It has MIDAS preamps, Midi ports on the back and sells for a very reasonable price. It also has very sturdy construction.

My recording studio is basically located in my New York apartment.
My recording studio is basically located in my New York apartment.

My main keyboard is a Korg SG-1D which I bought some time ago. It’s got 88 nicely weighted keys and that’s where I usually write my songs. For guitars I have a red Univox Les Paul copy that was built in Japan in the 70s and a Fender dreadnaught style acoustic. The Univox has a nice tone to it and the Fender’s pretty good too.

I might go further into how I recorded Days Go By in a future post. In the meantime you might be wondering how you can hear the song, since it has already been recorded and mixed.

Here’s the thing, you can’t. Not because I don’t want you to hear it. In fact, I’d really like to play it for you. However, I’d like to save it for when the video is finished. That’s the one last thing that I would like to reveal after all the work is done. Maybe I’ll change my mind and play it before I finish the video. Then again, maybe I’ll wait.

Stay tuned for updates!

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A Video Tutorial on Voronoi Fracturing in CINEMA 4D R18

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One of the greatest features in CINEMA 4D R18 is Voronoi fracturing, the ability to fracture a 3D models into hundreds, or thousands of pieces (to read a full analysis of C4D R18, click here). Besides the fact that it can be used to great effect for explosions and collisions, Voronoi Fracturing also has great uses for motion graphics. Because is part of MoGraph, it can also be combined with a variety of MoGraph Effectors. The possibilities are virtually endless for what you can do with it.

I recently made a video tutorial about Voronoi Fracturing where the tip of an airplane’s wing hit and shatter a rock formation into hundreds of pieces. Here it is for you to check out and learn how to do it yourself. I hope you find it useful for the work that you do.

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HP’s HOT New DreamColor Displays: The Z31x Studio and the Z24x G2

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I recently caught up with HP in New York to look at some hot new product announcements for creative artists and animators users as well as upgrades and enhancements to existing mobile workstation products.

One of the most impressive new products was the HP 4K Dreamcolor Z31x Studio display. At the meeting, I was fortunate enough to interview HP’s chief DreamColor architect Greg Staten. Below is a video interview where Staten goes into an exceptionally detailed description of the Z31x Studio display and what makes it so remarkable. He begins, however, by talking about another new HP DreamColor display, the Z24x, also a compelling new product you’ll want to hear about.

A Disruptive Display

HP’s DreamColor line of displays were designed specifically for those who require the highest quality of fidelity and color accuracy, such as those who work in post production, visual effects, animation, matte painters, photo-retouchers, high-end colorists, illustrators and video editors.

In fact, according to HP, since 2011, 80 percent of Academy Award Nominees for Visual Effects have used HP DreamColor displays. In addition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave the HP DreamColor Display and its developers a Scientific and Engineering Award in 2015. That should give you an indication as to the key role that DreamColor displays play in our industry.

The HP Z31x Studio display paired with HP's top-of-the-line workstation tower, the Z840.
The HP Z31x Studio display paired with HP’s top-of-the-line workstation tower, the Z840.

In the Z31x Studio, HP has taken an a big leap ahead by designing a DreamColor display with innovative new features which compete with professional monitors costing much more. (Expect the Z31x to sell for under $4,000 available this fall). Now Let’s take a look at what makes the HP DreamColor Z31x Studio a gamechanger for studios and digital artists.

Each new feature of the Z31x is a result of direct feedback from professional customers. For one, its images are delivered on a true 10-bit Real IPS panel with more than 1 billion colors. In fact, HP improved on this IPS technology, inventing new processes that result in deep, rich and consistent black levels no matter what angle of view. Also, the screen resolution on the Z31x is true Cinema 4k at 4096 X 2160 resolution (17:9 theatrical) not UHD 4K of 3840 pixels × 2160 (16:9).

One of the coolest new features of the Z31x Studio is a built-in pop-up colorimeter which swings down from the top of the display and can automatically calibrate the display on demand or on a regular calibration schedule (it can even be scheduled to run off hours so your workflow isn’t interrupted). It’s a great idea to include a built-in colorimeter on a DreamColor display since colorimeters cost a pretty penny to buy separately — prices range from about $225 for the X-Rite i1 Display Pro to almost $7,000 for the Klein K10-A (which costs more than the Z31x).

The HP Z31x includes a built in Color Calibrator at the top of the display which you can activate through the menu system or schedule to automatically keep the display calibrated.
The HP Z31x includes a built in Color Calibrator at the top of the display which you can activate through the menu system or schedule to automatically keep the display calibrated.

It gets even better when you hear that, according to HP’s Greg Staten, the results from the built-in calibrator on the Z31x are on par with the Klein K10-A, helping to maintains perfect color accuracy. The display itself delivers true 10-bit color at HP’s widest color gamut ever, 99% of DCI-P3, 100% of Adobe RGB and 100% of sRGB and has native support for 60 Hz, 50 Hz and 48 HZ.

Another great feature of the HP Z31x Studio is that it has a built in KVM switch, which allows you to easily switch the input from two different computers with a quick keyboard shortcut allowing the user to share the display (as well as the mouse and keyboard) between two computers. This is important because many artists often rely on two computers to do their work. For example, they may have a Linux machine running their favorite compositing app as well as a Windows box for the Adobe Creative Suite or 3D program. The KVM switch eliminates clutter on their desk and allows you to switch between the different sources.

There’s a lot more to like about the HP Z31x DreamColor Display such as true 2K viewing, markers, masks and more. Again, in the video above, HP’s Greg Staten gets deeper into the display, so be sure to watch it.

The Most Affordable DreamColor

Along with the Z31x, HP has just announced the HP Z24x G2 DreamColor Display (also featured in the above video) which delivers the professional color accuracy and consistency that you would expect from DreamColor but at a budget-conscious price almost every artist can afford whether you work for a large studio or you are an independent.

The HP Z24x DreamColor display, a high end color display any artist can afford.
The HP Z24x DreamColor display, a high end color display any artist can afford.

The Z24x has a 24-inch diagonal DreamCOlor panel with a resolution of 1920 X 1200 producing up to a billion colors from a huge color gamut that covers 99 percent of Adobe RGB.

It’s capable of user calibration with push-button color space selection and has calibration software for both WIndows and macOS that supports both the X-Rite i1 Display Pro and the Klein Instruments K10-A colorimeters.

If you do color critical work, HP’s new DreamColor Displays, the remarkable Z31x and Z24x, offer compelling choices, no matter what your budget is.

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Review of the HP ZBook 15u G4 Mobile Workstation

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When we think about workstations for serious production and post work, HP’s line of Z Workstations immediately come to mind. And we’re not talking the huge desktop workhorses such as the towering Z840 (which I have reviewed here), but also HP’s highly esteemed line of ZBook Mobile Workstations which offer intense power in a mobile footprint and are great when you want workstation performance on the go.

The biggest machines in the ZBook line are the ZBook 17 and 15. They’re the ones you want to get if you’re looking for a muscular mobile workstation and don’t mind carrying around some extra weight.

However, for those who don’t want to lug around the extra pounds, HP makes two slimmer mobile workstations which they call their “Workstation Ultrabooks”. The premium of the two is the ZBook Studio which offers remarkable power for its size.

The other ultra light mobile workstation in HP’s ZBook line is the HP ZBook 15u G4 Mobile Workstation which has just been released and updated from it’s predecessor, the G3.

I’ve created a video review of the machine which includes an unboxing and thorough examination of the machine. So check out the video and read on when you’re done:

The ZBook 15u G4 is HP’s super slim entry level Workstation Ultrabook. That means not only does it deliver high performance in a very small footprint, but it does so at an extremely attractive price tag.

As soon as I pulled the 15u G4 out of the box, I was immediately impressed by how truly slim and light it was for a workstation class machine. It weighs just 4.18 lbs and 19.9mm wide.

The ZBook 15u G4 is HP's Workstation Ultrabook
The ZBook 15u G4 is HP’s Workstation Ultrabook

Next, I installed a variety of software such as Adobe Creative Cloud, MAXON’s CINEMA 4D and others and set about doing a bunch of tasks such as 3D modeling, rendering, painting and video editing, all of which the 15u handled very well thanks to the new 7th generation (KabyLake) dual core i7-7600U CPU in the heart of the machine. Running Cinebench gave me a result of 371 for the chip. That’s an impressive score for a dual core CPU and an improvement over the previous generation Skylake processors.

Ports of Call

The HP ZBook 15u G4’s I/O ports include a newer USB 3.1 port as well as the more standard USB 3.0 ports (one of which is a charging port). In addition, there is a DisplayPort 1.2 to connect a high resolution external display. Also included is an SD card reader, VGA port, RJ45 Ethernet, media card reader and a headphone/microphone combo jack. Don’t forget to watch the video for a complete examination of the ports.

The 15u G4’s backlit keyboard features a full numeric keypad, something that I prefer to have on a keyboard. It’s got a spill resistant design as well as pointing device built into it. There’s also a 720p webcam and microphone over the display.

The backlit keyboard includes a numeric keypad and a pointer
The backlit keyboard includes a numeric keypad and a pointer

Speaking of the display, the machine I reviewed had a full HD (1920 X 1080) Touchscreen display. You also have the option of getting a UHD display (3,840 X 2,160). If you plan on showing your screen to large groups of people, I suggest that you buy the ultra wide viewing angle option when you purchase the machine, otherwise image quality will not be optimal when looking at the screen from extreme viewing angles.

I usually cover high end machines for production and post. As a result, I’ve never reviewed a machine with a touchscreen. While I don’t consider it a must-have on a mobile workstation, the touchscreen is a nice addition. Besides allowing for tablet-like functionality, it can also be helpful for production work. In Photoshop you can use it to pinch, move or rotate your image and it’s also comes in handy when doing 3D or video editing. Of course it’s a great to have when browsing through web pages or skimming through YouTube videos.

Looking inside

While the 15u G4 is not meant to be the most expandable machine in the ZBook line, it’s capable of a total of 32 GB of dual-channel DDR4-2133 memory in the form of two 16 GB SODIMM slots (by the way that’s double the amount that a top of the line MacBook Pro is capable of supporting). That’s a lot of memory for a machine that bills itself as an ultrabook. The machine I reviewed came with 16 GB of RAM, it had two 8 GB DIMMs installed.

The HP ZBook 15u G4 is capable of supporting 32 GB of memory.
The HP ZBook 15u G4 is capable of supporting 32 GB of memory.

For discrete graphics, the 15u has an AMD FirePro W4190M which features 2GB of memory. The W4190M is an ISV-certified professional graphics card with support for OpenGL. It also supports multi-monitors. CINEMA 4D users will appreciate the use of AMD FirePro graphics now that MAXON is incorporating AMD’s Radeon ProRender realistic rendering engine natively into CINEMA 4D R19. For those who prefer NVIDIA graphics, check out the premium ZBook Studio.

For primary storage, the ZBook 15u G4 contains HP Z Turbo Drive G2 (M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD). These super fast SSDs connect directly to the PCIe bus through an M.2 connection and are capable of speeds more than four times faster than a SATA SSD drive. CrystalDiskMark gave me a result of 2,590 MB/s for the Read and 1,410 MB/s for the Write. If you haven’t used HP’s Z Turbo PCIe based storage yet, do yourself a favor and try it out. The PCIe Z Turbo Drives come in 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB configurations.

The HP 15u G4 contains a screaming fast Z Turbo Drive for primary storage
The HP 15u G4 contains a screaming fast Z Turbo Drive for primary storage

For additional storage, the HP ZBook 15u G4 also includes an internal 2.5 inch bay for an additional SATA HDD. That’s handy for storing large files such as video clips, texture maps, 3D renders and more. Between the HP Z Turbo Drive and the SATA drive, the total storage capacity of the machine is 2 TB.

Long Life and Endurance
Battery life on the HP is long thanks to the 51 Whr battery with HP Fast Charge which provides up to 50 per cent battery life after just 30 minutes of charging time. Audio quality is also noticeably good on the 15u G4 thanks to the built in Bang & Olufsen audio system and the HP Clear Sound Amp.

The 51 Whr battery provides long life and charges to 50 percent capacity in only 30 minutes.
The 51 Whr battery provides long life and charges to 50 percent capacity in only 30 minutes.

Being a professional workstation class computer, the HP ZBook 15u G4 has passed 14 Mil-STD tests, more than any workstation in its class, and has undergone 120,000 hours of testing.

The results of the CineBench CPU test
The results of the CineBench CPU test

 

The results of the CineBench GPU test
The results of the CineBench GPU test

Conclusion

The HP ZBook 15u G4 is extremely thin and light for a workstation-class machine. As such, it deserves its Workstation UltraBook moniker. Being HP’s “entry level” mobile workstation, it will appeal to entry-level animators and production artists that need the reliability and performance that a true workstation offers. However, media pros who might be looking for a light workstation to take on long trips may also find the 15u G4 attractive. For those who have more money to spend yet still want a thin and light machine (or in case you want NVIDIA graphics), be sure to check out the ZBook Studio.

However, whoever you are, the HP ZBook 15u G4 Mobile workstation is super slim, light enough to take anywhere, easy on your wallet and packs a powerful punch when it comes to performance. I would recommend this machine.

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MAXON Unveils CINEMA 4D R18: Voronoi Fracturing, Object Tracking and More

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If you think about it, August is kind of like December, but not due to the weather of course. Every August at SIGGRAPH, MAXON unveils a new version of CINEMA 4D, their popular 3D modeling, rendering and animation package. For C4D users, it’s a little like the holidays. After months of anticipation, each new feature is something like a present, one that they can’t wait to open up and play with. This year was no exception as MAXON announced the latest version of CINEMA 4D, R18 at SIGGRAPH 2016.

In addition to rolling out C4D R18, MAXON also streamed a series of live presentations from their booth at SIGGRAPH. These presentations were delivered by accomplished CINEMA 4D artists (which also included demonstrations of some of the new features in the new version).

R18 is a substantial upgrade and contains a lot of enhancements to C4D. Let’s take a closer look.

Voronoi Fracturing

One of the most exciting new features in R18 is the addition of Voronoi Fracturing. 3D programs are great at building things and making them look clean and perfect, but suppose you want to destroy something? For example, let’s say you want to crash an airplane into an old castle in the Scottish Highlands and smash it to bits (or part of it anyway).

CINEMA 4D's new Voronoi fracturing lets you break and shatter things with ease.
CINEMA 4D’s new Voronoi fracturing lets you break and shatter things with ease.

It wasn’t easy to do this in CINEMA 4D previously unless you wanted to spend weeks cutting up your model with the knife tool. Actually, that wouldn’t really work, so don’t even try it (I was just kidding).

Fortunately, there was a solution available previously in the form of an excellent third party plug-in called NitroBlast which, in fact, did a good job of breaking up your model into lots of pieces, a technique called Voronoi fracturing.

In C4D R18, Voronoi fracturing has now been natively built into the software, no need for any plug-ins, and with its implementation comes a whole slew of parameters and options for a ton of creative fracture effects. There are options that allow you to set smaller pieces in one area and larger pieces in another. This is handy, for example, since an object usually breaks up into smaller pieces near the point of a collision with the pieces getting larger further away.

There are lots of other ways to fracture an object. You can use a spline path, a polygonal mesh or even a matrix object to define the way an object will break up. In addition you can scale down the fractures for a cool, broken up effect with a little more space on the edges. You can also define separate materials for the outside and the inside of the pieces for enhanced realism (the outside can be dirty and scuffed up, for example, while the inside can be clean).

One of the greatest things about Voronoi fracturing, however, is that it is part of MoGraph. This means that MoGraph effectors can be used to control the fractured pieces. This results in mind-boggling creative possibilities and creative animation options.

Object Tracking

Motion tracking was introduced in R16, and it was a great addition to the program since it allowed you to bring footage shot by a moving camera into C4D, track the camera and add seamless 3D elements to the scene.

In addition to motion tracking, introduced in R17, CINEMA 4D R18 now introduces object tracking.
In addition to motion tracking, introduced in R17, CINEMA 4D R18 now introduces object tracking.

The thing that was missing however was the ability to track individual objects in addition to the camera. With Object Tracking you can do things like add 3D elements to moving objects. For example, you might to add radar equipment to the top of a turning vehicle or a helmet on somebody’s head.

It’s great that object tracking has been implemented inside CINEMA 4D. That, together with the pre-existing camera tracking, makes the application a complete tracking solution and saves users from having to rely on third party tracking software. This saves time and money.

MoGraph Enhancements

As mentioned before, Voronoi fracturing is an important new feature of MoGraph. Let’s now take a look at some other enhancements to C4D’s popular cloner tool set. One interesting new feature is the Push Apart Effector which can be used to prevent MoGraph clones from overlapping on top of each other, a common issue that can happen when generating clones.

Push Apart can work in several different ways. Besides “pushing” the clones away from each other (on every axis or on just one), it can hide overlapping clones as well as scale them down to eliminate overlaps.

Another nice new feature in MoGraph is the ability to generate clones in a Honeycomb pattern. Before, clones could only be generated in linear, radial or grid array arrangements. The addition of the honeycomb array is very useful, especially since the offset of the pattern can be adjusted. This is not only useful for making honeycombs and beehives, but thinks like cobblestones, movie theaters, and many other things.

The ReEffector is another interesting new MoGraph feature. It can be used to modify a group of multiple effectors that have been applied to a cloner object. With it you can do things like reset all effectors at once as well as limit all effects to one axis.

MoGraph now includes the ability to store MoGraph Caches externally with the new MoGraph Cache tag. Suppose you have a complicated simulation involving lots of clones and decide to cache it in order to speed things up in your scene and enable scrubbing back and forth in the timeline. Since caches can add lots of data to your file (maybe hundreds of megabytes), next time you save your file, the cache gets saved along with it making your file that much larger. This complicates things, especially when you want to do something like email your file to someone.

Now you can use the MoGraph Cache tag to store your caches externally and keep the cache data separate from the main C4D file. In addition, multiple MoGraph Caches can now be used and blended between each other with the use of a few judiciously placed keyframes. I like that a lot.

Among some of the other enhancements to MoGraph is the new Weightmap tag which allows you to use a new weight paintbrush tool to directly paint the influence of effectors on MoGraph Clones.

Modeling

When it comes to polygonal modeling, there’s almost no tool as useful as the knife tool (okay, maybe the extrude tool). In CINEMA 4D R18, the knife tool has updated with several important new enhancements.

The knife tool is now divided into three sections. First is the Line Cut tool which now allows you to interactively draw a shape to define the cuts on your object and edit it to your heart’s content with onscreen handles and gizmos, until you are certain that the cuts will be exactly where you want them. That’s a handy thing. There are also new slice modes. In addition to Cut, there is Split which splits out the new polygons as well as Remove Part A and Remove Part B which allows you to strip away or preserve sections of your geometry easily.

Next is the Plane Cut tool which allows for planar cuts of your model and allows you to define the number and spacing of parallel cuts. The third mode of the knife tool is the Loop/Path Cut tool which cuts new loops or paths onto objects. Loops and Paths can now be applied bidirectionally and there is now a handy on-screen GUI to help with the knife tool.

Other enhancements

One new feature that is pretty cool in the C4D R18 is the Thin Film Shader which allows you to simulate in your renders those colorful rainbow-like effects that are sometimes visible on the surface of transparent bubbles, soap films or oil slicks.

R18 also includes many other important new features such as parallax bump mapping for better results with bump maps, and inverse ambient occlusion which can, among other things, help you achieve a fake sub-surface scattering effect as well as do things like simulate wear and tear on the edges of a model.

There’s also a new Shadow Catcher shader that allows you to easily extract object shadows for later compositing. In addition, interactive real-time rendering has been further enhanced. For example, C4D’s viewport now supports screenspace ambient occlusion, approximate reflections, and displacement. Pixar Open Subdivs are now also supported when creating subdivision surfaces for alternative subdivision surfaces options as well as increased compatibility with other applications (subdivision surface weights can also now be exported).

There are a lot of other very substantial new features to C4D such as a new Quarternions workflow, enhanced Alembic and FBX exchange options, support for Allegorithmic Substance materials, better Houdini exchange, updates to Team Render and, importantly, improvements to baked displacement maps from sculpts. For a complete list of all of the new features in CINEMA 4D R18, see this list here (insert online link to complete R18 feature list).

Conclusion

MAXON has put together a very compelling release in CINEMA 4D R18 which includes important new features that every C4D user will want to have in their arsenal. Having personally used C4D for many years, I feel that this release contains many enhancements that will prove indispensable, Voronoi shading and object tracking not the least of which. CINEMA R18 is a must-have upgrade.

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Review of the HP Z240: Workstation Power Anyone Can Afford

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When it comes to powerful workstations, very few make them as good as HP, and practically no one makes them better. Therefore, if you are looking for a machine that can take on serious production and post challenges, an HP workstation should be high, if not at the top of your list.

If money is no object, you can go out and purchase HP’s top of the line workstation, the Z840. With dual Xeon processors, each available with up to 22 cores, the Z840 is a monstrously powerful machine that will have you sailing through practically every post production challenge with ease. I recently reviewed the flagship Z840 (and made a video about it). You can check it out here.

For those who have slightly more modest requirements, the HP Z640 and Z440 mid-range workstation towers, are also available. These two machines sit right below the Z840 in HP’s workstation family and also pack a serious punch.

However, what if you’re just starting out or you’re on a very restricted budget? Does that mean that you’re excluded from having a powerful workstation of your very own? Are you condemned to the sidelines with no hope of owning a real workstation, at least until you can fatten up that bank account of yours.

The answer is no, you don’t have to be left out in the cold even if you are a starving artist. Now you can have a machine that can deliver the power you crave. Not too long ago, HP introduced their new entry level workstation, the HP Z240, a robust and compact machine that offers workstation performance and features at PC-like prices. Now animation students or those just starting in the post production industry can afford to purchase a true workstation-class machine without blowing their entire savings account.

The Video
Along with this written review, I created a video review for your convenience. By watching the video below, you can lean back in your chair and find out all about the HP Z240. However, if you’re sitting on a noisy train or simply prefer to read, you can read the review which continues on beneath the video. Here’s a thought, why not do both?

On the Outside
The HP Z240, in fact, available in a tower or desktop (small-form-factor) model. While the desktop model might be more space efficient (it can sit right under your display), in this review, we’ll focus on the tower design.

My first impression of the machine after removing the protective covering was that the HP Z240 is a stylishly designed black tower that’s that’s 6.7 inches wide, 14.7 inches deep and 15.7 inches high and has a starting weight of around 19 lbs. As we’ll see, it’s also very expandable, yet small and light enough for one person to easily move around their studio and fit into tight or compact areas.

On the front, you’ll find two external 5.25 inch bays. The top bay, on the machine that I reviewed, has a convenient, yet optional handle installed. Beneath the external bays, there’s an HP slim Super Multi DVD drive, power button, 2 USB 2.0 ports (the top of which is a battery charging port), 2 USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks.

The face of the tower has a really smart innovation that I have not seen before on any workstation. There’s a removable dust filter on the front which prevents dust from entering the tower. This keeps the internal components of the machine nice and clean, and we all love a clean machine. When it gets dusty, just press on a front panel to pop it out, wipe it off and push it back to replace it.

The HP Z240 comes with an innovative dust filter on the front panel of the machine that can be easily removed and cleaned.
The HP Z240 comes with an innovative dust filter on the front panel of the machine that can be easily removed and cleaned.

The back of the machine features a power connection, legacy PS/2 ports, 2 more USB 2.0 ports, RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet, 2 DisplayPort 1.2 outputs and a DVI-I port that can be used for Intel integrated HD graphics (though you’ll probably want to install a dedicated GPU for that), 4 more USB 3.0 ports, audio in, audio out, microphone jack as well as the display port and DVI outputs from the GPU which we’ll talk about later.

The rear of the HP Z240.
The rear of the HP Z240.

On the Inside
Accessing the interior of the workstation is easily done by removing the side panel from its handle.

Now let’s focus on the CPU. The Z240 I reviewed has a single 4 core, 3.6 GHz Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 processor with an 8MB cache, a capable CPU that can handle many post production challenges. There is a fan mounted right on the processor to keep it cool. There’s also a fan on the back of the machine to keep the air flowing through the system.

The Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 processor in the Z240.
The Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 processor in the Z240.

For Video, the Z240 contained an NVIDIA Quadro K2200 GPU installed into a PCIe x 16 slot. NVIDIA makes some of the best video cards in the business and the K2200 is no exception. It’s got the ability to allow you to work with large complex models thanks to its 4 GB of GDDR5 memory and it’s 640 CUDA parallel processor cores. It can also power up to 4 4K displays at 60 Hz in 30 bit color. The Quadro K2200 has DisplayPort 1.2 as well as DVI-I dual link connections accessible on the rear of the machine.

The NVIDIA Quadro K2200 GPU.
The NVIDIA Quadro K2200 GPU.

The HP Z240 also supports HP’s Z Turbo Drive G2 PCIe based solid state storage cards which offer incredible transfer speeds of over one Gigabyte per second. Z Turbo Drives come in 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB capacities. On this Z240 there are two Z Turbo Drives installed. The first is a 256 GB Z Turbo drive in one of the workstation’s PCIe slots which happens to contain the operating system.

A great new feature of the HP Z240 is the incorporation of an M.2 slot right onto the motherboard which allows you to install expansion and storage cards into your system and, among other things, can access PCI Express lanes without taking up a PCIe slot. The Z240’s second 256 GB Z Turbo drive, is installed there. PCI-e based storage such as those found in the Z Turbo Drive will come in handy in speeding up 4k high resolution workflows or accessing complex 3D data sets. Z Turbo drives can also be put into RAID configurations for even speedier performance.

This Z240 has two ZTurbo Drive G2s. The first one is installed in a PCIe slot under the GPU. The second can be seen in the new M.2 slot on the right in the picture above.
This Z240 has two ZTurbo Drive G2s. The first one is installed in a PCIe slot under the GPU. The second can be seen in the new M.2 slot on the right in the picture above.

The HP Z840 includes one 2.5 inch and two 3.5 inch drive bays. In this bay, there’s a 1 TB SSD which can be used as working drive or for storage. Above the internal drive bays are two 5.25 inch external bays where you can install things like a media card reader. There is also an external slim optical disk drive bay where a DVD drive is installed.

For Memory, the HP Z240 supports a maximum of 64 GB of DDR4 unbuffered SDRAM with very speedy transfer rates of 2133 MT/s. The workstation has 4 memory slots on the motherboard. This machine has a 16 GB DIMM in slots 1 and 3 for a total of 32 GB of memory. You’ll also find a 400 watt, 92 per cent efficient power supply.

You’ll also find a little speaker inside the machine. While you might not want to use it when you record your next album, it’s a very handy thing to have built right into the Z240’s chassis.

For this review, the Z240 tower was paired with a Z23n HD monitor, a nice complement to the Z240. Though it’s not 4k, its 1920 X 1080 resolution is suitable for many projects.

For this review, the worksation was matched up with the HP Z23n HD display, a nice choice for the Z240.
For this review, the worksation was matched up with the HP Z23n HD display, a nice choice for the Z240.

CineBench Tests
For benchmarking, I ran CineBench R15. I started with the GPU test which measures the speed of and rendering capabilities of the NVIDIA Quadro K2200 GPU. The test uses a real time scene which features two cars racing through winding city streets.

The CineBench GPU test result was 119.59 frames per second, an excellent score compared to the other models listed (see image below).

The result of the CineBench GPU test was 119.59.
The result of the CineBench GPU test was 119.59.

Next came the Cinebench CPU test which measures the performance of the 4 core Xeon processor by 3D rendering a finished frame of a sample scene containing lights, shadows, reflections and global illumination. These days final rendering is also done on GPUs thanks to innovative software from OTOY, it is traditionally a function of the CPU and lots of popular rendering software such as Solid Angle’s Arnold are CPU based.

The result of the CineBench CPU test was 839.
The result of the CineBench CPU test was 839.

The CineBench score for the CPU test was 839. In comparison with some other CineBench CPU scores, that’s faster than the 4 core i7s but below a 6 core i7 and lower than a 12 core Xeon. For a four core processor, however, it leads the pack. To see how the Z240 compares with your current configuration, download CineBench and run it on your machine.

Conclusion
To conclude, I think HP’s entry level Z240 is a smartly designed, robust and innovative workstation that offers enough power for a wide range of creative challenges including animation, visual effects, illustrations and digital audio. It’s a great machine for people just starting out that offers true workstation performance and reliability at a price that you might expect to pay for a consumer level PC.

By the way, the Z240 is a good option for those looking to switch over from the Macintosh platform. Apple Macs haven’t kept up on the high end and many Mac Users who work in professional post production environments are looking for a Windows-based workstation for their next machine. The Z240, even though it is HP’s entry-level machine, can be configured similarly to the highest performing Mac Pro.

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Leader of the Pack: Review of the HP Z840 Workstation & Z27s Display

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If you work in high-end post production, visual effects, animation, video editing, matte painting, audio recording or any creative field for that matter, you probably have already heard about HP’s top of the line workstation, the Z840, found throughout the industry in leading computer animation studios, color suites, editing facilities, production companies and by creative professionals.

In addition to reviewing the Z840 in this article, I will also review the HP Z27s 4k IPS display, a high resolution monitor that offers excellent color fidelity and the ability to reproduce intricate details (as well as plenty of pixels for the user interface).

I’ve created a comprehensive video review of both the HP Z840 workstation and the Z27s display which you can watch below. This article pretty much mirrors the video (with some extra things added to the mix). Depending on your preference you can either watch the video, or read the story. Or you can do both.

Here’s the video review of the Z840:

The first impression one has when removing the HP Z840 workstation from its box that it is one heck of a solid machine, designed to withstand the most demanding and punishing production environments. It’s built like a tank with thick solid metal sides that seem capable of repelling sledgehammer blows or surviving an earthquake.

The machine weighs more or less fifty pounds depending how you configure it with a height of 17.5 inches, width of 8 inches and a depth of 20 inches. It’s not that heavy, but not exactly light either, but workstations are not designed to be ultra light, there made to crunch through the most daunting computing challenges, often needing to render frames 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thankfully there are sturdy handles at the top of the machine that make it easier to move around.

A new Z840 comes with a layer of protective plastic on the side which you’ll probably want to remove. It takes a little elbow grease to peel it off, so make sure you get a good grip. Don’t forget to peel of the plastic covering on the handle while you’re at it.

One of the first things I noticed about the HP Z840 is that it’s darker than its predecessors the Z820 and the original Z800. I prefer the darker look, and think it adds to a classier look.

On the Outside
The HP Z840 Workstation has a chassis that is one of the industry’s most expandable. We’ll take a look at what’s inside of the machine in a bit, but first let’s have a look at the outside.

If you like, you can mount the workstation on a rack with a set of extendable rails which you can purchase separately from HP. This is a handy option for large facilities and machine rooms. More information about rack mounting can be found here.

On the front of the workstation, there’s a slim line optical drive bay, two external 5.25 inch Bays into which you can install things like a front loading media card reader (or more drives), power button, hard drive activity LED, 4 USB ports (the top one has charging capability), headphone jack and microphone jack.

The front of the Z840.
The front of the HP Z840 Workstation.

On the back of the machine, there’s the power connection, a serial port, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, audio line in, audio line out, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports, four displayPort 1.2 connections, One DVI connector, Thunderbolt 2, and a pair of keys which are used lock up the system and keep it safe when you’re not around.

The back of the HP Z840 Workstation.
The back of the HP Z840 Workstation.

On the Inside
Opening the chassis is easily done by pulling the side off from the handle. There’s a handy overview and diagram of the system board laser-etched on the back of the side panel for convenient reference.

Once the side is off, you’re greeted by green touchpoints which help indicate what to remove to access the internal components of the machine. There’s a door at the bottom to access the PCI slots, SATA and SAS ports. Above that is a structure which houses fans designed to cool the CPUs, memory and other components on the system board and is designed to guide the airflow effeciently through the interior.

To  access the interior of the workstation, pull on the handle on the side panel.
To access the interior, pull on the handle on the side panel.
Green touchpoints help guide access to the interior of the workstation.
Green touchpoints help guide access to the interior of the workstation.
The HP Z840 with the panels and fan  structures removed.
The HP Z840 with the panels and fan structures removed.

The Z840’s power supply is removable and is available in 850 or 1125 watt options. Being able to remove it makes it convenient to replace should something ever go wrong with it.

At the heart of the Z840 are two Intel Xeon E5-2600 Haswell processors which are available with up to eighteen processing cores each. These two have fourteen cores each for a total of twenty eight physical cores and 56 threads. The Haswell processor architecture delivers faster compute performance and feature Intel Advanced 256 bit Vector Extensions,floating point instructions and gather operations which improve codecs, image and digital signal processing and mathematical operations.

The two Xeon processors, which are located behind two large black ventilation housings, also support ECC memory logic and 40 lanes of PCIe Gen 3 i/o for each processor.

The HP Z840's two Haswell Xeon processors.
The HP Z840’s two Haswell Xeon processors.

The HP Z840 has a total of 16 DIMM slots which use new fast DDR4 2133 MHz ECC Memory (a 14% increase in performance speed over DDR3). The Workstation is able to support a maximum of two terabytes of memory if you add sixteen 128 MB DIMMS. That’s quite a lot of memory, if you don’t mind me saying. This system had a total of 64 Megabytes which results from eight megabyte DIMMs installed into eight of its slots.

The Z840 utilitizes PCIe Gen 3 technology which delivers a peak bandwidth of 16 GB/s, twice as fast as PCI Gen/2. There’s a total of up to seven high performance graphics and I/O slots including support for up to three PCIe 3.0 graphics cards in PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. That will be welcome news for 3D artists using GPU rendering software like Octane since the more GPUs you have, the faster the rendering.

The workstation in this review has a Quadro M6000 GPU, NVIDIA’s most powerful pro graphics card. The M6000 features NVIDIA’s powerful Maxwell GPU architecture, 3072 CUDA parallel processing cores and 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM with an ultra fast memory bandwidth of 317 GB/s. In addition the Quadro M6000 has a new display engine that drives up to four 4k displays natively with DisplayPort 1.2 support for high resolutions like 4096 X 2160. Four 4K displays, can you imagine how cool that would be?

The NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPU.
The NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPU.

Underneath the Quadro GPU, there was an HP Thunderbolt 2 PCIe I/O card in one of the PCI slots which provides 20 Gb/s of data in each direction, four times the speed of a USB 3.0 connection. The card also provides DisplayPort 1.2 capability with multi-stream transport support. Thunderbolt is a great connection for simultaneous 4k video capture and display as well as allows you to connect external GPUs and RAIDs to your system.

Beneath the Thunderbolt card in the Z840 is a 512 Gigabyte HP Z Turbo Drive G2. If you haven’t heard about HP’s Z Turbo Drive, it’s an innovative and revolutionary PCIe based SSD storage solution which uses Samsung’s NVMe technology. It allows for ultra-fast storage speeds and is great for things like 4k video editing among other things. Just how fast is it? We’ll talk about that in a minute.

The Z Turbo Drive G2 is a very fast PCIe based SSD storage solution.
The Z Turbo Drive G2 is a very fast PCIe based SSD storage solution.

Near the front of Z840 are four internal drive bays which are easily removed by a handle. The first two bays each contain 512 gigabyte SSDs which have been configured into a 1TB RAID. Under those was another SSD which was not part of the RAID. At the bottom of the stack was a 2TB spinning hard disk drive which can be used for storage and backup, or as a working drive if you like. Above the stack of hard drives are two more 5.25 inch external hard drive bays.

Speed Tests and Benchmarks
I used CrystalDiskMark to check the speed of the drives. I had heard that the Turbo Drive G2 was fast, and it certainly was. In the chart below, I’ve included results for the sequential reads and writes. As you can see, with a speed of 2,235 MB/s, the Z Turbo Drive G2 is more than four times faster than the SSDs.

A comparison of the drive speeds in the Z840.
A comparison of the drive speeds in the Z840.

However, if you think that’s fast, and it is, you’ve got another thing coming. The new Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro from HP is a new storage solution which effectively puts four M.2 Turbo Drive G2s in a RAID configuration onto a PCIe Express 3.0 x 16 card. Not only does that give you more storage space than a single Z Turbo Drive (up to two terabytes), but thanks to the RAID configuration, the Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro delivers speeds up to 9 GB/s. That’s more than sixteen times faster than an SSD and four times faster than a single Z Turbo Drive. Those are incredible, jaw dropping speeds and very useful for high resolution workflows. The nice thing is that it comes at a modest price too. Definitely worth looking into, in my opinion.

The new Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro combines 4 Z Turbo Drives onto one PCIe x16 card.
The new Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro combines 4 Z Turbo Drives onto one PCIe x16 card.

Cinebench is comprehensive benchmarking software that measures the performance of the CPU and GPU. I started with the GPU test which, in this case was the Quadro M600M. During the test, it runs a real time 3D animation of a car race that includes lighting, reflections, shadows and texture maps to see haw quickly the graphics card is able to render it.

The result of the GPU test was 145.61 frames per second. As you can see in the ranking, that blows the other graphics cards listed beneath it out of the water. To see how the Quadro M6000 compares to your graphics card, download Cinebench and run it on your own computer.

Results of the Cinebench GPU test.
Results of the Cinebench GPU test.

Next, I ran the CPU test which is comprised of a 3D render that includes reflections, global illumination, transparency and other advanced rendering challenges. The results of the CPU test was 3285. an extremely fast and impressive result and substantially faster than I have ever seen.

Results of the Cinebench CPU Test.
Results of the Cinebench CPU Test.

After I examined the internals and externals of the HP Z840, What else can you say but Wow. Between the powerful 14 core dual Xeons, fast DDR 4 2133 MHz memory, top shelf NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPU, Z Turbo Drive G2 and Thunderbolt 2 ports this is certainly one of the most advanced and capable workstations on the planet that will help you realize your visions whether you are a filmmaker, animator, visual effects artist, digital painter or music producer.

HP has a great legacy in engineering and systems design which goes all the way back to the beginning of Silicon Valley. In the Z840, they have created a machine that represents the latest and greatest in workstation design.

The HP Z27s

If you work in 4K or just want more pixels to work with, you’ll definitely want to check out the HP Z27s IPS UHD 27 inch Display. It’s an Ultra High Definition (UHD) monitor with a resolution of 3820 x 2160 pixels. The Z27s has an sRGB color gamut with 1.07 billion colors for vivid and detailed color reproduction. Being an IPS display, it also has wide viewing angles of 178 degrees which makes it useful for presentations or work reviews with your team. You can even mirror your smart phone or tablet to the large screen through an MHL connection that also charges them up at the same time.

The HP Z27s IPS UHD 27 Inch Display
The HP Z27s IPS UHD 27 Inch Display

The Z27s comes with a collection of cables such as DisplayPort and mini DisplayPort, as well as a CD which contains drivers for the display.

The monitor swivels from side to side and can be lifted higher and lower as you like. You can also rotate the display 90 degrees and use it vertically. This can be useful if you are working on a tall matte painting, for example.

There are two Super Speed USB 3.0 ports conveniently located on the side of the Z27s in addition to the main connections which are under the display panel which include Display Port 1.2, mini DisplayPort, HDMI 1.4, MHL 2.0, USB 3.0, and audio connections.

I displayed several 4k images on the monitor and they were stunning to look at. I recommend you have a look with your own eyes. It is almost impossible to distinguish the individual pixels unless you look through a magnifier. The images appeared to be continuous tone with tiny miniscule details all rendered perfectly. The only thing better than this monitor is having two of them connected to your system, or why not three or four since the NVIDIA M6000 supports up to four 4k displays.

Images have stunning detail in 4k.
Images have stunning detail in 4k.

I used the HP Z840 and the Z27s disply to edit the video above in Premiere Pro. The HP Z80 was very snappy and responsive, just as you would expect with smooth scrubbing and playback, and the UHD display provided plenty of pixels to work with. In this case I worked at 1080p HD and was able to view the full image at 100% with plenty of room left over for the timeline and control panels. Next I opened a large Pro Tools project. Again, the 4k display provided ample room for the project window, mixer, midi editor and plug in controls, while the dual Xeons in the Z840 provided more than enough power to drive Pro Tools’ audio engine.

Editing a video in 1080p with Premiere Pro at 100% on the HP Z840 and the Z27s.
Editing a video in 1080p with Premiere Pro at 100% on the HP Z840 and the Z27s.
Using the Z27s with ProTools leaves plenty of pixels to work with.
Using the Z27s with ProTools leaves plenty of pixels to work with.

When using a 4K monitor, you might find that the menus and icons may seem a little small. I don’t mind small menus, keep in mind that Windows 10 has new scaling options for 4K displays. The machine I reviewed shipped with Windows 7, the operating system many still prefer since they can depend on its proven reliability. Personally I like Windows 10, but can understand if some are nervous about driver incompatibility.

The HP Performance Advisor
There’s a nice piece of software that comes with every HP workstation called the HP Performance Advisor that I demonstrated in the video and which I think is worth mentioning. You can use it to get all kinds of useful information about your system such as memory, drives, PCIe cards, processors and much more. Rather than describing it here, you can see it in action in the video (Maybe there is a reason to both watch the video and read the story as well after all).

Conclusion
What is a workstation? A very powerful computer? A movie making machine? A recording studio in a box? An artist’s creative playground? An enabler of dreams? A partner that helps you realize your wildest creative visions? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Its all of those things and more and the HP Z840 is the latest incarnation of the world’s leading workstation. Paired together with the Z27s 4K IPS display and you’ve got an unbeatable powerhouse of a system that can take you to new heights of creativity limited only by your imagination. More information about, as well as pricing details about the Z840 can be found here. To find out more about the HP Z27s UHD display, click here.

Note: If interested, you can see my review of the HP Z840’s predecessor, the Z820, by clicking here.

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Lenovo’s Unique ThinkPad P40 Yoga Mobile Workstation

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Lenovo has introduced an innovative new member to their mobile workstation family, the ThinkPad P40 Yoga. What makes the P40 Yoga compelling is, besides containing impressive processing and graphics capabilities, the machine can be transformed into four different user modes. You can use it as a traditional laptop, but you can also fold back the screen so it becomes a tablet. Somewhere along the way, the machine can also be used in tent or stand mode, useful when giving a demonstration or watching movies.

The Lenovo ThinkPad P40  Yoga Mobile Workstation is very flexible and can be transformed into four different user modes.
The Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga Mobile Workstation is very flexible and can be transformed into four different user modes.

One innovative feature about the ThinkPad P40 Yoga, especially when the machine is put in tablet mode, is that it comes with Wacom Active ES sketching technology built in, which allows users to to draw or sketch right onto the screen, reminiscent of using a Wacom Cintiq. Now, that’s cool.

According to Lenovo, they worked in close partnership with Wacom to create a comfortable and realistic sketching experience. As such, the Wacom technology offers a full 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity on a high-res 2560 X 1440 IPS display, allowing for high levels of precision and accuracy. The supplied ThinkPad Pen Pro, which fits into the side of the computer, comes with a supply of additional pen tips which provide varied levels of tactile feedback.

The ThinkPad P40 Yoga in tablet mode, the mode best suited for sketching.
The ThinkPad P40 Yoga in tablet mode, the mode best suited for sketching.

In addition to the sketching ability on the ThinkPad P40 Yoga, you’ll also find powerful performance inside the machine which includes an NVIDIA Quadro M500M GPU with 2GB VRAM which provides serious power for today’s powerful graphics applications. There’s also an Intel 6th generation Core i7 CPU, up to 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for storage.

Another innovation making its debut in the P40 Yoga is Lenovo’s Lift n’ Lock keyboard which features a frame that automatically rises around the keys when you switch the Yoga into tablet mode. That seems like it will be handy while you are sketching. The P40 also promises long battery life and is Mil-SPEC tested for ruggedness.

The Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga in tent mode.
The Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga in tent mode.

Professional artists will be interested to know that the ThinkPad P40 Yoga can be purchased with an optional battery-powered ThinkPad Pen Pro advanced stylus that uses Wacom technology for enhanced precision and comfort. In addition, the P40 Yoga supports Lenovo OneLink+ cable docking solution and can be purchased with the optional ThinkPad Ultra Dock, a new dock featuring better performance and more versatile docking connectors.

The ThinkPad P40 Yoga in stand mode.
The ThinkPad P40 Yoga in stand mode.

The new Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga will be available starting in the first quarter of 2016. Pricing begins at 1,399. about the ThinkPad P40 Yoga can be found here.

A view of the ThinkPad P40's keyboard.
A view of the ThinkPad P40’s keyboard.

 

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HP Reveals Exciting New ZBooks at Their Global Workstations Event in New York

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Last week, after much anticipation, HP rolled out their fleet of new ZBook mobile workstations to an assembled audience of journalists and industry analysts at their Global Workstations Event on the West Side of Manhattan. Aside from this article all about the new machines (and the event), there is a link to a video I made about it at the end of the article.

Professionals know that HP is the world’s leading manufacturer of workstations, consistently pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with both tower and mobile units. HP workstations offer among the highest levels of performance in the industry often with surprisingly attractive price tags — performance that often leaves competitors like Apple and Dell far behind.

The New ZBook Studio

As executives from HP’s workstation division including Jeff Wood, Jim Zafarana, and Josh Peterson began to describe the new machines to us at the announcement, it was clear that they were about to introduce something special. Though they gave mention of the recently introduced Z240 workstation, which I wrote about here, this time, however, the rollout was not about big-iron workstation towers and desktops, but new mobile workstations (though several products related to desktop workstations were also introduced which we’ll discuss below).

Jeff Wood kicks off HP's Workstation event in New York City as assembled journalists and industry analysts watch and listen.
Jeff Wood kicks off HP’s Workstation event in New York City as assembled journalists and industry analysts watch and listen.

The new mobile workstations are not just refreshed models of previous models. They’ve been completely redesigned and not only offer unparalleled power in a mobile unit, but the latest technological innovations as well.

In the case of the HP ZBook Studio, a brand new mobile workstation which HP is calling the world’s first quad core Ultrabook (which means ultra slim design, ultra portability and ultra high battery life), HP has introduced a machine that could very well revolutionize the market and is their thinnest and lightest full performance portable machine to date.

The new HP ZBook Studio. Sleek, light and very powerful.
The new HP ZBook Studio. Sleek, light and very powerful.

The ZBook Studio starts at just 4.4 lbs with a thickness of only 18mm. My last portable machine was around 8 lbs, much less powerful and was a real drag to lug around. Suddenly airline flights will become a lot easier for those who want to do serious work on the road.

In addition to being extremely thin and light, the ZBook Studio features not only Intel Core processors, but Intel’s industrial strength Xeon processors, which is the first time I have heard of them being put in a laptop. Another thing I really like is the fact that you can put dual 1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2s for a total of 2 TB of storage. For those of you aren’t familiar with HP’s turbo drive technology, it is basically solid state storage that goes right into the PCIe bus delivering performance levels much faster than SSDs.

The ZBook Studio closed. Ultrabook design, workstation power.
The ZBook Studio closed. Ultrabook design, workstation power.

If you need more disk space to work with, you can connect external storage to the two built-in Thunderbolt 3 ports. Thunderbolt 3 was introduced in June and offers incredibly fast transfer speeds of 40 Gbps. It wasn’t all that long ago that I gushed about Thunderbolt 2’s speed of 20 Gbps, double the speed of the original Thunderbolt’s 10 Gbps. Naturally, with a speed of 40 Gbps, Thunderbolt 3 is great for external storage, as well connecting external video cards for GPU 3D rendering, a technique that has, in the past year or so, become a popular alternative to brute force CPU rendering. One Thunderbolt port can also support two 4K displays and according to Intel’s website can transfer a 4K movie in 30 seconds (even with compression that is very fast).

The ZBook Studio also allows for up to a hefty 32 GB of ECC memory as well as powerful new NVIDIA GPU options such as the NVIDIA Quadro M1000M 2 GB GDDR5. Of course you can opt for integrated Intel HD graphics 530, though it’s not such an attractive option for graphics pros.

HP's Josh Peterson gave an in-depth description of the technology that went into the new ZBook Studio.
HP’s Josh Peterson gave an in-depth description of the technology that went into the new ZBook Studio.

In addition to these features, the ZBook Studio also offers an optional HP award-winning DreamColor UHD or FHD display (available as a touch display). The ZBook Studio also includes dual cooling fans.

The ZBook Studio will be available in December starting at $1,699.

More ZBooks

Besides the ZBook Studio, HP also introduced three more ZBook Mobile Workstation models, which contain the latest innovations in GPUs, CPUs and displays, but also are dramatically thinner and lighter than their predecessors.

The HP ZBook 15u is a workstation Ultrabook and is a nice combination of mobility and affordability. This low-cost compact machine can be configured with up to 32 GB of RAM, AMD FirePro professional graphics with a 2GB frame buffer, HP Z Turbo Drive G2, 1.5 TB of total storage, and an FHD touch display (1920 X 1080 pixels). The ZBook 15u is planned for availability in January starting at $1099.

The HP ZBook 15u G3 Mobile Workstation: Affordable performance.
The HP ZBook 15u G3 Mobile Workstation: Affordable performance.

The HP ZBook 15 is the next generation of the world’s top selling mobile workstation, according to IDC Worldwide workstation tracker for Q2 2015. HP has redesigned the ZBook 15 inside and out and the result is that it is 27 percent thinner and 7 percent lighter than the previous generation. In addition the ZBook 15 boasts an impressive 27 percent increase in battery life over the previous generation. It’s got a 15.6 inch diagonal display and can be configured with Intel Core or Xeon processors, an impressive 64 GB ECC memory, two 1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2s with (a total of 3 TB of storage), two Thunderbolt 3 ports and optional HP DreamColor UHD or FHD touch displays. Pricing is not yet available.

The HP ZBook 15: The world's best selling mobile workstation.
The HP ZBook 15: The world’s best selling mobile workstation.

The HP ZBook 17 represents the utmost in power and performance in HP’s mobile workstation line. The latest incarnation of this 17.3 inch powerhouse features a whopping 67 percent increase in battery life. It is also 11 percent lighter than its predecessor. You can configure this machine with Intel core or Xeon processors, up to 64 GB ECC memory, two 1 TB HP Z Turbo Drive G2s (for a total of 4 TB of storage), two Thunderbolt 3 ports and optional DreamColor UHD or FHD touch displays. Something that really sets the HP ZBook 17 apart from its siblings is its ability to support an NVIDIA M5000M Quadro graphics with an 8 GB frame buffer. That is serious graphics performance for a mobile workstation. Pricing is not yet available.

The HP ZBook 17: HP's largest and most powerful mobile workstation.
The HP ZBook 17: HP’s largest and most powerful mobile workstation.

Actually, the ZBook Studio, ZBook 15 and 17 all feature new NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics which provide nearly two times the performance of previous generation graphics. These systems also offer a choice of Intel Iris Pro Graphics P580, Intel HD graphics P530 or Intel HD graphics 530 for those with less serious graphics demands.

Other ZBook Considerations

HP makes sure their new workstation designs undergo strict tests by independent third parties such as MIL-STD 810G, a rugged United States military standard that tests environmental conditions such as pressure, temperature, shock, moisture, dust, atmosphere, humidity, vibration and others including a 30 inch drop test performed 36 times. All in all there are over 15 grueling tests.

The entire HP ZBook mobile workstation family.
The entire HP ZBook mobile workstation family.

All HP ZBooks also come preloaded with HP Remote Graphics Software, a useful application that allows for effective remote collaboration, especially handy for graphics applications. With it, you can harness the raw power of advanced graphics workstations over a network. ZBooks also come with HP Performance Advisor, software that gives you all sorts of insight into the internal components and performance of your machine, as well as HP Velocity for more reliable and fast network performance.

Also introduced at the Global Workstation Launch Event was the new ZBook Dock with Thunderbolt 3. This new mobile workstation dock allows users to link up to 10 devices at once through ports that include Thunderbolt 3 (with support of DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.1 Gen 2, and PCIe), four USB 3.0, RJ-45, VGA, combo audio, and two additional DisplayPorts. A useful thing to have around.

An aerial view of the new HP ZBook Dock with Thunderbolt 3
An aerial view of the new HP ZBook Dock with Thunderbolt 3

Other Announcements

While the big news at HP’s event was mainly about the new ZBooks, there were some other interesting product announcements for desktop workstations. The HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro combines up to four super-fast HP Z Turbo Drive G2 modules into one PCIe x16 card, can support up to 2TB, and delivers sequential performance up to, wait, you might want to sit down for this one, 9.0GB/s. That is basically 16 times faster than a standard SSD drive, an unprecedented level of performance that is perfect for today’s high resolution workflows of 4K and beyond. The HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro can be used with HP Z440, Z640 and Z840 Workstations. A card with four 256GB modules will cost $1,376.

The HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro allows you to combine an array of four Z Turbo drives in one PCI x16 card.
The HP Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro allows you to combine an array of four Z Turbo drives in one PCI x16 card.

HP also introduced the new HP Z Cooler, an ultra quiet cooling solution designed to reduce system noise in HP Z Workstation environments which is perceived as being 40 percent quieter to the human ear compared to previous generations. This is an important development, not only to cut down on distracting noise, but is an absolute necessity for sound studios and music producers who need absolute silence during recording. The HP Z Cooler works with the HP Z440 and Z840 Workstations. It’s available now for a price of $120.

The HP Z Cooler: An innovative new workstation CPU cooler.
The HP Z Cooler: An innovative new workstation CPU cooler.

On the display side, HP also introduced the HP Z22n and HP Z23n Narrow Bezel IPS Displays. These are the narrowest three-sided displays from HP, and are nearly borderless on three sides. They’ve got a 178-degree viewing angle IPS technology and the color gamut is calibrated to 95 and 96 percent sRGB for optimal color quality. The HP Z22n and Z23n are available now and priced at $209 and $229 respectively.

The HP Z23n narrow bezel IPS display
The HP Z23n narrow bezel IPS display

Concluding Thoughts

HP’s new ZBooks are perfect for filmmakers, post-production professionals, video editors, music producers and creative artists of all kinds who need serious mobile power. 3D animators, visual effects artists and colorists have longed recognized the power of HP workstations. They’re being used in top studios like DreamWorks Animation and many others on countless blockbuster movies. Video editors and music producers who may have traditionally used Apple MacBooks have also recently come on board, recognizing the superior performance HP offers both in their tower and mobile workstation designs.

This may have something to do with the perception that Apple has lost interest in the pro market. It is a reasonable assumption. With droves of kids (and adults) streaming into their stores for the latest phones and gadgets to play their favorite pop songs or for Netflix binge watching, it looks like the Cupertino company has enough work on their hands without worrying about the needs of the professional market.

If you think about it, the consumer, rather than the professional, has always been important to Apple. Even going back to the original Macintosh 128K, if you look at its original marketing materials, was aimed at common people, housewives, and students and was originally designed to be an appliance computer. When it was adopted by the desktop publishing industry and then the video industry, it wasn’t really due to Apple that people started thinking of it as a “graphics” machine. It was due to the efforts of companies such as Adobe and Avid who developed applications for it like Photoshop, After Effects, Pro Tools and Media Composer. These applications are all easily available on both platforms today.

HP’s products, on the other hand, have long enjoyed a solid technological reputation as being designed by and for engineers. So it’s no surprise that their machines excel at high-end, industrial strength environments. That’s why serious 3D computer graphics and animation pros (as well as scientific applications) have always been, for the most part, the province of Windows (and Unix) machines and why artists today are also choosing them to run Adobe’s Creative Suite, Pro Tools and other critical creative applications.

Stephen Hunter from NASA explained why he relies on HP workstations.
Stephen Hunter from NASA explained why he relies on HP workstations.

On that note, at HP’s event last week, an interesting presentation was given by Stephen Hunter who works at NASA. He discussed how HP’s mobile workstation are relied upon by the International Space Station. Hunter stressed that any piece of equipment that goes into space must not only be technologically advanced, but must be extremely rugged and reliable. The lives of the astronauts depend on it.

By the way, I also made a video version of this article on YouTube that has more images of the machine, as well as a few other things. Click here to watch the video.

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