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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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HP’s Hot New ZBooks, Virtual Workstation and Displays

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Along with the new year comes news of exciting products from HP which they will be unveiling at CES 2015. On the list are powerful new workstation products as well as innovative displays.

In workstations, nobody quite does it like HP and that’s why they’re number one in industrial strength machines with their Z Series line. You’ll find their workstation towers (such as their mega-powerful Z820) commonplace in animation studios, editorial houses, and color suites all over the place.

The HP Z family of workstations, both towers and mobile, lead the workstation market today.
The HP Z family of workstations, both towers and mobile, are market leaders.

Along with the Z workstation towers are their highly rated and esteemed series of mobile workstations. The HP ZBooks, which combine extreme performance with stylish and sexy looks in a compact machine, offering workstation power on the go.

New ZBooks

First up are the HP ZBook 14 and 15u G2 Mobile Workstations. These ZBooks focus on leading in price and performance and both look to be a great choice for entry level users or those seeking a powerful mobile workstation at an affordable price.

The ZBook 15u, for example, features a 15.6 inch diagonal high performance screen while the ZBook features a 14 inch display. They come with 5th generation Intel Core processors and now include professional AMD FirePro 3D graphics (NVIDIA graphics are available on other ZBooks such as the top of the line ZBook 17 G2 mobile workstation). The ZBook 14 also features an optional touch display.

The new ZBook 14 and 15u offers great performance at a cost that everyone can afford whether you work at a large studio or are an independent creator.
The new ZBook 14 and 15u offers great performance at a cost that everyone can afford whether you work at a large studio or are an independent creator.

Both of the new ZBooks allow memory capacity up to 16 GB (an ample amount for a mobile machine) as well as 1.25 TB of storage. The ZBooks also include connections for the HP Z Turbo Drive, an innovative new type of storage. Not quite an SSD drive, the Z Turbo drive is essentially PCIe connected solid state storage. By connecting directly to the bus, the Z Turbo Drive offers twice the performance of SATA SSD. Note that this extremely fast storage solution is also available on Z Series towers and offer read performance speeds of an unprecedented 1 GB/s. Wow. To read more about HP Z Turbo drives, click here.

The new ZBook mobile workstations are rugged and reliable, having undergone 115,000 hours of testing by HP and will be available this month. Pricing starts at $1,249 and $1,199 respectively.

The DL380z Virtual Workstation

Rather than buying a new workstation for everyone in your studio, including freelancers, how about giving them a virtual workstation? You can with the HP DL380z Virtual Workstation Gen 9 which offers Z Workstation power with data security and is able to be accessed from virtually anywhere with PCs, thin clients, notebooks, and even tablet devices. The new DL380z is more powerful, has more integrated I/O and more expandability than the previous generation and pro 3D animators will certainly dig the latest crop of professional graphics cards in the DL380z, such as NVIDIA GRID.

The HP DL380z virtual workstation allows you to connect any device, such as the thin clients pictured here. Now, everyone in your organization can get access to workstation power.
The HP DL380z virtual workstation allows you to connect any device, such as the thin clients pictured here. Now, everyone in your organization can get access to workstation power.

The new DL380z s powered by the latest E5 v3 processors with up to 36 cores, 3.5 GHz and an incredible 1.5 TB DDR4 2133 MHz of memory. It also has a 2U rack mount and can run on either Windows or Linux with central management that helps keep sensitive data secure by only transmitting encrypted pixel data over a LAN or WAN.

Together with HP RGS (Remote Graphics Software) the DL380z works even over long distances and shoddy network connections. Note that HP RGS 7.1 is expected to ship in April 2015 and boasts a 60 percent performance boost. To those who work in motion media, HP RGS 7.1 (which HP calls “the best-in-class remote graphics software”) now supports higher resolution displays and perfect image playback allowing users to edit remotely without limitations. In addition, RGS 7.1 allows allows increased collaboration abilities for Wacom tablet users.

A shared, virtual workstation solution sounds like a great idea to me, especially if I wanted to provide a team of artists and animators with great performance without giving each of them a big tower. They’d also be able to connect at home using an ultra thin client. Is this the future of workstations? I’m not sure, but the concept of shared resources like this seems to make a lot of sense to me.

The HP DL380z Virtual Workstation is available for purchase now.

Virtual Reality Returns

Next on the list are some exciting new displays including the debut of nothing less than an interactive virtual reality display as well as 4K and 5K ultra high-definition displays. There are also new curved displays. At a sneak peek of HP’s new products in New York, I was able to preview the new displays (as well as the ZBooks).

At the top of the “Ooh-la-la” list is the HP Zvr Virtual Reality Display. When I sat down for a look at it I was unsure what to expect. After putting on a set of active glasses, I sat down to a demo that consisted of a 3D scene that included a set of objects that I could manipulate with a stylus reminiscent of the kind you would see on a Wacom tablet.

The innovative HP-Zvr allows for the manipulation of 3D objects in a truly immersive three dimensional environment.
The innovative HP-Zvr allows for the manipulation of 3D objects in a truly immersive three dimensional environment.

The results were, frankly, astonishing. Working with the HP Zvr I was able to interactively move and manipulate models in total 3D space in front of my very eyes with remarkable clarity and precision. The experience felt organic and immersive and beyond compare with a 2D display.

I can remember back in the 1990s when virtual reality was a shining new frontier in computer graphics. Somehow it faded away and “virtual reality” slipped into oblivion for reasons I never really understood why. The good news is that it seems to be coming back with technology like the Oculus Rift.

Will the HP Zvr change the way 3D animators and artists work? Well, It will probably take some time before software developers adapt their software to truly take advantage of the HP Zvr virtual reality display and the possibilities it offers, but I hope so. I am very excited by the implications and potential applications this product brings to the scene. We’ll just have to keep an eye out and see where it goes.

The HP Zvr is expected to be available by Spring 2015.

Ultra High Resolution Displays

As 4K video production continues its adoption in the industry, there has become a need for monitors with increasingly higher resolutions.

HP is releasing two 4K monitors as well as a 5K display for the ultimate resolution. With a 5K monitor, you can not only see every pixel in a frame of 4K video, but have additional space for editing timelines, or other control palettes common in visual effects work.

The two 4K 16:9 UHD displays feature 3840 x 2160 pixels of resolution. The HP Z27s has a 27 inch diagonal screen and the HP Z24 is 23.8 inch diagonal. Both support sRGB and Adobe RGB color gamuts and 1.07 billion colors. Ports include DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, Mini-DP, MHL and USB 3.0. An ergonomically designed stand includes the ability to switch between landscape and portrait modes.

The HP Z27s features 4K Ultra HD resolution at 3840 x 2160 pixels.
The HP Z27s features 4K Ultra HD resolution at 3840 x 2160 pixels.

The HP Z27q display has a 5120×2880, 5K wide-color gamut that delivers seven times more pixels than a classic full HD display. This 14.7 million pixel IPS monitor is factory calibrated, has a 16:9 aspect ration, 300 nits luminance and 1.07 billion colors. It also offers picture-in-picture and picture-by-picture, allowing users to display mobile device and PC feeds.

The HP Z27q offers unprecedented 5K resolution, making it very attractive to those working on high resolution film or visual effects projects. Here it is pictured with a mobile device attached to its MHL port.
The HP Z27q offers unprecedented 5K resolution, making it very attractive to those working on high resolution film or visual effects projects. Here it is pictured with a mobile device attached to its MHL port.

The HP Z27s, and HP Z24s displays are expected to be available in January and April respectively. Pricing starts at $749 and $549. The HP Z27q Display is expected to be available beginning in March for $1299.

Other displays

Also on the line up are new curved displays. While I have never worked with one for an extended period of time, I imagine it would provide a more immersive experience, better peripheral vision and more consistent color at the edges.

First up are the HP Z34c, HP ENVY 34c, HP EliteDisplay S270c and HP Pavilion 27c which deliver an elegant curved visual and audio experience with enhanced peripheral readability.

HP-Z34c is an elegant curved 34 inch diagonal display with a resolution of 3440 x 1440,
HP-Z34c is an elegant curved 34 inch diagonal display with a resolution of 3440 x 1440,

The HP Z34c and HP ENVY 34c 3000r measure 34-inches diagonally, have a wide 21:9 aspect ratio and support 3440 x 1440 resolution with 98 percent sRGB and a premium 6 watt/channel speakers with DTS Audio.

The 27-inch diagonal, HP EliteDisplay S270c and HP Pavilion 27c 4000r Curved Displays, features a 1920 x 1080 HD resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio and 95 percent sRGB color gamut.

While not especially high resolution at 1920 x 1080 pixels, the HP EliteDisplay-S270c may be of interest to those looking to grace their desk with a curved HD monitor.
While not especially high resolution at 1920 x 1080 pixels, the HP EliteDisplay-S270c may be of interest to those looking to grace their desk with a curved HD monitor.

The HP Z34c and HP ENVY 34c are expected to be available in April at an estimated price of $999. HP EliteDisplay S270c and Pavilion 27c Curved Displays are available now for $399.

All in all, I’d say that this new crop of useful and innovative products by HP is a great way to start out in the new year.

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