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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.