Tag Archives: NVIDIA

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 Unveils Powerful New Mobile Workstations

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Lenovo is getting serious about workstations. Earlier this year, the computer company rebooted their ThinkStation line of workstation towers, two of which I’ve reviewed. The top-of-the-line ThinkStation P900 is a powerhouse of a machine that’s capable of handling the most intense and demanding production challenges. It contains dual Xeons packed with 20 physical cores (that’s 40 virtual cores), as well as lots of other features to dazzle you. For those just starting out, the ThinkStation P500 is an entry level workstation with a single Xeon processor that provides solid performance at a price everyone can afford. In between the two are the P500 and P700.

To add to these powerful desktop machines, Lenovo is announcing two new mobile workstations at Siggraph 2015 that will deliver serious production power on the go. We recently had the chance to meet with Lenovo executives in New York to get a close look at these new machines and were were duly impressed. These machines, in my opinion, will deliver the level of performance needed to run the most demanding production and post software today and compared to Lenovo’s previous mobile workstation offerings are a major leap forward.

According to Lenovo, these new machines are among the most powerful notebook computers ever available. Of course we’re curious to test them out and see how they fare in real world production environments, but after a look at the specifications, I’m inclined to agree.

The ThinkPad P70

Let’s start with the ThinkPad P70, a 17 inch mobile workstation which, according to Lenovo, is capable of containing the most memory and storage ever found in a mobile unit, 64GB of DDR4 ECC memory and the ability to contain up to four storage devices. A quick check of the memory capacity in comparable offerings from HP, Dell, Boxx and Apple seems to confirm this. HP and Boxx offer up to 32GB of RAM while a MacBook Pro seems to top off at 16GB.

The ThinkPad P70 offers 64GB of RAM, PCIe storage, a 4K display and Thunderbolt 3
The ThinkPad P70 offers 64GB of RAM, PCIe storage, a 4K display and Thunderbolt 3

For storage, the ThinkPad P70 is capable of up to a terabyte of SSD storage that connects directly to the latest PCIe technology for speeds up to five times faster than a SATA connection. For those interested in external RAIDs, the ThinkPad P70 comes with two blazingly fast Intel Thunderbolt 3 ports for an astounding 40Gbps transfer rate. That should easily handle 4K editing.

On the display side, the ThinkPad P70 comes a 4K UHD display, a remarkable thing to have on a mobile computer. Now that Windows 10 is out, you don’t have to worry about tiny fonts in menus and control palettes either. Screen fonts will scale to the proper size and remain readable irregardless of the pixel size of the display. If you prefer, you could optionally get an FHD (1920 X 1080) touch display. I’d personally stick with the 4K display, however.

All in all, the ThinkPad P70 is an superbly designed and engineered product and is one of the most advanced and highest performance mobile workstations available.

The ThinkPad P50

For those who prefer a smaller and lighter machine, the ThinkPad P50 is Lenovo’s thinnest and lightest full-function mobile workstation yet. The P50 has an attractive 15.6 display and, like its big brother the P70, the resolution of the display is 4K.

The ThinkPad P50 has lmuch of what's good in the P70 including the 4k display, only in a smaller footprint.
The ThinkPad P50 has lmuch of what’s good in the P70 including the 4k display, only in a smaller footprint.

That kind of just makes me want to giggle since, in my opinion, the more resolution the better. This means you can work on high resolution cinematic effects shots without having to constantly zoom in and out. Remember when laptop displays used to be 800 X 600?. Now we’ve got 4k resolution on a 15.6″ laptop. Heck yeah.

Other Considerations

The ThinkPad P70 and P50 are the first machines equipped with the new Intel Xeon Processor E3-1500M v5 product family which delivers tremendous performance for workstation class performance. Both systems feature NVIDIA Quadro GPUs, which are also best in class and have been mil-spec tested for maximum durability.

One of the features that I really like on the Lenovo mobile workstations is the X-Rite Pantone color calibration system, which I first discovered when I reviewed of a previous Lenovo mobile workstation, the ThinkPad W540. I was glad to see that it included in the new breed since this cool and innovative feature will automatically color calibrate your monitor, keeping colors accurate on that 4K monitor. Just fold down the display, and a small sensor built into the chassis of the computer does the work. No need to purchase additional hardware or software.

To help keep things running cool, both the ThinkPad P50 and P70 feature a unique and innovative FLEX Performance Cooling System, a dual fan design that allows for cooler, quieter and faster performance. Less heat means the ability to push the system harder and comes in handy for those long rendering jobs.

Conclusion

The new ThinkPad P Series mobile workstations from Lenovo will be available starting in Q4 2015. The P50 will start at a price of $1,599 and the P70 will start at 1,999. Companies and facilities can sign up for a variety of service and support services.

If you’re involved with high-end production and post such as 3D animation, editing, compositing, color work or matte painting, the new ThinkPad P Series of mobile workstations is definitely worth checking out and may be a perfect balance of price and performance for professional and aspiring artists, filmmakers and animators.

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Review of the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 Workstation

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I expected that Lenovo’s new top of the line ThinkStation P900 was going to be a hot machine when I first heard about it, and when it finally arrived for review, I can’t say I was disappointed.

While I don’t always make a video for every product I review, I often do when a new product is significant. Thus, I hope you enjoy the following video review I made describing the features of the P900:

In case the video’s not enough for you, and want more information about the P900 in written form, read on.

First Impressions

Sitting at the top of Lenovo’s ThinkStation family, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a large machine at 7.87″ x 24.4″ x 17.5″, and while smaller might be better in some things, when it comes to workstations, bigger is usually better. The reason is simple. You need space to store all the good things that make a workstation what it is such as loads of hard drives, memory, heavy duty power supplies and beefy Graphics cards.

Even so, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900’s sleek lines and clean design give the workstation an elegant appearance. The case is matte black with a hexagonal grille on the front which is designed to provide maximum airflow through the machine. The ThinkStation logo on the front can be rotated ninety degrees if you wish to mount the machine horizontally, a nice touch.

Sleek lines characterize the design of the P900.
Sleek lines characterize the design of the P900.

The front of the machine has 4 speedy USB 3.0 ports, and an integrated 9 in 1 card reader. There are also three Flex Bays on the front with a DVD writer installed in one of them. You can also choose to add other i/o components to the Flex Bays such as an optional 29 in 1 card reader, an ultraslim ODD or even eSATA or Firewire drives. More on the Lenovo’s Flex system later.

The back of the workstation.
The back of the workstation.

The back of the machine contains most of the basic ports and connections that you might expect on a workstation including audio jacks, two Ethernet ports, four USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0 ports as well as two DVI connections and two Display Ports for hooking up your displays. There are six more PCIe slots in addition to the ones being used by the GPU.

On the inside

Opening the workstation is done via a handle on the side of the chassis. Once the side was removed, I was struck by the clean and well ordered design of the interior of the machine which has red touchpoints to guide your hands to the internal compenents of the machine that can be easily removed without the need for tools. See the video for more about removing and replacing parts.

The inside of the P900 with the air baffle in place.
The inside of the P900 with the air baffle in place.

The Lenovo ThinkStation P900 has a tri channel cooling system that guides air from the fans through the workstation via a large air baffle which is easily removed. Beneath it you’ll find the dual Intel Xeon E5-2600 V3 Haswell processors running at 3.1 GHz with a total of twenty physical chords and 40 threads. A powerful pair, and good for those heavy duty rendering and dynamics simulations projects.

Above and below the processors are the 16 memory slots and when you use 32 GB memory sticks, you can cram a half a terabyte (512 GB) of DDR4 ECC RAM into the P900. I’m also told that that the system was designed to take 64GB DDR4 memory modules once they are released in the future. That will boost the total memory capacity of the computer to one terabyte.

The interior of the machine with the CPUs exposed.
The interior of the machine with the CPUs exposed.

There’s space for two NVIDIA Quadro K6000 or K5200 GPUs in the machine in addition to an NVIDIA Tesla K40 GPU graphics accelerator. This is great for interactive visualizations, GPU rendering, as well as 4K and beyond video editing, compositing and color grading. You can also put other NVIDIA graphics cards in it if desired. The machine I reviewed had an NVIDIA K5200, a nice choice that combines value and power.

Flex, you say?

When I first read about Lenovo’s new Flex system, it got me a little confused, so I’ll explain to you what it is. Flex is comprised of four things, the Flex Bays (on the front of the machine), the Flex Module, The Flex Tray and the Flex connector.

The Flex drive trays inside the workstation connect directly to the motherboard without the need for messy cables. and can each support a 3.5″ drive, two 2.5″ drives or a 2.5″ and 3.5″ drive. The onboard Lenovo RAID controller supports configurations of 0, 1, 5 and 10. Once again see the video to see how the Flex trays are removed and replaced.

There are two Flex Connectors located directly on the motherboard, each one controlled by one of the dual CPUs. The Flex Connectors support SATA, SAS, PCIe and have advanced RAID solutions. This allows for more storage and i/o without using up your PCI slots needlessly.

Benchmarks

For benchmarking, I ran the software I usually run to evaluate the performance of a new workstation, MAXON’s CineBench, which tests the speed of the processing power of the CPUs as well as the Graphics card.

Cinebench results. GPU on top, CPU on bottom.
Cinebench results. GPU on top, CPU on bottom.

The results for both the CPU and the GPU were remarkable, and pretty much at the head of the class. The P900 had a CPU score of 2224 and 99.72 for the GPU. You can see in the graphic above how this stacks up compared to other systems. For example, in the CPU department, it’s almost double the performance of a 12 core (24 threads) Xeon X5650 system. You can also see how well the GPU fares compared to other offerings from NVIDIA.

CineBench is free, so you can download it and run it on your current rig for comparison. There is also a comprehensive CineBench online database with results from many other configurations you can check.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to like about the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 and it is unquestionably one of the top machines in its class. I focus on high end post production, animation, visual effects and editing projects and if you’re like me, and your work is high resolution and render intensive, the Lenovo ThinkStation P900 is a great choice. Oh, and just in case you missed it, don’t forget to watch the video.

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Review of the Lenovo ThinkStation P300 Workstation

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With its sights set on the heavy duty workstation market, currently dominated by HP, Lenovo adds to their ThinkStation series of workstations with the new ThinkStation P300 tower, their “entry level” model, aimed at professionals who seek a balance of power and value. Those who might benefit from a machine like the P300 include, students, independent artists, or those looking to outfit an entire production company with machines that can get serious work done, while keeping an eye on the bottom line. In this review, I’ll take a look at whether the P300 fits the bill.

The Lenovo ThinkStation P300 combines great performance and sleek design at a price that won't break the bank.
The Lenovo ThinkStation P300 combines great performance and sleek design at an affordable price that won’t break the bank.

A Closer Look

Before I talk about the tower itself, I’ll mention a few words about the impressive display that was sent with the P300, the ThinkVision LT3053p Wide Monitor. It’s got a large 30 inch AH-IPS (Advanced High Performance In-Plane Switching) panel with a hefty resolution of 2,560 X 1,600 that displays rich and bright images even at extreme viewing angles and provides 99% coverage of the AdobeRGB color space and 100% of sRGB.

There’s also a plethora of ports on the LT5053p including VGA, DisplayPort,dual-link DVI, HDMI and MHL (which lets you connect the monitor to devices such as smartphones and tablets). In addition you’ll find a DisplayPort that allows you to daisy-chain multiple monitors. There are USB 3.0 ports as well as USB 2.0 ports including two that are designed to connect a keyboard and mouse as well as a built in KVM switch which lets you use one keyboard and mouse with two computers.

The ThinkVision LT3053p also comes with a shading hood. This is very useful for those working in color critical environments since it helps block ambient light as well as glare and reflections in the room. Third party shading hoods are not so cheap and can cost a couple hundred dollars. The one that comes with the LT3053p is well made, and comes in the box. Pretty cool.

The 30-inch ThinkVision LT3053p is an impressive and well appointed display which played an important role in this review.  The monitor ships with an included shading hood, and with proper calibration it is a good choice for professional color work as well as general production.
The 30-inch ThinkVision LT3053p is an impressive and well appointed display which played an important role in this review. The monitor ships with an included shading hood, and with proper calibration it is a good choice for professional color work as well as general production.

The LT3053p has an on-screen menu system to change the picture settings and sources for the monitor. You can also make your own custom color profiles if you desire. When matched with a good calibration system, this monitor is a sweet choice for artists, animators and colorists. If you are looking to pair a monitor with your new workstation, consider the ThinkVision LT5053p.

The Workstation

Now that I’ve talked about the display, lets begin our discussion of the workstation. The processor inside the Lenovo ThinkStation P300 reviewed here included a single Intel Xeon E3-1276 v3 quad core running at 3.6 GHz. It came with 8 GB of Memory (Total memory capacity of the machine is 32 GB) and a 1TB 7200 RPM SATA hard drive. There’s also a DVD Multiburner.

Opening the case is done by removing two screws on the back of the machine. Once open, things are laid out logically with access to memory slots, PCI slots and hard drive bays. Installing extra hard drives is easy and is tool-free. There is also support on the motherboard for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 configurations.

Access to the interior of the P300 is done by removing two screws on the back.
Access to the interior of the P300 is done by removing two screws on the back.
The Interior of the ThinkStation P300.
The Interior of the ThinkStation P300.

Naturally, in the business of making motion pictures and 3D graphics, a powerful graphics card is key and the machine sent for review had an NVIDIA K4000 installed in it. This is a smart choice for the user base this machine is geared towards to, since it delivers very good performance in all facets of production including 3D creation, compositing, color grading and editing. However, it gets better. Lenovo has upped the ante: The K4000 card has now been replaced the more powerful NVIDIA K4200 (The K4000 GPU is no longer an option). Comparitively speaking, this more powerful GPU is significantly better in many ways (see below):

Specification K4000 K4200
GPU Memory 3GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5
Cuda Cores 768 1344
Memory Interface 192-bit 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth 134 GB/s 173/GB/s
Simultaneous Displays 3 4
DisplayPort 1.2 Yes Yes

As you can see, the NVIDIA K4200 is a lot better than the K4000 and achieves levels of performance once found on more pricey cards not that long ago.

Interior
The Xeon E3-1276 4 core processor (with heat sink and cooling fan attached). Underneath the processor is the Quadro 4200 video card. To the right of the processor are the DIMM slots.

Ports and I/O

The Lenovo ThinkStation P300 has six high speed USB 3.0 ports (two on the front and four on the back) and two USB 2.0 ports. While Thunderbolt 2 is not built into the P300, the fact is that many people really don’t need it and will do perfectly fine with USB 3.0’s 5Gb/s bandwidth. In fact, I mostly use USB 3.0 drives these days, including for video editing. USB drives are quite cheap and fast and come in RAID configurations. While some people, like 4K video editors, may desire a Thunderbolt 2 port which promises 20Gb/s, keep in mind that USB 3.0 is also capable of allowing you to edit 4K off of external RAIDs. If you’re not planning to do a lot of multi-stream 4K video editing, Thunderbolt 2 is most likely overkill and USB 3.0 is probably all you’ll ever need. If, for whatever reason, you think you need ThunderBolt 2, maybe Lenovo will include it on the soon to be released P700 and P900 workstations, two new ThinkStations which Lenovo is aiming at users who require more horsepower.

The rear of the Lenovo ThinkStation P300 including DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.0 and three empty PCI slots.
The rear of the Lenovo ThinkStation P300 including DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.0 and three empty PCI slots.

Other ports on the P300 include two DisplayPort 1.2 connections, a Media Card Reader, VGA, Ethernet and a Serial Port. Naturally there are also the obligatory headphone, microphone and speaker jacks.

The power supply on the P300 is 450W (92% efficiency) and the workstation is Energy Star 6.0 qualified, GREENGUARD Certified, RoHS compliant and has an EPEAT Gold rating. For people (like me) who care about our fragile little planet, that’s important. The dimensions of the P300 are 6.9″W x 16.97″D x 16.7″H.

Impressions

The Lenovo ThinkStation P300 comes in a sleek, black enclosure with an attractive design that will look good in your studio. There’s a hexagonal grill on the front which helps with air circulation and has the ThinkStation logo applied to it. At the top, there is a red strip where you can grab and hold, making it easy to lift and carry.

During my review I performed various production tasks with the P300 which included color correction and editing of RAW footage in Blackmagic Resolve 11, 3D modeling in Cinema 4D (and Maya) and various tasks in Adobe Creative Suite (including compositing in After Effects and editing in Premiere Pro). I also downloaded and messed around with Fusion (I’ve been meaning to dig into it ever since Blackmagic made it available for download). I also wrote and edited this review on the P300.

In all of these things, The ThinkStation P300 performed solidly and kept right up with me. It handled pretty much everything I threw at it without missing a beat.

Performance

A benchmark that I turn to when testing new hardware is MAXON’s CineBench. It tests the speed of the CPU by doing a high quality 3D rendering of a final scene that contains lots of reflections, shadows, transparency, and global illumination. It also checks the performance of the GPU by rendering real time 3D graphics on the video card. Here are the results:

Cinebench results of the P300 workstation.
Cinebench results of the P300 workstation.

So how did the P300 do? The OpenGL test (which measures the speed of the GPU) delivered excellent results with a score of 117.85 (utilizing the Quadro K4000). As you see in the chart, that is a very high mark. However, keep in mind that P300 workstations, as mentioned above, now ship with the significantly improved NVIDIA K4200 card. To compare, I looked up the CineBench score of the K4200 which was an 147.59. Impressively, that scores a lot higher than previous high-end generation cards like the once top of the line Quadro 6000 (released 2010) which which scored 101.96 on an older machine I have lying around my studio. The K4200’s CineBench score even comes in neck and neck with the K5200 (8GB RAM, 2304 CUDA cores), although it’s no surprise that the K6000 (12GB RAM, 2880 CUDA cores) comfortably beats them both. See below.

The latest NVIDIA Quadro cards compared. Notice how close the K4200 (included with currently shipping P300 ThinkStations) scores with the K5200.
The latest NVIDIA Quadro cards compared. Notice how close the K4200 (included with currently shipping P300 ThinkStations) scores with the K5200.

Regarding the CPU test, the P300’s single 3.6 GHz 4 core Xeon performed more or less exactly where you’d expect it to be with a respectable score of 767.

Conclusion

If you are in the market for a new workstation, yet are on a budget, the Lenovo ThinkStation P300 might be just what you are looking for with its very good price/performance ratio. The machine reviewed here (with the exception that it comes with the improved Quadro 4200 video card) is listed at a cost of $2,046 at the time of writing. If you require power, but don’t want a dual processor system or are just starting out, I think you’ll find the P300 a compelling choice. For more information, visit Lenovo’s website.

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