Tag Archives: Workstations

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

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

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

The New ZBook Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More ZBooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other ZBook Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

Other Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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