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REVIEW: HP'S XW9300 WORKSTATION

April 1, 2005
REVIEW: HP'S XW9300 WORKSTATION

PRODUCT: Hewlett Packard xw9300 workstation

PRICE: $4,848 as tested

WEB SITE: www.hp.com

- Dual 64-bit Opteron capable

- Dual Nvidia GPU capable

- Can get up to 16GB of memory for very large, complex data sets

It's a war out there. Tight deadlines, high bandwidths, HD everything, and the ever-present competition ready to jump on your slightest misstep. To survive realities like these during our daily battles in the DCC jungle, we've got to use the best weapons we can afford. For the post production industry, our major weapon is, of course, our computer workstation, and the essential ingredients of a truly competitive workstation includes technologies such as: multi-processor support, x16 PCI Express graphics support, 64-bit-capable processing (with legacy support for 32-bit applications), high-end hardware accelerated OpenGL graphics, multichannel Serial ATA support and the perennial necessity: as much memory as possible at the highest bandwidth possible. A few more niceties to add would be lots of easily accessible USB ports and even a FireWire port thrown in for good measure. Equipped with such a workstation, some equally powerful software, maybe a little talent and a nearby Starbucks, you would be well appointed to do battle in the DCC jungle. And I have some good news for my fellow digital warriors - your ultimate creative super-weapon is ready to be picked up - it's called the HP xw9300 workstation.

THE AMD OPTERON PROCESSOR

The xw9300 workstation is HP's newest and now top-of-the-line product in their highly respected workstation family. With this product, HP has finally gone over to the"other" side in choosing an AMD product as the heart of their top workstation product. This "other" side might be the dark side or the light side, depending on your perspective. I was pleased because I've been singing the praises of this 64-bit processor for quite some time. Over a year ago I reviewed a competitor's Opteron workstation and I was most impressed with the performance of this processor on real-world DCC applications. At the time I actually asked HP point blank why they weren't looking at using the Opteron. Of course, back then they were in fact looking at it but certainly couldn't tell me about it. In choosing to go with the AMD 64-bit Opteron, after exclusively putting Intel products in their workstations for so many years, HP has made quite a statement both about their faith in the AMD Opteron processor, as well as their faith that their workstation customers will also appreciate the value and quality of the Opteron processor and the AMD brand name. As Mike Diehl, product manager for HP puts it, "With its direct connect architecture, the AMD Opteron lends itself very well to high bandwidth demands of our xw9300 workstation. It's like a hand and glove and allows us to offer customers incredible power and performance."

A big advantage of the Opteron is that it can operate at peak performance in both the 64-bit and legacy 32-bit worlds, and the xw9300 workstation can be configured with one or two of these processors. The system I tested had two, and purred along quite nicely. Because of the Opteron's on-chip integrated memory controller, when you have a second processor, memory bandwidth gets distributed across the processors allowing the total system memory bandwidth to be doubled.

NVIDIA BOARDS

Hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics are of course the mainstay of 3D applications, and HP is ready to fully equip their xw9300 workstation with multiple flavors of Nvidia Quadro graphics boards. The options range from high quality multi-display to high-end, high definition 3D. You can customize your workstation to suit your need and applications. HP has a close working relationship with Nvidia and has made certain that the system is optimized to get the most out of what these graphics boards can deliver. The system I tested had an Nvidia Quadro FX 3400 in it. This high-end PCI Express graphics processing unit (GPU) comes with 256MB of memory and also features dual-link capability, so that it can be connected to drive a very high-resolution monitor such as Apple's 30-inch Cineview. In addition, the Quadro FX 3400 makes working within 3D OpenGL-enabled applications, such as Alias Maya, a much more interactive and creative experience with hardware accelerated OpenGL support.

Though I tested the system with a Quadro FX 3400, the HP xw9300 comes with dual PCI Express x16 bus slots and is Serial Link Interface-enabled (go to www.nvidia.com for more on Serial Link Interface technology). Essentially what this means is you can put two Nvidia Quadro FX boards in this system and link them together to drive up to four, standard or HD displays, or a single monitor that leverages the power of the two GPUs. You'd better keep the thermos of coffee right by your desk, as you will be spending more time creating and less time stepping out for coffee with this kind visualization power.

A FEW MORE GOODIES TO SHARPEN THE SWORD

The potential dual-AMD Opteron processors and dual-Nvidia Quadro GPUs in the xw9300 certainly form a potent core of this workstation, but there are several other integral pieces that make this system deadly to both your competition and workload. For starters, you can get up to 16GB of memory for very large and complex data sets. The system I tested had a mere 4GB of memory, but I was only dealing with some relatively small data sets. The potential 16GB of memory is just what you want to keep humming along at maximum productivity with the ability to easily handle the larger amounts of data that digital film and HD work requires. The other thing that's impressive in the xw9300 is the built-in high-performance disk subsystem. It allows for control of up to four of the SATA 1.0 spec or newer SATA II drives. Even if you don't need all these drives to start, it's always nice to have the expansion capability.

Another little goodie about this workstation is the fact that it is exceptionally quiet. With this much power, you might expect it to have lots of fan noise to cool all its high-performance components. In fact, in sitting next to it over several hours of testing, I could barely hear any noise at all from it. HP has worked hard to specifically dampen the noise on all their workstations, and they've done an exceptional job. Finally, while the HP xw9300 I tested came with Windows XP Professional, it's probably worth noting that it can also come configured with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

A POST PRODUCTION SUPER-WEAPON

Without question, this is the finest workstation I have ever tested. With its AMD Opteron and Nvidia Quadro FX core, large memory expandability, dual x16 PCI Express ports and many other high performance features, the HP xw9300 workstation easily has everything you need to stay competitive in the DCC marketplace today, and for many years to come. If you're looking for new workstation to be the super-weapon in your post production arsenal, this would be an exceptionally good choice.


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