When HP joined with Compaq, it probably wasn't clear to current or potential customers of either company what the benefits of this merger would be. What would it mean for existing product support and what direction would the combined company take on future products? If the newly-released HP xw4100 workstation can be used as some indication of an answer to these questions, HP has quite successfully combined the strengths of both companies to create a product that offers workstation class speed and power at an incredibly affordable price.
Cutting costs without cutting quality
With an amazing entry-level price of $799, my first thought related to the xw4100 was, "So what did they sacrifice?" When I went to take it out of the box, I expected to have some lightweight unit with lots of plastic. I was dead wrong. The xw4100 has a new trim chassis design, but it is still one solid little unit. HP's reputation for making a high-quality chassis with first class components is validated by the xw4100 - there was no sacrifice in quality. So how did they get the price down? I posed this question to Josh Peterson, HP's workstation product marketing manager. "This is first workstation that was designed from the very beginning with the Compaq and HP design teams working together. We combined efficiencies and experience of each, and of course the combined company now has the ability to negotiate better component prices and insure better quality."
A tool-less chassis: a big plus in manufacturing and service
Keep your screwdrivers in the tool box because the xw4100 has a completely tool-less chassis. You can open the workstation up and replace cards, drives and other components in matter of seconds, without any tools. This tool-less design doesn't just make it easier to add and remove components, it's also another big reason that the xw4100 can be offered at such a low entry price. "Because of the tool-less chassis and other production efficiencies, our build time is [less than] what it used to be," says Peterson. "That time savings amounts to big savings for us and we pass that on to our customer." Just for fun (yes I have a strange idea of what fun is), I timed myself to see how long it would take me to open the system up and take out the video card from the xw4100. I opened it up once in advance just to see where the tool-less locking clips were holding all the cards in place, then I closed it back up and had an associate time me. I removed the card in 17 seconds, and most of that time was making sure I was careful in removing the power connectors. The bottom line is, changing and removing components in this workstation is literally a snap, and it can be reconfigured from a mini-tower to a desktop in just a matter of minutes because of the unique chassis design.
More than just a pretty face
So HP has done an excellent job in creating a low-cost workstation with a quality, tool-less chassis, but what about the really important stuff, like how it performs? That's what really excites me about the xw4100. It seems that HP has put the latest technology into this workstation to significantly improve the workflow for digital content creators. The unit features a Pentium 4 processor with 800 MHz front side bus and the new Intel 875P chipset. It has dual-channel PC3200 400 MHz ECC DDR memory and Intel's Hyper-Threading and Performance Acceleration Technology. There are a variety of options and configurations available for the system, customized to suit your particular application. From 2D design, video editing, or intense 3D work, the xw4100 is fully customizable. Regardless of the configuration, only rigorously tested and certified components are used. The system I tested had 1GB of memory, a 3 GHz P4 processor, and NVidia's Quadro FX 2000 graphics card. In running After Effects, I had no hesitations in the system, even previewing at full resolution on a 720-by-486 composition at the best quality settings for several layers. I also tested it with an OpenGL 3D compositing application, 3dFilm. At full resolution, with several large graphic layers, complex lighting, and texture mapping being processed in real-time, the workstation seemed to handle it quite well with no hesitations.
Buying more than just a workstation?
In the last paragraph I mentioned the multiple configurations available with the xw4100. Because HP rigorously tests the components it puts into its workstation, having multiple configurations means that HP has relationships with multiple suppliers of components. From NVidia to Intel, HP has close relationships with suppliers and even dedicated HP engineers who work with these suppliers to ensure that the components are optimized to be tightly integrated with their workstations. On the ISV side, HP has relationships with companies like Adobe, Avid, and others to make certain that workstations are tightly integrated with the capabilities of the software. Finally, HP has relationships with some the leaders in the DCC market like DreamWorks, to make sure that HP products are evolving and continuing to meet the most demanding needs of the market.
I know for the average digital content creator, when we buy a workstation, we aren't really thinking about the industry relationships our workstation manufacturer has. We just want to know it will improve our workflow. It needs to really rock. But it is comforting to know that in the case of the xw4100, not only can I feel smart in getting a well-built and powerful workstation at a great price, but I can take comfort in knowing I've bought it from a company that partners closely with biggest names across all phases of the industry. It's kind of like having DreamWorks as a partner, all for just $799!