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July 2014
Issue: April 1, 2004

REVIEW: HP’S XW4100 WORKSTATION WITH NVIDIA QUADRO FX 1100 GRAPHICS

By: By Randall Simpson

PRODUCT: HP Workstation xw4100 with Nvidia Quadro FX 1100

PRICING: Starts at $1,499

WEB SITE: www.hp.com; www.nvidia.com

· Very attractive price/performance

· True workstation-class performance

· Two companies dedicated to digital content creation

When purchasing most leading-edge technology products, I've observed what I call the "85/50" rule. This rule comes about because price/performance graphs for technology products are usually not linear but curved. The rule goes like this: Usually when purchasing high technology products, if you want the best value, there's a sweet spot that exists in the price/performance curve that gives you 85 percent of the performance of the most powerful product at about 50 percent of the price. Go above this sweet spot and you start to pay a high premium for relatively modest gains in performance, and if you go below the sweet-spot, you start to sacrifice performance at diminishing cost savings. The real kicker is in the fact that because of how fast technology changes, the product you buy with 85 percent of the performance of the absolute top end product, was the leading-edge product nine months ago. Just like new cars, new post production gear starts to lose value as soon as it "leaves the lot," so you'd better start using it intensively, making money right after you drive it away. In my opinion, only users absolutely needing the highest of performance or rich kids with trust funds should be paying the high premium for that last 15 percent increase in performance.

With budgets under pressure, most manufacturers realize they have to constantly work to give customers the best possible price/performance in their products. HP and Nvidia have each recently put out products that create a real value for digital content creators. These are products well suited for digital content creators offering the latest technology at very affordable prices. Better still, both of these products can be found in one system, the HP workstation xw4100 with Nvidia's new Quadro FX 1100 graphics board.

A CLOSER LOOK AT PRICE/PERFORMANCE

Let's start with the HP xw4100. I have previously reviewed this very solid workstation. Just to remind you, it is one of the first products designed from the ground up by the combined teams of HP and Compaq. Improved manufacturing processes and other synergies resulting from the merger of these companies created large cost efficiencies. What this means is that HP is able to offer this powerful workstation at a very attractive price. The xw4100 purrs along nicely with the Intel 875p chipset, an 800 MHz front side bus and your choice of P4 processors. Also featured is Intel's Hyper-Threading technology aiding greatly in data handling and creating two virtual processors that can work on two sets of tasks.

In testing the system, from 3D application to 2D, everything I tested opened up and processed content amazingly quick. The xw4100 is extremely customizable, and one of those customizations you can make in is the graphics engine. With Nvidia's recent release of the Quadro FX 1100, an even better price/performance mix can now be built into the xw4100. I've reviewed several of Nvidia's high powered graphics accelerators in the Quadro FX family before - namely the FX 2000 and FX 3000. These are both very sweet cards that test at the highest of benchmarks. But the Quadro FX family is just that, a family of graphics options offering an appropriate entry point to suit a range of users and budgets. For the power users (or the trust-fund babies) they might go right to the Quadro FX 3000 without hesitation. At the other end of the Quadro FX family is the FX 500, which gives very respectable graphics acceleration at a most affordable price.

The new Quadro FX 1100 is somewhere in the middle, right where I consider to be the sweet spot of the price/performance curve. It boasts 128MB of RAM, and Nvidia's fifth-generation workstation graphics architecture. It has a full 128-bit precision graphics pipeline, 12-bit sub-pixel precision and 16x full-scene antialiasing. To test it, I removed a Quadro FX 2000 from the xw4100 and put in the Quadro FX 1100. I ran a multitude of 3D and 2D applications, and there was only a very slight drop in performance from what I observed with the Quadro FX 2000, really barely noticeable. The hallmark of the Quadro FX family is realtime previewing in 3D applications using OpenGL and DirectX shaders. The Quadro FX 1100 performed extremely well in these applications and considering how much less it costs than the Quadro FX 2000, I think it's a great value indeed.

WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?

Releasing powerful, lower-priced products that compete respectively with some of their higher-end products? As I said earlier, those who need the very top, know they need it and are quite willing to pay for it. Neither Nvidia or HP seem to have any fear of losing clients to their lesser-priced products. What both companies seem to be focusing on is offering affordable and exceptionally powerful products to the mainstream digital content creators. HP's Jim Zafarana, VP and worldwide marketing manager for their workstation business unit says, "With the Nvidia Quadro FX 1100, HP is able to combine world-renowned graphics performance, precision and programmability with the xw4100's advanced workstation technology to offer digital content creators the very best computing experience in a low-cost workstation."