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September 2014
Issue: June 1, 2006

REVIEW: HP'S XW8400 WORKSTATION

By: Randall Simpson

PRODUCT: HP’s xw8400 workstation with dual-core Xeons
WEB SITE: www.hp.com
PRICE: Prices for the HP xw8400 workstation
start at $1695 (with Linux installer) and $1799 (with 32-bit Windows)
- Uses new Intel dual-core Xeon processor
- 1333MHz front side bus and up to 64GB memory
- Internal USB ports

You’re probably familiar with some version of Moore’s Law, which roughly states that the data density of computer processors doubles about every 18 months - at the same per unit cost.
What this means for computer end users is that we constantly get more processing bang for our buck, and we need that increase in processing power as those clever software folks are also working feverishly, designing more complex applications to use this constantly doubling processor power. From high-resolution 3D modeling to complex compositing, or the demands of uncompressed HD editing, there is no lack of ways to use every bit of processing power that workstations can deliver.

Earlier this year, Intel announced the release of its much anticipated dual-core Xeon processors. Keeping true to form, HP recently announced some new workstations armed with these dual-core wonders, one of those is the HP xw8400.

DUAL-CORE XEON

Without spending too much time talking about processors in a review of a workstation, I do want to at least mention a few reasons why the new dual-core 64-bit Xeons are an important step for Intel and for the workstation market in general. They are the first viable challenge from Intel to AMD’s very successful 64-bit Opteron processors.

Their dual-core nature and new architecture allow Intel to leapfrog ahead in performance. They truly embody Moore’s Law in that they offer a doubling of performance at a price that is in line with previous processors. The dual-core architecture is like getting two processors in one package. Additionally, these new processors are delivering this increased performance with less power consumption. Intel put a lot of effort in getting a powerful 64-bit processor out to the market that could compete with the Opteron, and they seem to have finally hit a home run.

It’s a tribute to HP’s workstation division that they were able to get the new dual-core Xeon’s so quickly integrated into a new workstation product. The point to remember is the new dual-core Xeons are state-of-the art processors that double previous comparable performance.

MORE THAN THE PROCESSORS

The system I tested from HP had two of the new dual core Intel Xeon 5100 sequence processors (previously code-named “Woodcrest”) inside, making it like having four processors in the system. This is certainly not a bad starting point when putting together a new workstation. HP also added lots of other performance enhancing features inside the xw8400’s mini-tower chassis as well. One of my favorites is the 1333MHz front side bus that easily keeps up with large data flows. The workstation also comes with a generous supply and variety of card slots, including 1 PCI, 2 PCI-X 100,1 PCI-X 133, 1 PCI Express x8 (PCIe x4 bandwidth), 1 PCI Express x16 (PCIe x4 bandwidth), 1 PCI Express x16 (150W full BW) and eight storage bays. In the all-important memory area, there are eight DIMM slots with a total of up to 64GB of four-channel DDR-2 FB DIMMs. Another great feature is that HP added internal USB ports, so that common USB dongles are inside and out of sight where they belong. There’s much more beyond these features, that can’t fit in this brief review, so I highly suggest you go to www.hp.com for the complete system technical specifications and options.

PUTTING IT TO THE TEST

I was fortunate to get one of the very first evaluation samples of the xw8400 loaded with the dual-core Intel Xeon processor 5100 sequence. Intel released the new Xeons in two phases, with the 5100 sequence being the second phase that will be standard on all later xw8400s starting in Q3 of 2006. Also in my test system, in addition to the main system drive, it came with an internal two-drive SATA RAID for video editing and composite work, and also had an Nvidia Quadro FX3500 graphics accelerator installed.

I tested the editing abilities using some standard definition uncompressed video in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0. Additionally, I tested some standard and high definition stills and footage in Adobe After Effects 7.0. I was quite impressed with the overall responsiveness of the system using the standard definition footage. After Effects, specifically, was able to handle the higher resolution footage with very little hesitation and near realtime performance at full resolution with several effects applied. There is not a completely objective way to measure this performance in composite work, but I would easily say that it was best performance I’ve yet experienced with After Effects. It would be interesting to test the editing capabilities of the system with an external Fibre Channel RAID attached as well as a dedicated hardware video I/O.

WHEN TO UPGRADE

The power and capabilities of the newest workstations such as the xw8400, loaded with the latest 64-bit Xeon processors and all the other goodies available, can easily handle the demands of any current DCC application. When the latest applications you’re running start to get “sluggish” on your workstation, and certainly when you find you can’t upgrade to the newest versions, it‘s time to look for a replacement.

If this is close to describing your situation, I’m confident the xw8400 would be an excellent choice for making that upgrade and keeping you at your creative and competitive edge.