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August 2014
Issue: May 1, 2010

REVIEW: HP Z800 WORKSTATION

By: Dariush Derakhshani
PRODUCT: HP Z800 workstation

WEBSITE: www.hp.com/zworkstations

PRICE: Starts at $1,799
- well-thought-out design
- highly configurable
- quiet and power efficient

The last HP workstation I reviewed, an incredibly outfitted xw8600 machine, was a stellar success in my opinion, and the system performed admirably for quite a long time while I pounded on it at the studio non-stop.
Now, seeing as how we all, in this economy, are tumbling headlong into financial doom, I wanted my next review to be of a high-end machine that had tons of options for all budgets. HP suggested their Z800 would be perfect. The Z800 at the time of this writing is configurable from just under $2,000 to well over $10,000. That’s options!
Cut to: The future. Dariush is paged. “Dariush, package at reception.” Dariush jumps up and down, giggling like a little girl; something he shouldn’t normally do. Cut to: Dariush’s office. Packing peanuts everywhere, empty box in corner, HP Z800 sitting on the desk. Dariush hums “Eye of the Tiger.”

THE SYSTEM

What struck me immediately was the tower’s design. It has a very interesting and fetching case that belies a well thought-through and functional form. The black corrugated front is pretty to look at, compared to the usual workstations you see, and within its vertical channels holds access to multiple USB ports, audio and a FireWire port for easy-yet-subtle access.
The side of the sturdy chassis opens to reveal an impressively arranged interior, with meticulous cable routing and a highly compartmentalized system. Cowlings direct airflow for maximum cooling with minimum noise and can be removed to access the CPU fans, memory, etc. Hard drives are in their own removeable trays, which also serve to keep them pretty quiet. As a matter of fact, this machine was surprisingly quiet and efficient in terms of power. Some configurations even carry winks and nudges from Energy Star, no less. That’s just nice.
Cut to: Dariush’s office. Vicki pokes her head through the open door. “Is that your new system? Cause it makes you look hot.” Dariush blushes. For a moment, their eyes hold hands.
Basically, the Z800 is the top of the Z-series from HP, and features an array of impressive and powerful options (such as 12 cores, up to 192GB of RAM, and even dual Quadro cards in SLI). This unit I spec’d out with HP a while back aimed for a top performer, but not the absolute top of the line to try to make a system that is a good choice for several finishing artists in a studio, and easily configured into a main machine for all of a studio’s rank and file.
Sporting a pair of the “insane” Intel W5580 Quad Core Xeon CPUs at 3.2GHz, it has a big fat brain. You can easily step down in CPU speed without too much compromise and save some big coin. Six gigs of DDR3 tri-channel RAM — which is plenty zippy — is my minimum suggestion and is good for almost all work without exploding the bank.
A QuadroFX 4800 ran graphics. It didn’t perform as well as the 5800 I reviewed in the last workstation, but was still one of the fastest cards around. I also tested the machine with a more economical QuadroFX 1800, making the price tag of the machine more affordable for a wider deployment. The 4800 card, of course, smoked running Maya 2009 as well as Adobe’s CS3 bundle, particularly Photoshop and After Effects. There wasn’t a giant speed loss when I switched to the 1800 card for all of the regular daily chores one sees in CG production, though it became quite clear the 4800 can handle a lot more with better aplomb when I threw massive amounts of polygons at it.
A small touch I appreciate is this Z800 configuration shipped with the OS boot drive on a blindingly fast 15K RPM 134GB Fujitsu drive. Keeping cache files and the boot OS on this drive beats a regular 7200 RPM drive hands down. Only thing to beat it is a couple of fast drives drives in RAID-0, or a quality SSD drive, which can be quite expensive. Rounding out the storage options was a large 1TB Seagate hard drive for all your knick knacks that could be easily RAID’d a few different ways.
The motherboard on this system supported not only SATA RAID through the ICHR10 southbridge chipset, but also the zippier SAS standard, allowing headroom for the addition of a lot of speedy storage, like the aforementioned 15K RPM Fujitsu. Onboard audio was certainly adequate for normal usage, though you will always want a discrete card for audio production. But that’s clearly not what this machine is for — not decked out like this.
This Z800 was built to move polys and pixels, and that it did... aplenty. Attached to this system was a 30-inch panel running at 2560x1600 pixels. I ran multiple instances of Maya, After Effects, Photoshop and never had an issue or crash. I ran SpecViewperf series of tests to try to batter the system, and its numbers came in consistently well.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My philosophy on workstations for business is pretty straightforward: Give me a machine that is capable, trustworthy and has stamina.
In a market space where looks and niceties have to take a back seat to pure function and longevity, it’s refreshing to see a machine that packs a wallop in both seats. The Z800 is well made and efficient, easy on the eyes, flexible for mid- to high-end needs, and downright powerful.
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Dariush Derakhshani is VFX Supervisor/Head of CG at Radium in Santa Monica. He can be reached at: post@koosh3d.com.