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October 2014
Issue: April 1, 2013

Review: HP's z820 Red Edition Workstation

By: Brady Betzel
PRODUCT: HP z820 Red Edition workstation, provided by Tekserve

WEBSITE: www.tekserve.com, www.hp.com

PRICE: Starts at $10K, includes a Red Rocket and Mag Reader, 32GBs RAM, Dual 8-core Xeon processors, a Quadro 4000 card, SAS boot drive.
- Blazing fast dual 8-core Intel Xeon processors
- Optional dual internal Red Mag readers and Red Rocket cards

Have you ever worked on a multimedia workstation that felt about five, seven or even 10 years too old for the masterpiece you are creating? Then it’s time for you to upgrade your ride, because the days of “getting by” on your 32-bit dual-core laptop are quickly growing dim. 

The HP z820 Red Edition workstation will quench your thirst with its dual 8-core Intel Xeon 3.1GHz processors each boasting a 20MB cache, standard 32GBs of memory, and a wide array of hard drive stocking options. 



HP, Red, and the traditionally Mac-based Tekserve have come together to build a customized workstation. Tekserve builds these systems, tailoring them to your Avid, Adobe or any other workflow. (Promax, www.promax.com, will provide a similar set-up.) With the HP z820 Red Edition you will bring your multimedia post from the ground floor to the penthouse.

A CLOSER LOOK

First off, the z820 is the quietest workstation I have ever heard thanks to its liquid cooling solution. Under the hood it is clean, neat and has an easily accessible tool-less case construction created by HP. It gives the user the ability to replace hard drives, memory or other internals without the need to send out their units for days or weeks at a time. The real meat of the HP z820 Red Edition workstation is shown in the standard 32GB DDR3 RAM (it can be expanded to 512GB, but will cost you a house) and the 20MB per processor cache. The unit I received came loaded with the optional SSD boot drive and a 10TB RAID-0 — and it screams.

The accompanying 24-inch HP Dreamcolor monitors are beautiful. I wish I could have these for my day job. They have a large viewing area, and very rich and accurate color. Once the system booted, I was off to the races. I hooked up my eSATA drive and began transferring my R3D files. After my 1TB of Red files transferred, I did a first light color pass in Red’s RedCine-X Pro. This is only my first stop in testing the R3D files, next I will bring them in using Premiere, but for now I am inside of RedCine-X Pro viewing my files from the 10TB internal RAID, doing a first color pass. With my debayer settings set at half-quality, I had no playback issues, and at full quality I had a little hiccup but pretty extraordinary performance for 4K raw footage. 

The z820 Red Edition has made me re-think my whole impression of Adobe Premiere as a broadcast viable end-to-end NLE solution. If you’ve read any of my reviews in the past, you are aware that I focus on Avid products. After using Adobe CS6, I am starting to see what may be on the horizon of post. Avid has a strong historical significance, following and a networked working environment, ISIS — it will not be going away anytime soon. 

However, Premiere is giving them some healthy competition. If Adobe can come to the forefront of networked editing and storage environments like Avid has, we will have a strong contender for supremacy in the NLE world.

Back to the fun stuff: inside of Premiere I “imported” my R3Ds. These files work natively, and because I am using the z820 behemoth of a workstation I can playback at 1/2 debayer settings without issue — multiple layers, color correction, transitions, the whole enchilada. I can only imagine if I had two Red Rockets and the Nvidia Tesla, the power would be unrivaled. 

Adobe harnesses the power of the Mercury Playback Engine alongside the Nvidia graphics cards with CUDA as well as the Red Rocket card; you can really feel the horsepower when working with effects and the R3D files inside Premiere and After Effects. I opened the R3D files in RedCine-X Pro from within the Premiere project, manipulated some color inside of Red Cine-X Pro, then came back into Premiere. My R3D’s had been updated... phenomenal! Because I know how well Adobe’s Dynamic Linking works between its own programs, such as After Effects, Photoshop, etc., I began to feel excitement for Adobe again. Premiere isn’t a prosumer product anymore. With products such as After Effects and Speed Grade, Adobe has embarked on an end-to-end finishing solution with the power to natively handle ever-demanding Red footage.

TEKSERVE

Terry Brown, the media and entertainment sales manager for HP, who facilitated getting the z820 to test, along with Tekserve, have put together a great package for anyone working with multimedia. Tekserve tunes the systems to work at their optimum speed and visually give the user an easy transition if they are coming from an iOS environment using “Transition Technology.” People coming from Macs to PCs sometimes don’t go easily, it’s like editors going from FCP to Avid — not fun, usually.
 
Tekserve has created a smooth Windows 7 environment for any user to feel at home. A USB 3.0 restore thumb drive comes with each system. If you ever have any problems you can easily boot with this drive and restore your system back to Tekserve’s finely tuned goodness, including all programs and their serial numbers already entered. You can even create your own restore point with your own custom settings dialed in. A true blessing if you are the one doing all the tech work. I really did test this thumb drive out, and in less than 15 minutes I had a brand-new install of everything on my system.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you are looking for a new multimedia workhorse, give HP’s z820 Red Edition your full attention. It even looks good, with the customized Red LEDs and Dual Red Mag readers for those DIT jobs taking place in the field. 

Brady Betzel is an Assistant Editor with Bunim Murray Productions in Van Nuys, CA. He can be reached at: bradybetzel@gmail.com.