PRICE: starting at $2,399
- Highly configurable with up to Dual 18-core Intel Xeon E5 processors for a total of 36 cores (72 threads)
- Extremely easy to use tool-less design allows easy upgrades and repairs
- Includes HP ISV Certification and 3/3/3 Warranty
It was incredible, to say the least, and it made me rethink the possibilities in post production. With 4K becoming a serious contender in post workflows everywhere by the end of 2013, HP had developed a monster workstation.
Today we stand in the middle of an ocean of “K” resolutions: is this project finishing in 2K, UHD, native 4K, 6K, 8K, etc?! (My heart skipped a beat as I wrote that last line, because a typical response would be “hmmm, not sure.”) Coming from the era of VHS, Beta, and DigiBeta — we truly are in an amazing and quickly-evolving technological transition in entertainment. You can watch a UHD resolution video on YouTube that was shot on a camera smaller than your wallet; edit using the Adobe CC 2014 Suite; and possibly finish on DaVinci Lite for a pretty affordable price. I mean its getting ridiculous, the power to create is literally in everyone’s pocket, only limited by your creativity, thirst for knowledge, and computer processing power.
In today’s broadcast post production climate, I typically see two workstations being used: MacPros and HP Z-Series workstations. It’s actually quite the battle, and personally I think it really comes down to users preferring the Command+C shortcut to copy on a Mac to the Control+C to copy on a Windows-based PC, but maybe people have different reasons. Both systems, however, have their benefits. I reviewed the latest MacPro “trash can” in January of 2014 and was pretty impressed with its performance, but disappointed in its lack of accessibility and Nvidia-based graphics card options. I think HP really has done a great job and stuck to their guns to continue to deliver a system that is reliable, easily (and I do mean easily) upgraded, and as powerful of a workstation that can be created.
The HP z840 workstation is a beautiful and top of the line (yet very heavy, almost 65lbs. when fully configured) workstation that builds on HP’s longstanding dedication to the media professional. Right off the bat, I want to clear the air: workstations are expensive! There is no way around that (PC or Mac). You aren’t going to find a workstation for $500. It’s just not going to happen. A few reason why systems are this high of a price is the time commitment that is needed to test multiple hardware and software components to guarantee your workstation will work the way you expect, for the most part.
I looked up Adobe After Effects CC 2014 and found the z840 has been confirmed to work on Windows 8.1 (64-bit) with the Nvidia Quadro K6000 as well as a few others, including some FirePro cards. The moral of this story is that you aren’t only paying the higher price for super high-end components in a workstation, but also for things like ISV certification and their 3/3/3 warranty (three years parts, labor, and onsite service. There are restrictions and exclusions).
Speaking of components, the z840 really is built for the highest of high-end work. Unless you are just looking to have a $7K or higher computer to surf Facebook or Twitter, and in that case, it’s the workstation for you!
The workstation I was sent to review had the following specs:
- Processor: Dual 10 Core - Intel Xeon E5 - 2.30GHz
- Memory: 64GB DDR4-2133 ECC
- SSD Hard Drive: 256 GB HP Z Turbo Drive (PCIe SSD)
- Graphics Card: Nvidia Quadro K4200
- Thunderbolt 2 add-on card
- HP Z27x Monitor
While the Dual 10-core Xeon 2.3GHz is amazing and the Nvidia Quadro K4200 kicks CUDA core butt, I was particularly interested in the Thunderbolt 2 add-on card. These days it’s very hard to find a Windows-based PC with Thunderbolt 2 ports, unless you build your own system with a motherboard like the ASUS z87 series and purchase the add-on card. And let’s be honest, it’s probably not as easy as installing the card and downloading drivers. It’s also not as easy to find as it should be. I’ve had to really search around for this add-on card.
But when I tested the z840 with the add-on Thunderbolt 2 card, I had mixed emotions. I loved when it worked, but it took a few driver downloads and research to get it to work. The unit I received did not come with the Thunderbolt 2 card fully functioning. It was probably an oversight but still, if I’m paying this much money for a workstation, I want it working when it shows up on my door and I’m sure after this review that won’t happen again. Besides that, I was getting the sweet Thunderbolt 2 speeds of around 835MB/s read/write, consistently. I was editing 4K video through this Thunderbolt 2 connection on my SSD RAID inside of Adobe Premiere CC 2014 and encoding QuickTimes smoothly. Keep in mind that 4K needs a tremendous amount of processing power and even this monster machine needs a few hours to export an Avid DNxHR low, standard, or high bandwidth QuickTime.
In some other testing that is typical of an editor, once a project is finished, I created two 44-minute Avid DNxHD 175 8-bit 23.98fps 1920x1080 QuickTimes and then wanted to compress them using Adobe Media Encoder to an H.264 QuickTime at 50 percent quality, both with and without a timecode window burn (added by Adobe Media Encoder — a very, very handy add-on by the way). I was able to encode the 1080p H.264 in under 12 minutes and just about 13 minutes with the timecode window burn.
For those NLE users out there reading this, when adding a “timecode” effect in Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere, it typically adds some render time. When adding it in Adobe Media Encoder, it only added a minute or two to my encode. A 12-minute H.264 encode of a 44-minute QuickTime is pretty incredible. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen when we see H.265 hardware encoding alongside systems like the z840. My head might explode!
Finally, I ran the z840 through some Maxon Cinema 4D R16 Studio tests and I couldn’t slow this machine down. It scored a 2460 in the Maxon Cinebench R15 test (a high score). The z840 chewed up and spit out everything I could throw at it.
I kept this monster HP z840 workstation for over six months (sorry HP, I couldn’t let it go)! It is amazing, to say the least. I really love the nearly-silent cooling system — maybe not quite as silent as the MacPro, but with so many more components and expandability options, it’s very quiet.
Inside the machine there are seven PCIe slots: (3-PCIe x16 Gen3, 2-PCIe x8 Gen3, 1-PCIe x4 Gen3, and 1-PCIe x4 Gen2) allowing for some sweet HP Z Turbo Drive G2. It’s an option that allows for an SSD drive connected through a PCIe slot that gives a purported 4X speed increase over a traditional SSD. In addition, eight USB 3.0 ports, eight DDR4 memory slots, and up to six or 11 (depending on drive dimensions) internal drive slots make this a system that will last way beyond a few years.
In the end, if you are deciding on which professional workstations to purchase, the HP Z-Series are incredible and will stand the test of constantly-updating technology. They are very expandable, easily repairable, and chewed through every test I threw at it.