Writer and contributing editor, David Roth Weiss, takes us UNDER THE HOOD of HP's powerful new Z800 workstations. With a radical new design inside and out, created in collaboration with the BWM Designworks global design consultancy, the new Z800 is HP's most powerful workstation ever for image and processor-intensive tasks, such as: HD video editing, composting, and 3D animation. As an added bonus, David takes us BEHIND THE SCENES with HP to DreamWorks Animation Studios, where the masterminds behind the incredible new hit film, Monsters vs. Aliens, are reinventing the art of storytelling using exciting new state of the art 3D stereoscopic filmmaking techniques and technologies.
Today, HP announced the release of its new Z-Series professional workstations, including the new Z800, their top of the line in a family of powerful new workstations that HP has built and optimized specifically for the new, blazingly fast Intel Nehalem microprocessors.
I'm lucky enough to be among the very few who've been able to get their hands one of these exciting new machines, and now, after spending several weeks running the Z800 workstation through some hoops, I'm ready to spill the beans; to tell those of you working under Windows or Linux why this machine, or one much like it, is likely in your future.
NEWLY DESIGNED INSIDE & OUT
Without a doubt, the first thing you're likely to notice about these new Z-Series workstations is the distinctive, highly-stylized design that truly sets these machines apart from anything else in the market. But, the design is more than just skin deep; there's a lot more to these boxes than just their slick brushed aluminum and matte black exteriors.
Just open the hood of the Z800; no tools required. Inside, you'll see the BMW Designworks influence everywhere. But, don't think their additions are only cosmetic, because the interior has as much pure function as it does James Bond style.
The new HP workstations are a completely toolless design throughout, and nearly completely cableless as well. Apparently, every part can be replaced, right down to the motherboard, without so much as a single screwdriver. And, the four hard drive bays also follow suit, again not a cable or wire in sight there, with SATA drives that smartly socket directly into the backplane in every bay.
Even the massive 1100 watt power supplies are completely new and different from anything that has come before. A feature particularly well-thought-out allows the power supply to be removed and plugged into an A/C outlet for testing. If the green test light fails to glow, the unit requires replacement. That's simple genius, as anyone will tell you who's ever had to track down a defective power supply.
INTEL POWER INSIDE
If you've been paying attention at all over the last year, you've more than likely heard the big commotion about Intel's highly anticipated new Xeon 5500 microprocessors, codenamed "Nehalem." Well, Nehalem is finally here, and it's at the core of HP's new Z-Series workstations, which have been redesigned from the ground up to take full advantage of the new Intel architecture.
Intel's revolutionary new Quick Path Architecture greatly speeds data flow, and thus processing, by completely eliminating the so-called front side bus, which, until this latest design, had created a computational bottleneck, limiting the flow of data both in and out of the processors. RAM is now connected directly to the processors, accelerating throughput dramatically.
The Intel 5500 series processors also utilize simultaneous multithreading (SMT) by multiple cores, as well as hyperthreading, which enables two threads per core. These intelligently divide up the computational workloads that require "heavy lifting" among the available processor cores, while also allowing multiple applications to run simultaneously and independently in separate threads, which function as autonomous operating environments. This will be especially powerful in those applications fully optimized to run in a multithreaded environment. For editors, animators, and compositors this means faster rendering and improved background rendering. Plus, it also means that creating can continue unhampered while rendering, with no loss of system responsiveness and no impact on render speeds.
WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT OF LONG RENDER TIMES
If you think that you spend too much time rendering and you're starting to imagine just how much time you might have saved on that last video project if only you'd had an HP Z800 with dual quad-core Nehalem processors, wait until you hear some of the rather startling statistics about the new Dreamworks hit, Monsters vs. Aliens.
Just imagine, more than forty-five million hours of computer time was used to render the complex 3D stereoscopic animation in Monsters vs. Aliens. Dreamworks Animation Studios in Los Angeles crunched the numbers in a massive render farm located in their 35,000 square foot data center, employing more than 9000 processor cores in hundreds HP blade computers running a Unix-based operating system. Dreamworks has calculated that, if rendered on just one computer, Monsters vs. Aliens would have taken 4,071 years to render.
Take a look at the trailer below to get some idea of the complexities involved in the creation of Monsters vs. Aliens. But to see what may be the future of filmmaking, and to really get the total immersive experience, you'll need to head to your local theater to see the movie in its full 3D glory. Believe me, it's no longer just a cheesy gimmick, glorious 3D stereoscopic storytelling has finally arrived.
Just imagine, every scene in the film was created in stereoscopic 3D, and every scene had to be rendered twice, once for the left eye, and once for the right eye. Now, let's go behind the scenes at Dreamworks Animation Studios. Here's a clip from the THE COW's exclusive interview with 3D Supervisor, Phil McNally, a.k.a. "Captain 3D," to see how the creative geniuses behind Monsters vs. Aliens are rewriting the language of film and creating the new techniques and technologies that are helping to perfect the process of 3D stereoscopic film.
Click on the graphic above to watch the complete interview with Captain 3D right here on The COW, as Phil McNally shares his remarkable insights on the 3D stereo process behind the scenes at Dreamworks. And, stay tuned for more fascinating COW articles on the art of 3D stereoscopic filmmaking, because The COW is going to lead the way on this new wave of art and technology.
STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS ARE A REAL BENEFIT
In addition to its design partnership with BMW Designworks, HP engineers also work closely with a variety software and hardware vendors, and a number of the world's most demanding end-users, such as Dreamworks, in order to test and certify applications, operating systems, and hardware configurations to ensure that applications run faster and with greater reliability. So, by the time their workstations make their way into our hands, they've been put through more rigorous field testing than we could ever hope to put them through.
With 8 processor cores and up to 192 GB of memory, dual-processor workstations such as the Z800, with the new Xeon Nehalem processors, are certainly capable of delivering greater performance than any previous computers with earlier generations of Intel Xeon processors. So, video render times should be appreciably faster. However, the HP Z800 workstation I'm testing was not equipped with a RAID subsystem for video storage, as was the HP xw8600 workstation I tested it against, so rendering times for were more or less the same, and certainly equally impressive, on both machines. I expect render times on the Z800 will dramatically decrease when the machine is optimized for video playback. I'll report back when I have additional results to share.
Meanwhile, I'm currently testing the RED workflow on both the HP Z800 machine as well as the earlier xw8600 model. Next time join me and I'll take you Under The Hood with Hollywood filmmakers who are using the latest in new technology to create mainstream films and television.
Strategic partners, HP Computers and Dreamworks Animation, have teamed-up to reveal two very different glimpses into the future to those of us at The COW. I'm convinced that both companies have exceptional creative vision and that both create exceptional products that are at the leading edge in their respective fields.
THE Z-SERIES PRODUCT LINE-UP
As mentioned earlier, the Z800 is at the top of the HP line-up of their newest professional workstations: it comes equipped with dual quad-core Nehalem processors and has maximum expandability. The Z600 is equipped with the same dual quad-core processors, but in a smaller case with slightly less room for expandability. Finally, the Z400 is HP's entry-level workstation, with a single quad-core processor.
Pricing and availability
The new HP Z Workstation series is expected to ship immediately. Pricing starts at approximately $1,800 for the HP Z800 Workstation; US$1,600 for the HP Z600 Workstation; and US$1000 (RRP) for the HP Z400 Workstation.
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