Eastsound, WA US
© Michael Hurwicz
Creative Cow Leader Michael Hurwicz looks at The HP XW4600 Workstation and finds it a good value in terms of price/performance and productivity.
The HP XW4600 workstation is not a new product: It was released in October, 2007 It was reviewed a number of times in the months following that. (See links at the end of this article.) The general consensus was that, though certainly pricey compared to a commodity PC, the XW4600 is a solid deal for an HP workstation.
I've been using an xw4600 for a while now, and I basically concur with that conclusion. I also have a few additional thoughts, observations and tidbits of information that I haven't seen in other reviews. I'll share those here.
(Picture source: HP )
Before looking at a specific HP workstation like the xw4600, you may start by asking yourself whether your application really requires or justifies the extra cost for the extra reliability, maintainability, and management software. If your job centers on 3-D animation, CAD, or other graphics-intensive applications, you may well decide that it's reasonable for you to invest in a high-reliability, easy-to-maintain machine with performance tuning software to help you tune it for your application. Or you might decide that you can work just as fast on a commodity PC, and, for the money you save, you'll deal with whatever potential inconveniences may come with the lower price. It's a lot like deciding whether you can justify a car at the top of the Consumer Reports reliability ratings, as opposed to one a few notches down.
Of course, a tricky situation can arise when your application justifies a workstation but your budget doesn't allow for one. This may be precisely the customer HP had in mind when they drew up the specifications for the xw4600. It doesn't have the raw power of higher-end HP workstations, but it does share other family features which can be compelling.
For Interactive Graphics, a Hands-Down Favorite
Depending on how you configure it and how you use it, the xw4600 really can be a "value " buy, even from a performance perspective. That is, dollar for dollar, you may get more performance out of the xw4600 than out of a higher-end HP workstation. For instance, check out the SPECapc benchmarks below, comparing the xw4600 and the xw8600 (HP's high-end "flagship" workstation), both running 3ds Max 9 using DirectX 9.0c.(Source: spec.org.)
||3.0GHz nVIDIA Quadro FX 4600
||2GB DDR2-667 ECC
||Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 3.00GHz, 1333MHz, 8MB
||3.16GHz nVIDIA Quadro FX 4600
||2GB DDR2-667 ECC
||Intel Xeon 5460 3.16 12M/1333 Quad-Core
For more on what exactly these benchmarks measure, click here. In the Composite columns, higher numbers are better, and the xw8600 comes out significantly better overall in those columns. In the Cost/Composite columns, loader members are better, and theoxw4600 comes out significantly better in those columns. In general terms, what this shows is that, for the functions tested by this benchmark, the xw4600 is more cost-effective across the board.
However, your personal value equation will vary depending on how you use your workstation. If you spend a lot of time waiting for 3ds Max renders to complete, the fact that the xw8600 renders more than 1.4 times faster than the xw4600 may outweigh the up front cost considerations. If you can put a dollar cost on longer renders times, then the xw4600 may well be more "expensive" in the long run than the xw8600. On the other hand, if you figure that xw4600's longer render times will cost you little if anything (perhaps they will happen while you sleep, or you will offload the big ones to a render farm), then the xw4600 may be your choice.
If you focus on the other two benchmark categories -- graphics and shaders -- the xw4600 emerges as the hands-down favorite. The shaders benchmarks are very, very close for the two machines, with the xw8600 having only a slight edge in raw performance (not taking cost into account). On the graphics benchmarks, the two machines are virtually identical in raw performance, with the xw4600 actually coming out a bit ahead. Basically, the xw4600 gives you almost identical performance on both these benchmarks, for about 60 percent of the cost! (And with a smaller footprint and quieter operation as added bonuses.)
My experience using 3ds Max and editing a somewhat complex Sony Vegas project on the xw4600 confirm the benchmark numbers. I don't notice any significant difference in interactive performance between the xw4600 and more powerful HP workstations like the xw6000 and the xw9400.
I believe the big difference between interactive graphics and rendering in this case is that the rendering benchmark is almost entirely CPU-dependent, while the interactive graphics benchmarks depend largely on the graphics card. Therefore, a high-end graphics card like the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600 can provide similar interactive graphics performance in such disparate machines as the xw4600 and the xw8600. On the other hand, the difference in CPU power between the two machines results in different levels of rendering performance.
Power, Money and Saving the World
Another source of savings that could easily be overlooked is the improved power efficiency of the xw4600. Internally, computers run on DC power, but they get AC power from the wall outlet. The xw4600 is more than 80% efficient in converting AC to DC, according to HP's spec sheet. This compares with a traditional 70% level for HP and its competitors.
More efficient power conversion also reduces the heat generated by the power supply, since the power "lost" in the conversion process is mostly converted to heat. Less heat means less noise because the fan doesn't have to push as much air through to keep the computer cool. Reduced heat also improves reliability, since heat is a major cause of failure for computer components such as chips.
Finally, consuming less power benefits the environment and helps combat global warming.
Power efficiency is something we're going to be hearing a lot more about in the future. Standard benchmarks have only recently been developed to measure power and performance characteristics of servers running Java applications. Similar benchmarks are sure to emerge for workstations, as well, given the multiple advantages of improved power efficiency. The xw4600 is a sign of things to come in this area.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to talk with Will Wade, HP's Worldwide Workstation Graphics Product Manager. He told me that the xw4600 was their highest volume workstation by far, and that in particular it was the choice of the majority of video editors. I can see why. I give it five cows.
HP xw4600 Workstation - overview and features
A New Side of HP (Videomaker)
The HP xw4600 Review: Speed on a Budget (Bryan Hoff)
HP xw4600 workstation (PC Pro UK)