HP's New Workstations: Powerful, Expandable, and Compatible
COW Library : What Computer Should I Buy? : Kylee Peña : HP's New Workstations: Powerful, Expandable, and Compatible
Expanding its Z-series line, HP announced major updates to desktop and mobile workstations focusing on expandability, reliability and compatibility – and specifically targeting disappointed Mac users that may not have considered the PC world before.
"The resounding word among media and entertainment customers is bottleneck." said Jim Zafarana, Vice President and General Manager, Commercial Solutions, PC Global Business Unit. With the major file sizes and processing needs of 4K media and beyond, and the demand for native editing, the requirements of workstations are pretty hefty. And HP is responding: the latest Intel Xeon processors, multicore updates, and many options to keep expanding as the media needs keep exploding.
HP Z840, Z640 and Z440 workstations
The Z840 workstation is HP's most powerful solution for major IT uses and visual effects needs, with support for two Intel Xeon processors for up to 26 total processor cores. It has 7 PCIe slots, up to 10 internal drive bays, and 16 memory slots supporting up to 2TB of memory. Yeah, terabytes of memory – to clarify, right now the Z840 can support 1TB, but as soon as 128GB DIMMs are available users can take advantage of 2TB. In addition to NVIDIA graphics cards, HP has added the option for AMD cards so users can have more options.
With the massive expandability and potential power in the Z840 box, it's definitely a workstation for the power user. Or as Mike Diehl, Worldwide Product Manager (HP Z Ultimate Platforms) put it, "it's also good for those of you that like to think you're a power user – we love you too."
The Z640 workstation is a versatile solution for many in the post-production industry, with a dual Xeon processor configuration and plenty of scalability for the future including an NVIDIA or AMD graphics card option. The 8 memory DIMMs and up to 4 internal hard drives make it a popular workstation for creatives.
And the Z440 is most commonly the consumer level workstation. Interestingly, HP keeps typically outdated connectivity like PS/2 on board for legacy customers who depend on keeping certain older technologies around for mission critical work. Working to keep users happy, they balance the latest workstation technologies around some of the oldest.
All these workstations feature a tool free chassis with green "touch points" that show users how to remove parts, so a task like inserting RAM or switching a hard drive can be a simple fix (or not – security screws are an option too.) They're also quiet and carefully designed for industrial uses, and can be rackmounted. Each workstation features plenty of connectivity from USB to Thunderbolt. And handles on top, because they're heavy when you load them up.
LEAVING MACS BEHIND
There are some things I've never cared to write about in my professional life, and the older-than-the-internet debate of Mac vs. PC was definitely one of them. What more is there to say? But thanks to Apple, it's not only become a legitimate and important aspect of the conversation, it's become a fascinating way of examining the evolution of the post-production industry. Some creative pros fully committed to jumping from Apple's ship, while others decided to wait it out and see what the company has to offer. After all, FCP7 didn't stop working. But as older Mac Pro towers begin to show their age, more hesitant users are starting to look at what's next. Is the new Mac Pro the solution?
"We believe the [older] Mac Pro install base is about 1.2 million strong right now, and they're all looking for the next thing. Is the new Mac Pro it? It might be for some but...what used to be very expandable and very secure with a choice of graphics is now something completely different," said Jeff Wood, Vice President Worldwide Product Management Commercial Solutions Business Unit.
He added that the previous iteration of the Mac Pro was a huge part of the high end workstation market and "with 4K data coming in, multiple streams of audio on the timeline – the [new] Mac Pro is going to be very under-powered. We feel there's a big opportunity."
HP Z27i 27 inch IPS Display
So much versatility with these workstations: powerful GPUs, flexibility with processors, expandable in every way. What's keeping Mac users hesitant? Wood put it simply: "Windows."
"It's scary, but we're saving time." Danny Holland is the post-production supervisor at Brain Farm Cinema, the production facility responsible for the snowboarding film "The Art of Flight" and other extreme spots films with Red Bull Media. Currently working on finishing three films in 4K, Mac-user-for-life-Holland began integrating Z820 workstations into his otherwise Apple post-production facility. He agreed that Windows was a major challenge. It's difficult to be considered to go-to expert in a facility when you don't feel like an expert yourself.
But any difficulty has been worth the gains, especially in finishing the films in 4K on Resolve. Using platform agnostic software like Adobe Premiere and Resolve has also eased the transition for Holland: "What we use to edit and finish with, that stuff is basically the same. It doesn't change. They're tools to help us do the creative work."
Holland is looking forward to incorporating more Z workstations into Brain Farm's facility. He's especially interested in how the internal drive bays on the new Z840 might add to their ability to get work done with large amounts of media more quickly if SSDs are a part of the equation. In the mean time, he's happy with what HP is providing. "I think we've found a good solution [in our workstation] – it's not super maxed out but it's pretty high end and we'll see how it goes as we continue to test things out."
UPDATED MOBILE WORKSTATIONS
HP's Director of Worldwide Product Management (HP Z Workstations) Josh Peterson commented on the industrial durability of the mobile workstations while standing upon a Zbook 17: "Are there any MacBook Pros out there I could demonstrate on?"
Inside the laptop built to military spec, the new Zbook 15 and 17 both feature i5 and i7 dual and quad core Intel processors, up to 32GB of RAM and NVIDIA or AMD graphics cards. Both mobile workstations have maximum connectivity, with Thunderbolt 2, USB 3 and DisplayPort available. And like the desktops, the laptops feature tool free removals. One difference between the workstations: the ZBook 15 has a QHD display panel, while the 17 has the option for a DreamColor display for color accuracy.
MANAGING TRANSITIONS EFFECTIVELY
HP's Fort Collins, Colorado location, where these workstations were unveiled, has a genial atmosphere that's more like going to someone's home than stepping into a facility that sells more desktop workstations than anyone else.
As I took a tour of their facility, I got the sense that work is actually done here. It may seem a silly observation, but I've walked around a company before and got the feeling I was seeing a carefully crafted facade more than anything else.
Inside the HP Hardware lab at Fort Collins, Colorado
At HP, the people were more in focus than the products they were carefully designing, testing, evaluating. In contrast to the kind of closed off architecture that a company like Apple has become known for, this level of access and amiability could become a key factor in transitioning some of that large chunk of a dissatisfied user base.
At HP's R&D lab
HP's Z workstations are expected to be available in October. Estimated U.S. pricing starts at $1,299 for Z440, $1,759 for Z640 and $2,399 for Z840.