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When people look at a product, they often don't take into consideration the design principles that may have gone into the construction of that product. Often times, the product is brought to the home or office and it performs its intended purpose. And for the most part it is taken for granted without any real sense by the user in what went in to it to get from the design concept and implementation to a user's desk. One of the most boring devices, design wise, in modern history has been the personal computer. During the build up to commoditization, PCs were beige boxes that were uninspiring. A few companies set out to change that. Acer Computer in 1993 introduced a 486-based PC that was jet black in color. The company followed that up with a forest green machine a few years later, but they didn't change the visual game. Most PC manufacturers stuck with beige, until Apple introduced its Bondi Blue Macintosh and iMac computers in a rainbow of colors. The color barrier was blown wide open. Other computer manufacturers followed.
In the 1990s, SGI (remember that company?) always had a pretty (and woefully overpriced) system; Intergraph Computer Systems (another manufacturer in the dustbowls of the Windows NT revolution) had an insane Blurple TDZ box that was the darling of the boutique effects facilities that sprung up along with Windows NT during that decade. Yet nothing really significant came down the pike. With more manufacturers tuned to the external looks of the device, not many have paid much attention to the user serviceability of what is inside the box.
Hewlett Packard, one of the most widely respected company's in the history of computing, and a true technology innovator (versus marketer), has blown the whole notion of computer design wide open with the latest version of its Z800 workstations. The system is unique in that not only does it sport the latest Intel technology; the engineers have created a workstation that is both highly functional yet elegant in its form, inside and out.
|Brushed aluminum side panels|
Aluminum and Composites
Outside the Z800, you will notice that the system has aluminum siding with a composite louvered top and front end. The unit features a slot loading optical drive, integrated handles that are unobtrusive (meaning you can rackmount this system), and a smooth bottom that facilitates ease of movement.
|This handle design enables you to rackmount the system.|
This lack of protruding feet (the system uses ever so slightly raised resin casters to simplify movement) means you can slide the system around without hindrance in the event you need to plug something into the back of the system. This works on carpet and other flooring. Over-engineered? Perhaps, but moving this unit (either carrying it or sliding it) is a piece of cake. The rear of the unit features your standard computer connections, including six USB 2.0 ports, a six pin FireWire port, two network connections, speaker and mic ports, and legacy mouse and keyboard ports. The front of the unit houses the slot loading DVD drive, an additional three USB 2.0 ports, a six pin FireWire port, headphone and mic port, and the power button.
What is inside the Z800
What lies inside the Z800 is a thing of engineering beauty. When you first pop open the case, you immediately have to ask yourself, where is all the cable clutter? And what are all those green bars that can be found throughout the inside? The Z800 engineers (both those at BMW DesignWorks and HP) have taken what Apple started with its PowerMac G5 and turned the Z800 into a work of form and functioning art.
The first piece of engineering wizardry is the power supply. Located at the top, the 1100 watt power supply is housed in an aluminum enclosure. Pull up on the green color coded handle and pull the power supply right out of the system. There are no wires to disconnect. In addition, the power supply employs a green status light, which when unlit, will tell you that you have a power supply issue and you should probably replace it. It is an easy diagnostic when trying to figure out if a system is sick or not.
|The power supply has no cables to plug in.|
|This is what you see when you crack open the case.|
|The dips and valleys here are designed to channel fresh air throughout the system.|
|Pull the side of the system and this is what you see.|
To the right and below the power supply is the optical drive bay, of which resides the slot loading optical drive. There is room for another two 5.25-inch drives as well in that bay. Below the optical drive bay are the hard drive bays. In addition to supporting the standard Winchester based hard disk drives, the Z800 also supports SSD based hard drives. These drives are also cable-free, and you simply pull them up and out to remove them. The hard drives are housed in their own engineered rail that are totally tool-less in design. There are even rubber grommets to absorb shake and noise. To the left of the drive bays is another highly designed plastic cover that covers the graphics card and other internals. The cover is designed to channel air into certain areas to ensure optimal cooling. Pop the cover off and you have room to install two full size QuadroFX 4800 graphics cards.
|Hard drives are easily removed. Just use the handles built into the hard drive cage. There are no cables to unplug.|
|Hard drives plug right into the cage.|
|The hard drive rail features rubber grommets that reduce noise and vibration.|
So much can be said for the design of this system, but what about where it counts most? How is the performance? Considering this system has eight Intel W5580 3.2GHz processor cores and is running 12GB RAM, and Windows Vista 64 to harness all that RAM you can expect it to perform. And it does.
Running the standard After Effects and Cinebench 64 benchmarks, the Z800 outperforms all other systems that have been tested here at DMN. The system has been running continuously for several weeks and there hasn't been one instance of a freeze, crash, or hanging hourglass. In addition to the AE tests, it has been running Photoshop fairly heavily with no issues.
|The Z800's motherboard specifics are etched into the aluminum side cover.|
The Z800 will proficiently run a variety of applications, and not just the media creation tools that were used in testing at DMN. Its horsepower can handle even the most complex CAD drawings, audio production tools, 2 and 4K HD workflows, and special effects. The systems are widely used at Dreamworks Animation, as they have been for the past nine years. See hp.com for a complete list of applications that are certified. You can find DCC certifications here, and CAD and CAE certifications here .
|Results in minutes: seconds |
Version of After Effects used: CS4
Hewlett Packard Z800, 3.2GHz Intel dual Quad core 8 cores , 12GB RAM, NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 Windows Vista 64
|test 1 Animation:|| 2 seconds|
|Test 2 Video composite:||7 seconds|
|Test 3 Data project:||14 seconds|
|Test 4 Gambler:||22 seconds|
|Test 5 Source Shapes:||28 seconds|
|Test 6 Virtual set:||20 seconds|
When Intel releases a newer and faster processor, the computer manufacturers follow suit with the latest computer release. More often than not, it is merely new brains inside the same old box. In rare instances, the workstation design is the news, and not the CPU. This has happened a few times over the years at DMN. Apple with its G5 got rave reviews, as did Lenovo with its mobile system with the built in graphics tablet. HP follows that tradition with the Z800. HP has come a long way from the Kayak days when a small sliver of bluish-purple plastic next to the floppy drive was its bold, new, non-beige statement. The Z800 makes a huge statement to other computer manufacturers in the content creation space that a computer can be functional and elegant at the same time. The HP z800 does exude an aura of power with a functional design that works (you have to love the integrated handles), coupled with the latest Intel CPU technology. The Z800 pricing starts at $1,999. The system as configured is priced at $10,787. For more information, visit www.hp.com
John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keywords:workstation, media workstation, content creation,
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