Introducing the HP Z420 Workstation

Recently we had a chance to review Dell's Precision T3600, and we found it impressive. A company that seemed content to be an also-ran in the enterprise desktop space reinvigorated itself with smart new chassis designs to go along with the refreshed hardware from Intel and NVIDIA, and the resulting system proved as easy to service as it was powerful. Dell and HP can both talk up how fast their computers are, but fundamentally they're still working from the same building blocks that Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD provide them.

HP, as the incumbent enterprise vendor, sent us their Z420. From the chassis design perspective it's certainly nowhere near as radical a departure as Dell's revised Precision lineup is, but now we get a chance to set these standards against each other. On top of that, we also get our first look at Intel's octal-core Xeon processors in a desktop workstation environment.

When last we checked in with HP's workstation line, it was with their small form factor Z210, a respectable amount of power crammed into a remarkably tiny chassis. Despite being an SFF system, the Z210 sported NVIDIA Quadro graphics, a strong Xeon processor, and all of HP's software trimmings. Those same trimmings emerge again here, but this time HP benefits from a full ATX enclosure and the relaxed thermal constraints therein. Here's what we received for review:

HP Z420 Specifications
Chassis HP Custom
Processor Intel Xeon E5-2687W
(8x3.1GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.8GHz, 32nm, 20MB L3, 150W)
Motherboard HP Custom with C600 Chipset
Memory 8x2GB Hynix ECC DDR3-1600 (max 8x8GB)
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro 4000
(256 CUDA cores, 475MHz/950MHz/2.8GHz core/shaders/memory, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Micron RealSSD C400 256GB SSD
Optical Drive(s) HP DVD-RAM GH80N
Power Supply HP Custom 80 Plus Gold
Networking Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC262
Speaker and mic/line-in jacks
Front Side Optical drive
1x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
1x 6-pin FireWire
Headphone and mic jacks
Card reader
Top -
Back Side Power button
2x PS/2
1x 6-pin FireWire
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Ethernet jack
Speaker, mic, and line-in jacks
DVI-D (Quadro)
2x DisplayPort (Quadro)
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
Extras USB 3.0
HP Performance Advisor software
600W 80 Plus Gold PSU
Intel vPro
Warranty 3-year parts and 3-year on-site service
Pricing Starting at: $1,711
Price as configured: $6,757

Dell's competing revised Precision line is still nowhere to be found on their site, giving HP the advantage of time-to-market, but it may cost you. Even in a comparable configuration to Dell's Precision T3600, HP costs at least $200 more. And our review sample? It will set you back a whopping $6750, though that's pushing some of the highest performance configuration options.

The hardware itself is in many ways very similar to Dell's configuration, but HP was able to secure an Intel Xeon E5-2687W for us to test with. This CPU is nearly $2,000 on its own, but with the added cooling requirements the CPU upgrade tacks on over $3300 relative to the base model E5-1603. The E5-2687W is the fastest octal-core processor HP offers, sporting a nominal 3.1GHz clock on all eight cores with a hefty 150W TDP (what the "W" on the model number signifies), and it's capable of turbo-ing up to 3.4GHz on six-to-eight cores, 3.5GHz on four or five cores, 3.6GHz on two or three cores, and 3.8GHz on a single core. That's actually mostly competitive with desktop Sandy Bridge chips in terms of clock speed. Because the E5-2687W is a Sandy Bridge-EP part, it doesn't benefit from Ivy Bridge's architectural improvements or 22nm process technology; it's still built on 32nm.

This may actually be of interest to enthusiasts, though, since I think the clocks on Intel's octal-core Xeons are indicative of why we probably won't see a standard consumer version. Even with an additional 20W of thermal headroom, the E5-2687W still isn't able to run at the same nominal clocks as the i7-3960X. With diminishing returns for enthusiasts even at six cores, sacrificing a substantial amount of clock speed for eight cores to hit the 130W threshold probably just doesn't seem worth the investment to Intel. I'm not sure I blame them. Turbo makes up for a lot of the difference but not all of it.

The rest of the build is a touch more aggressive than the system Dell sent us. We get 16GB of ECC DDR3-1600 at 11-11-11-28 timings as opposed to 8GB of ECC DDR3-1333 along with a fast Micron RealSSD C400 SSD. HP was actually willing to walk us through a review configuration, which is how we arrived at a single 256GB SSD with no hard disk backup (and the octal-core Xeon).

Our Quadro 4000 remains identical to the Dell model, based on GF100/110 but heavily cut down to fit a thermal envelope. As I mentioned in the T3600 review, this is the kind of GPU configuration that only makes sense in a workstation where double-precision performance can be relevant. That's part of why Tesla cards on GK104 may not be as appealing to enterprise users, and why NVIDIA essentially bifurcated their enterprise lineup depending on usage scenario. GK104 beats the pants off of GF110 in gaming situations, but the instant double-precision math or ECC memory support are added to the mix, the GK104 gets taken off the table. HP does offer an even higher performing Quadro 5000 if you need even more GPU power.

All told, the Z420 we received should be one of the fastest workstations in our test suite. It's going to cost an awful lot, but for the intended market the cost of the hardware likely pales in comparison to the salary of the user and the software it will run. Let's get to the benchmarks and see how it stacks up to the competition.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • jecastejon - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    It can be done as BOXX among others do this all the time and they are always building and claiming the fastest and more reliable computers in content creation business, also you pay more for this, but at least you have the warranty of a serious and dedicated company.

    But, If you are not a real expert with Xeons why try to overclock them? Xeons are designed for reliability over long periods of constant use and not for the ultimate performance per core. But if you take them to the limits not knowing what you are doing it wont justify expending the extra they cost. You may get close to Xeons octacores overclocking a desktop sixcore. You will need some advise and experience either to make them really stable at high clocks, but at least you wont pay more.

    Consider a very fast and overclocked desktop 6 core being as fast as a lower clocked 8 core Xeon. A desktop 3.4 GHZ 6 core CPU will cost you about 800-900$. A 2.2 octacore Xeon CPU will be around $1200.

    Another option is to build a very fast 4 or 6 core machine to design and create your model and a second machine to speed up some rendering and simulation task if the software you use allows it.

    Also, for simulation with Realflow get all the memory you can first and then use whats left in your budget for CPUs. Again, It is preferable to work slower but at a constant pace than to stop continually because you hit your memory limit.

    I have a Xeon octacore for reliability and is running at the specified cycles, using very stable memory and power supply. But also I builded a machine with desktop and workstation parts to experiment a bit more.

    On your request to Anandtech or other tech sites to include real 3D simulations with custom scenes on Realflow or other mayor software all I can say is you need to understand we are not a majority here or everywhere so you need to take notes from here and there and make up you mind.

    Finally, take my advise an experience with a grain of salt and do your own research.
    Reply
  • sicofante - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    Current Xeons can't be overclocked, not by HP nor by Dell or BOXX. The latter can overclock the former generation of Xeons, as much as anyone using the EVGA SR-II motherboard. That's pretty it.

    Everybody is hoping some new overclockable Xeons to come along, since EVGA has created its SR-X for that, but there are no signs of them appearing any time soon.
    Reply
  • mapesdhs - Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - link


    Overclocking XEONs is not normally supported on professional
    systems (except certain SGI/Rackable units). Nothing to stop you
    using a XEON on a consumer board though and oc'ing it, which
    will work well since XEONs have higher TDPs (my Asrock X58
    Extreme6 has a XEON X5570).

    The real question though, is it worth it? I've been doing lots of
    tests. An oc'd SB can certainly match or beat a dual-XEON X5570,
    but it does depend on the task. Even more interesting though, SPEC
    Viewperf11 can run extremely well on a Quadro 600 even when
    paired with a lowly i3 550, as long as it's oc'd nicely. Can't post
    URLs here, so just Google for "Ian viewperf", it's the page on my
    sgidepot site.

    Ian.
    Reply
  • disco4178 - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    Hi!

    Just curious, are the HP Z620, Z820 and/or Z1 going to be reviewed? The Z420 is kind of the "boring" one in the family it seems. The machines listed here save for Z1 have been upgraded, but not to the extent of the Dells. It would be neat to see an in depth review of them as I can only find the rendered movies on HP's site for a look at the internals. They look pretty slick, and easier to service than the Z420.
    Reply
  • USAllard - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    I'd also like to see a review of specifically the Z620. Especially for a comparison between the dual 4-core 3.6GHz and dual 8-core 2.0GHz versions. Reply
  • Einy0 - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    I work in IT part-time for two different companies. They both are hung up on Lenovo. I know both places also used Dell before Lenovo. I often wonder where exactly Dell went wrong. I know their quality levels dipped for a few years. Has Dell fixed those issues yet? Reply
  • tech6 - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    While certifications are important, both the Dell and HP products represent dubious value when compared to properly configured PCs. The $2k alone for the CPU yields very little marginal performance over a $1,000 or even $500 PC CPU. The whole package at $6K+ simply doesn't outperform a properly configured PC at half the cost by enough to justify that price tag. Reply
  • Kaldor - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    Definitely! Alot of time it seems like IT departments get caught up in specs like raw CPU power and forget that upgrades like more RAM or a SSD make for a better user experience. Unless you can absolutely justify the cost of a processor and it will actually pay for itself, then spending this kind of coin is not worthwhile.

    I went through something similar to this about 3 months ago for CAD machines. They were convinced by the prior IT staff they needed workstation class CPUs (Xeon) and GPUs (Nvidia or ATI). There was no real need for a workstation class CPUs and GPUs for the type of CAD work my company does, so we went with Dell Optiplex 790's with an i7-2600, 16 gigs of RAM, a 256 gig SSD, 1tb spinning drive, and an ATI video card for easy 2-3 monitor setups. We spent about $1500 per machine and I havent heard any complaints from the engineers yet.
    Reply
  • jecastejon - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    Well, I will at least recommend a Xeon among several desktop machines. It will give you a real perspective on what a Xeon is and is better at. And that is, being the last machine up and running close to 24/7. It wont be the fastest in the short term but if your work depends on reliability for long periods of time, get at least one Xeon.

    Also if you go for a certified Xeon machine you will enjoy a smother experience running your software.

    For an upgrade in 3D get all the memory you can if you work with complex scenes.

    it all depends on what you do and with your experience.
    Reply
  • theSeb - Monday, May 21, 2012 - link

    You're missing the whole point of a Xeon CPU and it's uses. Some people need a workstation CPU and ECC memory. You obviously dont' and that is ok. A xeon-based workstation is not appropriate for your uses, but don't try to paint everyone with that brush. Reply

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