HP xw4600 Review

by Reads (41,956)

HP is the largest computer manufacturer in the world.  Most consumers are familiar with their laptops and desktops, but that isn’t where the story ends.  They also supply businesses around the world with workstations, which are desktops intended to be used in high performance situations such as 3D rendering, heavy graphic design and more.  The HP xw4600 Workstation is just such a beast.  With a quad-core processor and NVIDIA Quadro graphics card, is a workstation really something special?  Read on for our full review.

Specifications

Our review unit arrived with the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 @ 2.83GHz (12MB cache, 1333MHz FSB)
  • Memory: 4GB DDR2-800 ECC RAM
  • Hard drive: 160GB SATA NCQ 10000RPM
  • Optical drive: 16x DVD+/-RW SuperMulti drive with LightScribe capability
  • Sound: Integrated HD sound
  • Video card; NVIDIA Quadro FX3700 512MB
  • Networking: 10/100/1000 Ethernet
  • HP wired keyboard and mouse
  • Operating system: Windows Vista 64-bit (downgrade to XP Pro available)
  • Power supply: rated at 475W
  • Warranty: limited 3 years parts, 3 years labor, and 3 years onsite service (3/3/3) standard warranty
  • Dimensions: 6.6″(W) x 17.9″(D) x 17.7″(H)

The systems start out at $599; as configured, our review unit carries a suggested price of $2803.

 

Build and Design

The xw4600 workstation certainly makes a statement.  You’re not going to forget it’s an HP machine anytime soon.  The entire case, save for the back, is covered in heavy-duty stickers emblazoned with the phrase WORKSTATION POWER.  All of the case is solid metal save for the front, which is merely a plastic facade that sits on top of more metal.  In other words, it’s a very sturdy chassis.  I suspect you could knock it off of a chair and still have a working computer.  This heavy box can take a beating.  Beneath the stickers the case is a shiny silver; if nothing else, the stickers prevent it from getting scratched up.

The front of the case has more of the stickers found everywhere else, cut around the more delicate features of the case design.  Behind the grill rests a surprisingly good speaker.  While I wouldn’t necessarily want to use the bonus speaker for extended music sessions, it’s fine for checking on items, listening to a podcast or most relevantly, being notified of any program alerts.  Moreover, the front grill provide a necessary point of entry for airflow within the case that is funneled around drives, RAM and processor, then expelled from the back.  The back of the case shows off the big fan vent and just how many options owners have for expansion.  You can see the 80Plus logo in the upper left of the back of the machine; it shows that the power supply has been deemed above 80% efficient in most use cases.

More of the stickers can be found on each side of the computer.  Despite covering up the visible indented logo, you can still find HP prominently displayed on the sides.  On the left-hand side of the case is possibly my favorite feature on the entire computer.  The little lever in the door panel of the computer lets harried IT workers quickly pop off the entire side of the case with one quick motion.  To be honest, there’s no reason why this lever isn’t on every desktop HP makes.  Alienware has a similar, more difficult-to-use mechanism located on the backs of their cases.  Using a small lever like this is so much easier than using thumbscrews or more traditional forms of case fasteners.

Once the side of the case is popped off, you can see the roomy interior.  While the cabling is a little messy, it’s hard (but not impossible) to avoid unless modular power supplies are used.  Lots of room inside means lots of room for expansion.

 

Cleverly placed heatsinks and venting fans help to improve overall case airflow.  The better the airflow a case has, the fewer the fans are needed to keep it cool.  Even with a workstation graphics card inside, the desktop never puts out enough to be uncomfortable or, honestly, even that noticeable.

Inputs and Expansion

The xw4600 offers so much expandability, and in most ways possible.  The front of the machine has two USB 2.0 ports, one headphone jack, one microphone jack and one FireWire port.  Our review unit also came with a fairly standard 16-in-1 media card reader, which really helps if you need to pull a lot of pictures off of a camera.  The 16X DVD burner with LightScribe sits at the top of the box.

On the back of the system there are seven more USB 2.0 ports, one serial port (though you can get a system with two), one parallel port, two PS/2 ports, one e-SATA, a gigabit ethernet port and audio in and out ports. 

Internally, there are three more USB 2.0 headers in case you need even more places to plug something in.  While the system is not small, really, it’s still relatively easy to carry under one arm, making all of the internal expandability a surprise.  Inside you can fit one more 5.25″ bay device and one 3.5″ bay device (after ours are taken up by hard drives and media card readers).  There are a further 7 full length slots in the computer – two are full gen 2 PCI-e x16 slots (one taken up by our Quadro), one PCI-e x8 slot, one PCI-e x1 slot and three more plain vanilla PCI slots (one of ours is taken up by a FireWire expansion card).

 

Benchmarks and Performance

wPrime is a PC performance benchmarking program that forces the computer to perform recursive mathematical calculations. This program is multithreaded, meaning we can take advantage of more than one core of a processor at a time, resulting in a more realistic estimate of a computer’s performance.

wPrime benchmark comparison results (lower numbers mean better performance)

Desktop wPrime 32 time
Dell Studio XPS (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 9.1s
HP xw4600 Workstation (Core 2 Quad Q9550 @ 2.83GHz) 13.619s
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz) 13.869s
Alienware Area-51 790i (Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66GHz) 14.625s
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.301s
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 27.65s
HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400 @ 2.8GHz) 29.733s

PCMark05 overall system performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance)

Desktop PCMark05 Score
Dell Studio XPS (Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz) 10,928 PCMarks
Alienware Area-51 790i (Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66GHz) 10,616 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz) 9,999 PCMarks
HP xw4600 Workstation (Core 2 Quad Q9550 @ 2.83GHz) 9874 PCMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6,887 PCMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 5,189 PCMarks
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 4,981 PCMarks

The HP xw4600 Workstation pulled 6420 PCMarks in PCMark Vantage.

3DMark06 overall gaming performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance)

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
Alienware Area-51 790i (Core 2 Quad Q9450, ATI HD4870X2) 14,705 3DMarks
Dell Studio XPS (Core i7 920, ATI HD4850) 13,085 3DMarks
HP xw4600 Workstation (Core 2 Quad Q9550, NVIDIA QUADRO FX 3700) 10,698 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850, NVIDIA FX4600) 10,327 3DMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Core 2 Quad Q8200, ATI HD3450 256MB) 1,820 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850, NVIDIA 9300M GS) 1,714 3DMarks
HP Compaq dc5850 (Athlon X2 5000B, ATI HD3100 IGP) 1,041 3DMarks

Our xw4600 review unit also managed a score of 4028 3DMarks in 3DMark Vantage.

HDTune results

Here’s where we start to look elsewhere for benchmarks.  The HP xw4600 Workstation is just that – a workstation.  It isn’t a gaming desktop (although it’s certainly powerful enough to disguise itself as one from time to time).  As such, it isn’t entirely appropriate to test the system using traditional gaming benchmarks even though the CPU tests are still a fair estimate of the general CPU capabilities. 

So what makes a workstation different from a regular computer?  HP will say that it uses stronger components designed to help you achieve your goals in the fastest, most efficient way possible.  To a certain extent, I suppose that’s true, but in the end, it all comes down to a matter of intent.  Workstations are sort of to business desktops as consumer gaming machines are to regular desktops.  They’re used to crunch numbers, render complex scenes and encode video in the fastest way possible.

To that end, I decided to add in a couple of benchmarks that are geared a little more toward the kind of activities the traditional workstation user might attempt.  Since this is our first workstation review, we don’t have a lot to compare to, but as time goes on, I’ll revisit the charts and flesh them out a bit.

SPECapc Maya 6.5 v1.0 benchmark (script run in Maya 2009)

GFX subscore 5.42
I/O subscore 3.24
CPU subscore 6.37
Overall score 5.32

CINEBENCH10 results

Single CPU Rendering Test 3469 CB-CPU
Multiple CPU Rendering Test 12419 CB-CPU
Shading (OpenGL Standard) 5253 CB-GFX

The xw4600 also comes equipped with an NVIDIA card capable of accelerating certain specially written programs.  Examples of things that can be accelerated by using a graphics card instead of just a CPU are audio and video transcoding, bitmap and vector graphics drawing, 3D rendering and more.  NVIDIA teamed up with a company known as Elemental Technologies, who developed an application that harnesses NVIDIA graphics cards for the purposes of transcoding.  While not free, Badaboom is on a multi-use trial basis, and it certainly does a good job in accelerating content.  It’s not always that a $30 upgrade to your computer can offer such tangible benefits.

In this example, I took a 21 minute clip of a TV show I’d recorded on our HTPC.  Plopping the full HD MPEG2 file into Badaboom is as simple as a couple quick button pushes. 

This ~21-minute clip was converted to proper iPhone format in less than 7 minutes.  That means it processed and converted the original clip at over 70 frames per seconds.  Amazing.

As mentioned earlier, the graphics card can also be used to accelerate certain programs, such as Photoshop CS4.  Besides offering smoother scrolling and zoom functions, the Quadro cards can directly aid in processing and applying filters and another adjustments to Photoshop.  The following filter shots are all examples of Adobe’s own Pixel Blender plug-in:

While many computers stutter and pause when applying filters, all of the Pixel Blender filters felt almost instaneous.  You can actually move and draw many of them across the screen with little noticeable slowdown.

 

Noise and Power Consumption

I have to say that the HP xw4600 surprised me when it came to the idea of how much noise it generated.  I was expecting a workstation computer to have giant, noisy fans that try their best to keep everything cool.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised at the gentle hum they produced.  While they’re certainly going to be noticeable in most settings, I didn’t find the noise output from the fans to be all that bothersome.  The hard drive, however, is a different story.  Using that 10000RPM drive in the machine makes it sound like there’s a percolating coffee pot nearby.

The power consumption of the xw4600 is a bit of an odd duck.  No matter what, the workstation will always draw a single watt of electricity, even when it’s completely turned off.  When idling at the Windows Vista desktop without running any additional programs, the power rose to a good 82 watts.  When maxing out both the graphics card and CPU, the machine finally went to around 200 watts of power.

Conclusion

The xw4600 workstation is a great box for people looking to expand their business investment with some extra workstations or even the home user who wants a new box just to use with 3D rendering, for example.  The machine is heavy, built like a tank and offers just ridiculous amounts of ports and expansion slots.  All is not peaches and cream in workstation land, however.  The hard drive used in this desktop was so loud it was incredibly distracting — a hard drive, of all things!  In addition, the 90’s glam rock stickers enclothing the case don’t really convince me of a hardworking, professional machine.

At the end of the day, however, the xw4600 comes up as a worthy choice for anyone who needs a little extra firepower on their sides.  When equipped with a quad-core processor people at the latest in GPGPU-accelerated cards, there is very little that this box won’t do.

Pros

  • WORKSTATION POWER!
  • Gobs and gobs of expandability options
  • Well designed case for rapid, tool-less entry
  • Complete lack of installed bloatware refreshing

Cons

  • Very, very loud hard drive
  • Stickers are a little tacky
  • Some upgrades (like workstation video card) can be pricey


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