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The HP xw4600 Review: Speed on a Budget

Bruce Shutan reports on how Beatles musical, Across the Universe, proved a psychedelic challenge for vfx artist Peter Crosman.

The newly refined xw4600 workstation. Courtesy of HP.

I noticed two things about HP's xw4600 the moment I took it out of the box. The first was that it weighs much less than my xw9300. The second is the cool case redesign. At first boot, I noticed two more things: it's fast and it's quiet. While the xw9300 is happy to sit and show me the BIOS screen for upwards of a minute, the 4600 gets on with the show in mere seconds. Where have you been all my life? Apparently, in the minds of engineers at HP and Intel. But now their brainchild is your affordable animation and vfx workstation.

The xw4600 brings choice to the table, and is ideal for 3D artists in the animation and visual effects fields, as well as CAD and DCC. So what sets this system apart from the rest? For starters, the brand new Intel 65nm four core processor and Intel X38 Express chipset. It also boasts an 80 PLUS efficient, which is a prerequisite for Energy Star 4.0. Last, but certainly not least, is the selection of video cards you have to choose from, including NVIDIA Quadro FX and ATI FireGL.

Pricing and Configuration

The system I reviewed was configured with a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Quad Q6700 processor, NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 video card with 51MB RAM, 2GB DDR2-800 ECC RAM, 250GB SATA2 hard drive loaded with Windows XP Professional (Vista and Linux also available) and a DVD-RW drive, with a retail price of $3,772.

Testing, 1, 2, 3 (4)

To put the system through its paces, I decided to run SpecViewPerf and to check the render times for a couple of my favorite 3ds Max files, as well as working with some character rigs and particle and physics effects. What I discovered is that there are definite advantages to having four cores on one die, and that NVIDIA's new Quadro FX cards run circles around the older ones.

HP xw4600

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 32.33

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 37.76

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 25.20

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 34.58

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 60.00

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 33.74

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 39.95

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 13.51

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 12.39

The xw4600 workstation in action. Screen image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc. © 2002-2007, All rights reserved.

HP xw8400

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 29.98

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 36.45

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 21.83

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 34.42

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 24.22

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 28.59

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 36.90

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 10.86

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 6.357

The xw8400 had two dual core Intel Xeon 5160 processors running at 3.0GHz, 4GB RAM and an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 video card with 256MB RAM. Considered a "high-end" video card, the Quadro FX 1700 has a definite edge over the ultra high-end Quadro FX 3500 card loaded in the xw8400 rig I tested. As you can see from the test results, it handily beat the Quadro FX 3500 equipped xw8400 system in every test. Visit http://www.nvidia.com/object/IO_11761.html for more details.

Next, for those of you who loathe change, you'll be happy to know that I included my usual 3ds Max test renders: Displacement & DOF.max and Light Gallery.

Displacement & DOF.max System Time HP xw4600

9:37

HP xw8400

8:53

Light Gallery System Time HP xw4600

2:06

HP xw8400

1:53

Not bad for a system that weighs in at almost half the price of the Xeon-based xw8400 with 3.0GHz processors and twice the RAM.

Buying Recommendations

It seems that Intel and HP keep pleasantly surprising me with every new processor and system they introduce. Not to mention NVIDIA with their newest line of video cards. More power for less money -- where do I sign up? Although it includes two x16 PCI-E slots, SLI graphics is not supported, which may be a deal breaker for some. However, if you're looking for an affordable workstation with power to spare, the xw4600 is definitely worth a look. The Energy Star 4 certified power supply will appeal to users with home offices, and its modern new case design will make you want to show it off, rather than shoving it under your desk. And did I mention it's quiet?

Bryan Hoff is a multifaceted artist and writer. A web designer, digital artist and animator, his credits include movie and television effects, online games, 3D corporate animation, Flash and traditional website design. His writing credits include articles for LinuxWorld, Element K Journals and InformIT, covering topics like Photoshop effects, Linux 3D graphics applications, web and HTML design, RSS feeds and painting with a graphics tablet. Bryan has written ebooks on blogging and website creation for beginners and co-authored the book Moving from Windows to Linux.

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