The HP xw8600 Workstation Review: Worth a Second Look

Bryan Hoff tests the new and improved HP xw8600 workstation, now boasting Xeon 3.16 processors.

The xw8600 is back with a performance boost, which does make a difference. Screen image courtesy of Autodesk Inc. © 2002-2007. All rights reserved.

When last you joined me, dear reader, we took a look at HP's xw8600 workstation, outfitted with Xeon 3.16 processors. The xw8600 is back with a performance boost in the form of X5482 quad core Xeon processors clocked at 3.20GHz, 1600MHz frontside bus and a Quadro FX 5600 with 1536MB RAM. And does that make a difference, you ask? Why, yes, it does.

Once again, this xw8600 system is ideal for broadcast and video editing, oil and gas exploration and 3D graphics creation, among other things. Can you say fast? I knew you could.

Configurable is Its Middle Name

Pricing for the xw8600 still starts at $1,926, while the system I tested includes two quad core Xeon X5482 processors clocked at 3.20GHz, a 1600MHz frontside bus (a boost from the 1333MHz of its predecessor), 4GB of RAM, a 160GB SATA hard drive and a Quadro FX 5600 video card with 1.5GB of memory, and costs $9,442. As with its previous incarnation, the new xw8600 can handle up to 128GB of memory, with the addition of RAM risers.

In case you missed my original xw8600 review, this system supports dual x16 video slots for a total of 16GB/s throughput -- 8GB/s in each direction. The increased video and memory bandwidth/capacity go a long way in eliminating bandwidth bottlenecks. The system also boasts 14 hard drive connections in total -- more than you can fit inside the case!

Eight processors happily at work. Courtesy of Bryan Hoff.

SpecViewPerf 9 Test Results

I ran the SpecViewPerf 9 benchmarking test on the new xw8600 to compare it with the 3.16GHz model and its Quadro FX 1700 card.

HP xw8600 3.16GHz

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 34.05

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 39.31

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 38.73

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 35.93

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 140.9

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 34.44

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean =56.13

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 23.39

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 25.14

Maya at work. Shoe House by Barry McDermott. © Barry McDermott.

HP xw8600 3.20GHz

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 38.07

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXTcatia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 49.13

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXTensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 48.44

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXTlight-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 39.19

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXTmaya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 198.2

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXTproe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 45.29

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXTsw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 84.76

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXTtcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 28.84

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 32.14

As you might expect, the 3.20GHz xw8600 with its Quadro FX 5600 beat the 3.16GHz model with its Quadro FX 1700 in every test, and by no small margin. It's a killer combination resulting in a dream machine.

Your Test Results Are In

You know a system is fast when you utter an involuntary expletive upon seeing the first buckets of a render start to fill, and that's just what happened when I ran my trusty Light Gallery test under 3ds Max 8.

Displacement & DOF.max System Time HP xw8400

5:48

HP xw8600

5:25

Light Gallery System Time HP xw8400

0.59

HP xw8600

0:55

The xw8600 skinned. Courtesy of Bryan Hoff.

Four seconds may not sound like a lot, but it starts to add up -- especially if you tweak your scenes and render dozens or even hundreds of times until you get everything just so. Twenty-three seconds begins to show the performance increase a little better. Just three tests and you've already saved over a minute. Multiply as necessary to figure out the time savings you'll experience.

Of course, 3ds Max 8 is a little out of date these days, but I use it to retain some consistency between tests. So how does the system fair with the newest versions of 3ds Max 2009 and Maya 2008? As you'd expect, both run smoothly, with nary a hiccup. If your system is suffering from the jitters every time you open your three-year-old copy of Max or Maya, you just might want to give a brand new xw8600 system a spin.

Time for Another Upgrade

Granted, it's only been six months or so since my last review of the xw8600, but if you didn't upgrade then, you may want to take the plunge now. It's a fast and extremely expandable system with options to preload Linux, Windows XP or Windows Vista in both 32- and 64-bit configurations. So no matter what your workflow is, you'll be able to switch to a newer, more powerful system without missing a beat.

Like the previous xw8600 I reviewed, HP has applied a case skin from HP's skinit site, as shown in Figure 4. If you can't get a redesigned case, skins are the next best thing. This one covers the entire workstation (front bezel, side panels and top), and costs $64.95. It gives the xw8600 a fresh new look, and will catch the eye of anyone who visits your office, even that next big client.

Pros:

  • Remarkably quiet
  • Extensible
  • Easy access, toolless design

Cons:

  • Needs a better mouse and keyboard
  • Boring front bezel

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. Hoff has written ebooks on blogging and Website creation for beginners and co-authored the book, Moving from Windows to Linux.

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