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HP xw9400 Workstation Review: Achieving Higher Benchmarks

In this months Career Coach, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson makes an impression on the reader about business cards.

The HP xw9400 Personal Workstation.

You may recall my recent review of HPs xw8400 workstation computer for VFXWorld. While the xw8400 was an Intel Xeon-based system, the xw9400 is AMD Opteron-based. So instead of comparing the xw9400 solely with the xw8400, Ill compare the xw9400 with its predecessor, the xw9300. After that Ill look at what the xw9400 can do, and see how the LP2465 display complements and rounds out the system.

The xw9400 picks up where the xw9300 left off, bringing DDR2 memory, dual LAN, 6 SATA ports and extra USB 2 ports to the table. Virtually everything is improved, from case acoustics to memory capacity and processor handling. The system is much quieter, can handle double the amount of RAM (64GB - up from 32) and supports the latest Opteron 2000 series of processors. The newest generation NForce 3000 chipset with improved memory handling means more bandwidth and less latency.

Pricing and Configuration

As I mentioned previously, the new HP workstations are provided in four tiers, rather than the usual three. Those are entry level, mid level, high level AMD and high level Intel, with Legacy PA-RISC and mobile workstation options also available. The xw9400 system has a starting price of $1,778 and $9,032 as currently configured ($7,241 with a single Quadro FX 4500 card).

A Few Torture Tests

This time Ill be performing more of an apples to apples comparison, using an older generation system and its successor. I also added SOFTIMAGE | XSI and NVIDIAs Gelato renderer to the testing mix.

xw9300 and xw9400 SpecViewPerf 9 Test Results

The xw9300 is the xw9400s predecessor, and the particular 9300 tested here has two dual core Opteron 2.4GHz (280) processors, 2GB RAM and a Quadro FX 1500 video card. In contrast, the xw9400 has two dual core Opteron 2.8GHz (2220) processors, 4GB RAM and two Quadro FX 4500 cards in an SLI configuration. Heres how they scored:

HP xw9300

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT 3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 20.67

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXT catia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 26.58

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXT ensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 16.03

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXT light-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 25.72

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXT maya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 50.99

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXT proe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 23.93

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXT sw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 26.56

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXT ugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 8.519

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXT tcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 7.376

HP xw9400

SUM_RESULTS3DSMAXSUMMARY.TXT 3dsmax-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 22.85

SUM_RESULTSCATIASUMMARY.TXT catia-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 29.46

SUM_RESULTSENSIGHTSUMMARY.TXT ensight-03 Weighted Geometric Mean = 20.81

SUM_RESULTSLIGHTSUMMARY.TXT light-08 Weighted Geometric Mean = 26.36

SUM_RESULTSMAYASUMMARY.TXT maya-02 Weighted Geometric Mean = 101.8

SUM_RESULTSPROESUMMARY.TXT proe-04 Weighted Geometric Mean = 29.74

SUM_RESULTSSWSUMMARY.TXT sw-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 39.91

SUM_RESULTSUGNXSUMMARY.TXTugnx-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 13.63

SUM_RESULTSTCVISSUMMARY.TXT tcvis-01 Weighted Geometric Mean = 10.89

As you can see by the results, the xw9400 really benefited from having two Quadro FX cards when it came to the Maya test. And in case you havent got the review I did of HPs xw8400 Xeon-based system at your fingertips, the 9400 also beat out that system in the Maya, Pro/E and a few other benchmarks, achieving anywhere from a few points to quadruple its score.

This dark alley scene was rendered in 10 seconds. All screen captures courtesy of Bryan Hoff.

XSI and 3ds Max

3ds Max has become a staple in my benchmarking process, so by popular demand, here are the results of rendering the Displacement & DOF.max and Light Gallery.max scenes:

Light Gallery HP xw9300 2:44 HP xw9400 2:32

Displacement & DOF.max HP xw9300 12:21 HP xw9400 11:27

The xw9400 edged out the xw9300 by 12 seconds in the mental ray render test, while it took the lead by almost a full minute in the displacement and depth-of-field render test. Raw processing power is the most likely suspect.

XSI refused to run on the xw8400 due to apparent issues with the licensing software and Intel processors, but the xw9400 had no such problems. I was able to run the 64-bit version of XSI 5.1 and render multiple test images, including LIT_e1_Dark_Alley_done.scn. I rendered the scene with sampling set to 0, 2 and it finished in a mere 10 seconds. XSI ran smoothly and with nary a hiccup on this system.

Depth-of-field scene, rendered in 1 minute, 1 second (left) and mango subsurface rendered in 45.45 seconds. 

Maya with Gelato and Mango

Since the computer came equipped with dual Quadro FX 4500 cards, it made sense to put that extra GPU power to the test. So I fired up Maya along with NVIDIAs Gelato and ran a few test renders. I was impressed with the quick rendering speeds, especially for the depth-of-field and sub-surface scattering scenes.

Depth-of-field scene, rendered in 1 minute, 1 second (left) and the gremlin was rendered in 45.45 seconds. 

I also tested the Sorbetto relighting engine, rendering a scene featuring a gremlin invading a wine cellar. A single frame originally rendered in 35 seconds, then re-rendered with Sorbetto in a scant 26 seconds.

LP2465 Flat Panel Monitor

HP included a flat panel monitor with the xw9400 review unit: a 24" LCD with similar features and specifications to Dells LCDs. What sets it apart are features such as dual DVI inputs and a unique cable management system that keeps the video, power and USB cables neatly out of the way. If youre looking for an entire system, HP has you covered with options to include a 24" or 30" display. While I experienced some tearing with higher frame rate video, DVD playback was topnotch. Im looking forward to getting my hands on the new LP3065 model soon.

HPs 24

Time For an Upgrade?

If youre currently using one of HPs last generation xw9300 Opteron systems or a system thats based on even older Athlon technology, it could very well be time for an upgrade. When it comes to rendering, four cores are certainly better than one, and two GPUs are often better than one, too. While the Opteron-based xw9400 didnt fare quite as well as the Xeon-based xw8400 in some of the tests, it held its own on many of the SpecViewPerf tests and, thanks to the dual Quadro FX 4500 cards, surpassed it in several areas. Considering the fact that the Xeon processors were 3.0GHz and the Opterons were 2.8GHz, it makes sense. If youre a loyal AMD user, an Opteron-based system is just what the 3D doctor ordered, especially if you specialize in fluid dynamics or oil and gas processing. And it plays a pretty mean game of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 at the end of a hard days rendering.

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 web site 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 web site creation for beginners and is co-author of the book Moving from Windows to Linux.

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