Yes, you really do need a workstation

Yes, you really do need a workstation

Summary: HP's new small form factor workstations raise the bar for what users can expect in performance and lower the bar on price, size, and energy consumption.

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OK, you might not specifically. And a whole lot of your users probably don't either. In fact, we should probably take a step back and define what a workstation is beyond just a really big desktop computer. Once we do that, though, HP's new line of small form factor workstations makes one heck of a case for deploying workstations in selected areas, both in secondary and post-secondary education.

A workstation has some key differences from a standard PC that justify what usually ends up being a higher price tag. Most tend to have beefier hardware, right from the motherboard through the case and power supply. At the same time, less obvious parts like memory interfaces tend to be higher speed than those available on consumer- and enterprise-grade PCs, or even most of those that can be built from scratch if you're in a DIY sort of mood.

Similarly, it's the rare PC offering that lets folks upgrade to Xeon processors and the motherboards required to support them. Traditionally, workstations have been the tools of choice for high-end graphics work, video editing, etc., and they generally support expensive, high-powered discrete 2D or 3D graphics options, depending upon a customer's application.

Finally, the hardware itself is generally designed for longer life running at high capacity than most consumer offerings. I still have a couple of 10-year old Dell workstations running web servers that stay on all the time without a hiccup.

So I've had the chance to live with one of HPs new Z210 series workstations for the last month and, aside from my new MacBook Air (another story for another day), it's become my primary machine. I am, in fact, loathe to see it get on the UPS truck on Monday. There are faster options available and there are fancier models that lend themselves to creating Avatar-style content. However, the Z210 sitting on my desk is mighty fast and the easiest small computer I've ever broken open and serviced (shhhh...don't tell the folks at HP).

I've used this machine with Adobe's latest Creative Suite (5.5), putting it through its paces particularly with Premier and Photoshop. For around $1400, I couldn't be happier with the performance of the Xeon E31225 or the integrated Intel HD P3000 graphics. That's right, integrated graphics handling 3D smoothly in Photoshop and the lowest end Xeon available in this machine.

The beauty of this setup is that it's essentially silent, runs very cool, uses relatively small amounts of power, and is accessible at a price that could actually work in a graphics or engineering lab on public school budgets. While HP's largest customers to date have been universities using them in math, science, and engineering labs, tech schools and comprehensive high schools are also getting on board.

High-performance systems could be had for less, but even my old white MacBook makes more noise when it has too many browser windows running Flash and it certainly couldn't render HD video like this one can. Most likely they also wouldn't include a couple of 6GBps SATA channels or a 90% efficient chassis either.

I might sound like an HP marketing brochure here, but I'm actually going to be buying one of these machines myself to replace the one I have to send back. I'm just spending too much time in Creative Suite and doing too much video editing to spend time waiting. HP has promised to send me another test workstation as soon as this one heads back with a higher end Xeon processor and a discrete 3D graphics card for me to get a sense of where that sweet spot of performance vs. price lies. It's pretty close in this machine, but there are probably higher education settings where a faster processor would make sense.

Even for me, while the Premier performance was very good (better than my second-gen Core i7 mobile quad laptop with a 1GB graphics card), the processor-intensive rendering step would definitely benefit from a larger cache and higher clock speed. The low-power Xeon I'm running doesn't have hyperthreading enabled either, leaving Premier with only 4 cores instead of the 8 available on the replacement HP will be sending (and available on several of their optional processors). However, even some pretty serious calculation loops in Maple couldn't make this thing sweat. And it's no bigger than an average desktop PC.

Yes, I'm enthusiastic about HPs new workstations. There are a lot of places in secondary and higher education that could benefit from workstation-class performance but haven't been able to afford the hardware or energy costs or find the space for what is usually a bulky computer. That's changing here and I'm looking forward to other OEMs following their lead. A bit of competition in this space should make workstations even more accessible where users might have settled for desktop-class performance and reliability.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Hardware, Processors, PCs

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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34 comments
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  • The Z series

    The Z series has been an outstanding machine. I remember doing Logic board tests that once took a week to complete on the previous generation of hardware. AT the time, the Z800 workstation whittled it down to a few hours.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

      @facebook@... <br>You touched my heart... LOL.. z800 is the shiznit. I have a few of them with hexacore processors (12 threads - hypterthreading), dual SSD HD's... and nVidia CUDA core GPUs. No other (non-dedicated purposed) workstation can touch their ability to encode 1080p or higher content. Throw in a Datapath card, 12GB RAM, ... Goodnight Irene. I've yet to get the CPU's past 45% (aggregate). They're like the energizer bunny of computer systems. Encoding while! running Adobe CS5.5... Throw in a good CUDA core nVidia card, dream come true. I wonder if I should just remove my Terari Encoder Accelerator at times (?) Now to try out this series for less intensive typical user tasks... HP, luv ya!<br>
      TechNickle
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @FuzzyBunnySlippers Actually the iMac has an i7 option (as well as the Mac mini, Macbook Air, MacBook Pro), the Mac Pros use Xeon processors. The i7 is a consumer level processor and the Xeon is a Workstation class processor.
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @FuzzyBunnySlippers pay no attention. Core i7 are the EXACT SAME as Xeon E3-class processors, sauf the graphics (P3000 vs 3000), which as of now makes no difference at all. Side-by-side comparison to same-spec Ci7 vs XE3 would yield identical results. But Intel get's an extra 10% for telling you it's "certified" for WS. :)
        Aenslead
  • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

    Really? Here I thought this was all going away, to be replaced with iPads.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

      @Cylon Centurion

      That's what I am doing.. Everyone gets a tablet like an iPad. Actual workstations are so last decade and are on their way out anyway according to some bloggers. I mean all you need is a web browser and some basic apps to work right? I mean what companies have the need for full Office suites with large integrated databases and onsite collaboration in real time. There is no reason you would need to run any of that proprietary software anymore. If there is not an "app for that" then you don't need to do it.
      bobiroc
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @bobiroc

        I lol'd. :)
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @bobiroc <br>Outside of the fact that you don't understand that proprietary software are apps (short form for applications if you didn't know), what exactly are you trying to prove with you sarcasm. Is it the fact that we have need for more than one type of devices? Doesn't apple already offer many types of devices including iPhones, iPads, Macbooks, iMacs and Mac pro.
        anono
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @anono

        Just poking a little fun at those who think tablets are an end all to desktop computing.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @bobiroc <br>Sweet. I laughed (seriously) out loud. There is no L(S)OL, as I understand, though. Oh, BTW, what app should I download to make full use of my hexacore systems for encoding and editing of 1080p 3D content with 7.1 surround sound encoding systems to produce BlueRay content?.. Should I get an iPad 2, or just wait the three weeks for my iPad (first gen) to uncache (read: un-F) itself from it's inherent limitations?. LOL<br><br>This whole 'iPad vs. reality' argument grows tiring. Moore's law is applicable to every iteration, not just a select few. By the time an iPad catches up to the current state of workstations, they (workstations) will follow the same rule and far surpass the handheld/tablet. Anything plugged into the wall will always have the advantage. Anything with a real keyboard will always have the advantage. Anything with non-dedicated, high resolution (growing with Moore's law), (multi+) monitors will always have the advantage. Anyone thinking otherwise, will always be making excuses.
        TechNickle
    • Cylon Centurion belongs in a museum

      A statue tethered to his mouse, keyboard and video monitor.

      Don't forget the chair pad, pal...
      bunker buster
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @bunker buster

        I'm actually behind a laptop right now. I guess those are too archaic as well? :)
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @Cylon Centurion
        Since the sarcasm in your initial post was directed to make fun of apple, I might point out that apple makes laptops.
        anono
    • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

      @Cylon Centurion - Whut are you? Stoopid?? Everyone's dumping their desktops, laptops and tablets for Android phones. Didn't you know?

      ;)

      PS: Feel free to flag this ... just couldn't help myself ;)
      bitcrazed
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @bitcrazed

        Lol.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @bitcrazed
        No one flagged it yet. I guess people learned that certain posters are going to rant and they might as well ignore it.
        anono
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @anono

        My comment wasn't a rant. It was a bit of commentary to those tech pundits who are constantly proclaiming the death of the desktop.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

      @Cylon Centurion
      While I realize you are being sarcastic, Ballmer is not. Take a look at Windows 8 and you will notice Ballmer has this delusional idea that we are all going to dump our laptops and desktops for tablets. It's a shame that Microsoft's shareholders would allow Ballmer to take a company that held the crown of the tech world and turn it into this. Then again, they are MS shareholders and clearly not as smart as Apple shareholders.
      anono
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @anono Really, I think Win8 will be x64/x32 as well as ARM, maybe even ia64...

        I don't think that spells Ballmer is thinking of everyone dropping their desktops, laptops and servers to have a tablet... If he did, then he would have dropped all of those back in 1986 when MS put out the first tablet OS

        BTW: Apple shareholders are risk takers, there isn't anything paying them but selling high, don't get caught in the bubble.

        MS shareholders are in it for the dividends... completely different type of investor, not really smarter or dumber.
        TGGR
      • RE: Yes, you really do need a workstation

        @anono

        I have yet to see Ballmer proclaim the death of the desktop. If I recall correctly Windows 8 will still run and operate on those as Windows 7 does today. I almost guarantee you there will be a way to switch off the new start screen for those that don't want it.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion