Dream PC: 8-Core Workstation Rocks the Penryns (Verdict: WOW!)

HP is cranking out some smoking workstations these days, and the latest Intel Xeon quad core processors, affectionately known as the Harpertown chips with 45-nanometer Penryn technology inside, take Windows performance to the next level. HP shipped us the fastest workstation they could muster, with two of those quad core processors for a total of eight cores, along with a 15,000 RPM SAS (Serial-Attached SCSI) drive on two separate disks, one with Windows XP and the other with Windows Vista, plus a 250GB SATA drive for applications. We opened the box, ran a bunch of benchmarks and our jaws promptly dropped. How much workstation can you get for $US8,551? Join us for the smokefest.

HP-Workstation_front.jpgAs soon as Intel released these 5400 series Penryn processors this month, HP sent us its top-of-the-line xw8600 workstation with two of them inside. intel%20quad-core.jpgThis expensive machine—aimed at oil and gas explorers, video editors and animators—is not really a gamer's box, but instead showcases the capabilities of these new four-way processors. Our test machine has two of the 3.16GHz quad-core "Harpertown" processors (officially called the Intel Xeon E5460 Quad Core), using Intel's latest 45nm Penryn microarchitecture. Yep, those are as fast as these suckers get. The catch? They each cost $US1550 more than the lowest-cost Xeon quad-core chip offered, the 2GHz 5405.
intel-quad-core2.jpgDue to their finer geometry (going from 60nm down to 45nm), you get 50% more cache, resulting in 6MB of shared cache between each dual core, totaling 12MB of cache in each processor—that's 24MB total in our test machine. In addition to that, the frontside bus is also running at 1333MHz, giving you a 30% speed boost over its predecessor.

Check out this pic (and another larger one in the gallery showing the task manager along with the graphic it's rendering) that tells the story of all eight cores screaming away at the same time, rendering a complex graphic on the CineBench benchmark. Here it's just finished the render:
taskmanager2.jpgVideo editors and scientists like to be able to expand everything inside one of these boxes. Although we had a "paltry" 4GB of RAM inside, you'll be able to cram 128GB up in there as soon as 8GB RAM sticks are available—Q1 of next year, we're told. You can also fill the thing up with storage, using your choice of eight Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) ports or six SATA connections, in addition to FireWire ports on the front and back, and dual Gigabit Ethernet. (You can lash them together for faster networking.) If you wanted to, you could set up a disk array on those SAS ports to get 2GB/sec drive performance.

HP included the NVIDIA FX 4600 workstation-class graphics card in the package, but there's room for two PCI Express x16 graphics cards tied together, certain to be a favorite of animators and those oil and gas explorers who need to simulate all kinds of complex graphics. The FX 4600 has 768MB of GDDR3 memory on board, useful for CAD designers working with huge graphics. And yes, it could most definitely play Doom.

We especially like this workstation's case. Normally they're staid and gray-looking, but HP stuck on some special sticky graphics that may look a bit cheesy, but are an improvement over the typical plain-Jane exterior. Never mind the visuals, HP's made this an extraordinarily quiet machine too, where even though it's packed with hardware, it you can hardly hear it running next to you. We also like its tool-less chassis: Once you get the hang of it, you can take out drives and fans in a snap with nary a screwdriver in sight. Overall, it's an outlandishly configurable and powerful platform, practically begging you to turn it into whatever kind of monster workstation your heart desires.

Check out the benchmarks below, and you'll see that this $US8,551 machine slam-dunks last year's fastest HP xw8400 workstation:benchmarks_xw8600.jpgIt's fast. Blazingly fast, and on some benchmarks it's a whole lot quicker than last year's model. Its speed is just unreal, and you can feel it with every click. Impressive. [HP xw8600 Workstation]

Task Manager Running CineBenchHP Workstation FrontHP xw8600 Top SideHP xw8600 Right SideHP xw8600 Ram SlotsHP xw8600 ProcessorsHP xw8600 Nvidia CardHP xw8600 NameplateHP xw8600 Left SideHP xw8600 Inside WideHP xw8600 Harpertown Quad-Core 3.16GHzHP xw8600 Beauty ShotHP xw8600 BackHP xw8600  Cooling Towers

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