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HP xw8600 Offers High-Performance Computer-User Perfection

By David Cohn

The new HP xw8600 workstation is an unbeatable system for power users, with a pair of Intel Quad Core CPUs and up to 128GB of memory.
The new HP xw8600 workstation is an unbeatable system for power users, with a pair of Intel Quad Core CPUs and up to 128GB of memory.

Over the past months, we’ve reviewed the latest entry and mid-range systems in HP’s vaunted workstation line. This month, we turn our attention higher, with a look at the newest addition to the company’s 8000 series. Like the xw6600 (see DE, April 2008), our evaluation unit came equipped with a pair of Intel Quad-Core Xeon “Harpertown” processors. But this time around, HP included two that are the top-of-the-line 5460 model CPUs, which up the speed a bit to 3.16GHz. Each CPU has its own 6MB L2 cache, shared between the four cores, and plugs into a 1333MHz front side bus.

Like its very successful predecessors, the xw8600 came housed in a familiar HP black and gray minitower case, although buyers can choose to wrap their workstations in the same kind of colorful graphic skin as the xw4600 we looked at this past winter (see DE, March 2008).

Appearances aside, this HP workstation is considerably larger than its siblings, measuring 8.3 in. x 20.7 in. x 17.9 in. (WxDxH) and weighs in at 40 pounds. Like the other new HP systems we’ve recently reviewed, the xw8600 is based on the new Intel 5400 chipset, which provides support for PCI Express 2.0, 0.45mm Intel Dual and Quad-Core CPU processors, and dual x16 PCIe graphics slots.

The system’s front panel provides two USB 2.0 connectors, headphone and microphone jacks, and a FireWire connector. There are three external 5.25-in. drive bays, one of which contains an HP 16X DVD+/-RW dual-layer optical drive with HP Lightscribe technology, and the other houses a 3.5-in. floppy drive. The rear panel adds five more USB connectors, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, a second FireWire connector, audio-in, audio-out, and microphone jacks, a 9-pin serial port, and two RJ45 LAN connectors for the integrated Broadcom 5755 NetXtreme Gigabit PCIe LAN. There’s an additional USB connector inside the case so you can hide a USB-based dongle where it can’t be tampered with.

HP Workstation xw8600
>Price: $6,915 as tested ($1,699 base price)
>Size: 8.3 in. x 20.7 in. x 17.9 in. (WxDxH) tower
>Weight: 40 pounds
>CPU: two Intel Quad Core E5460 3.16GHz
>Memory: 4GB (128GB max) DDR2 667MHz
>Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600
>Hard Disk: Seagate 250GB 7,200 rpm SATA
>Floppy: 3 1/2 in. floppy
>Optical: DVD+/-RW Dual-Layer Lightscribe
>Audio: integrated Realtek audio w/ microphone, line-in, headphone,
line-out jacks and jack retasking
>Network: dual integrated Broadcom 5755 NetXtreme Gigabit LAN
>Modem: none
>Other: seven external and one internal USB 2.0, PS/2 keyboard,
PS/2 mouse, two IEEE1394 FireWire, and one 9-pin serial
>Keyboard: 104-key HP keyboard
>Pointing device: two-button HP scroll mouse

Upon opening the tool-less chassis, the first thing we noticed were the two big cooling towers mounted above the CPUs, each with its own 3-in. fan. There was also a 3.5-in. fan directly over the eight memory sockets, which easily swivels out of the way to access those sockets. The xw8600 can accommodate up to 64GB of memory using 8GB DIMMs, or up to 128GB of memory using an optional memory riser. Our evaluation unit came with 4GB of RAM installed as two 2GB DDR2 667MHz memory modules.

The motherboard also provides a total of seven slots, six of them full length: two PCI-Express x16 graphics slots, three PCI-Express x8 slots (two x4 electrically and one switchable as x1 or x8), one PCI-X 133MHz slot, and one legacy PCI slot. One of the two graphics slots was filled with an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600 graphics accelerator with 768MB of GDDR3 memory. This board’s power requirements necessitate an auxiliary connection to the computer system’s power supply, and the large cooling fan and plastic cowl block access to the adjacent expansion slot.

Hard drive storage is accommodated by the integrated six-channel SATA controller with RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 capability and eight-channel integrated SAS controller supporting RAID level 0, 1, and 10. There are five internal 3.5-in. drive bays (four with acoustic dampening rail assemblies). Our evaluation unit came with a 250GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda SATA drive. HP offers a wide range of drive options, including SATA drives up to 1000GB and 15,000rpm SAS drives up to 300GB.

The system we received also came with an 800-watt Active Power Factor Correction 80 PLUS efficient power supply; a 1050-watt power supply is also available (required for systems with the optional memory riser). In spite of all the fans whirring inside (those positioned over the CPUs and memory sockets, and on the graphics card), there’s another 4.5-in. fan on the rear panel, a 3-in. fan in front of the expansion slots, and a fan inside the power supply, and yet, the xw8600 is virtually silent.

Record-setting performance
As you would expect, the xw8600 did exceptionally well on all of our usual benchmark tests. On the SPECapc viewperf graphics benchmark, the xw8600 turned in the fastest score ever recorded on several of the datasets and was within a few percentage points of the top on most of the others.

On the SPECapc SolidWorks test, which more accurately represents real-world performance running a typical CAD application, the HP xw8600 was within a few seconds of the fastest system (the small overhead of managing two separate CPU sockets has a slight impact on overall performance on this test) and was clearly faster than any other system we’ve ever tested on the I/O performance portion of this test.

When we ran our AutoCAD rendering test, the HP xw8600 clearly shined, turning in the best 32-bit rendering performance we’ve ever recorded. Only the Appro Xtreme WH 5548H (equipped with 16 processor cores, 32GB of RAM, and running a 64-bit OS; see DE, February 2008) completed this test faster than the HP xw8600.

HP rounds out the xw8600 with its excellent 104-key keyboard and a two-button optical scroll mouse. Windows XP Professional 32-bit came preinstalled. The 64-bit version of Windows or Red Hat Linux (32- or 64-bit) as well as Windows Vista (32- or 64-bit) are also available. Our Windows-based system also included the HP Performance Tuning Framework. The system is backed by a three-year warranty that includes parts, labor, and onsite service. And, like other HP workstations, most CAD and DCC applications are already tested and certified on the xw8600.

The HP xw8600 has a starting price of $1,699, but that’s for a system with a single 2.0GHz Quad-Core CPU, 2GB of RAM, and no graphics card. As equipped, our evaluation unit would set you back $6,915, not bad considering the computing power harnessed inside. Like previous top-of-the-line systems from HP, the xw8600 may be more computer than many midrange MCAD users need, but for those power users who require the fastest workstation performance with lots of room to grow, the HP xw8600 is nothing less than perfect.

Palo Alto, CA

Contributing Editor David Cohn is a computer consultant and technical writer based in Bellingham, WA, and has been benchmarking PCs since 1984. He’s an applications engineer with The PPI Group, and the author of more than a dozen books. Please send comments about this article to DE-Editors@ deskeng.com. You can also contact David at david@dscohn.com.

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Digital Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.