Workstations are funny things, in many ways they seem obsolete in a world where computing strives for small and simple. A workstation is anything but small and simple.
If you are a digital content creator while small and simple may have its uses, it is nothing without power behind it.
For an ultimate expression of power in a workstation, we have been given the opportunity by Escape Technology in conjunction with HP, Nvidia and CHAOS Group to test the HP Z840 with 2 Intel Xeon E-5’s loaded with 64GB of Ram and a NVIDIA Quadro M6000, which the top of the line in Nvidia Pro Graphics Range.
With a total price in the range of £7,300 ex VAT the first question many artists will ask is “How Much!?!”.
That is because on the face of it PC workstations (especially to unhappy Mac Users, who are considering a move) are a hard sell.
The chassis of the HP is a well proportioned dense package of efficiency with aluminium panelling, it has ports exactly where you need them and is relatively compact occupying roughly 80% the volume of an Old Cheesegrater Mac Pro.
Things get better on the inside, where the interior is well thought out with plug and play drawers and slots for drives, PSU’s and fans, which allows a huge range of expansion options and therefore a decent lifespan for your investment, (which comes with HP’s range of support schemes).
In fact it many ways the HP is much more a descendant of the Old Mac Pro (which still wins the award for the nicest inside of a computer ever).
This is meant as a huge compliment to the HP, because in many ways the HP is the closest PC that I have come across that could be called Mac-Like, as it just works, and also doesn’t come with any of the gaudy neon or poor case aesthetic choices which exist on many workstation pc’s, which (if you are anything like us) matters when your spending over £7,000 on anything.
One of the main reasons that people buys macs (and keep buying Macs) is that to a large extent they just work. The HP feels exactly like that. From the materials used for the case and the way the internals have been thought through, when coupled with the OS of your choice, the HP is a machine that feels like it has years in it.
This is borne out in the internals, In the few weeks that we have had the HP in for testing, which have included some overnight render tests, nothing has crashed. Even using Octane which on our Internal homebrew workstation can be a little flaky, everything worked, and never failed.
Part of this is of course due to the Nvidia Quadro M6000, which is an absolute champ. While it may feel like this is a rebranded Geforce GTX, that would be a mistake. The optimisations both in hardware and software that this Maxwell generation card bring to the mix along with staggering 12GB of VRAM and 3072 CUDA cores makes this a card that just chews through whatever you need to through at it, and with only a 250W maximum power draw, won’t toast you in the process.
For example we ran MARI to measure how the GPU would measure up to a 16k procedural Oil Layer being added to the standard head model, which we then shared as a bump map (watch our video review for the workflow), using FRAPS to measure our Frame rate the M6000 on a 1920 by 1200 monitor was averaging 100-300 fps, and 100fps while painting., which is staggering.
We also ran the V-Ray for MODO in MODO 801, and again performance was really strong in terms of model manipulation. The CHAOS Group are to be commended for the way that V-Ray intergates with MODO, especially as it is still in Beta, as it retains the elements which make V-Ray so strong such as the strong material and lighting controls which have been integrated into MODO’s shader and Item tree to make it feel part of the application rather than a distant plugin.
The Z840 sung as a V-Ray machine as the ability to switch between either RT using the GPU or V-Ray being driven by the Xeon’s meant that either workflow was viable.
As a laugh as everything was going so well, we though we would see what MODO 901 could do with its new advanced render viewport which provides shadows, reflections and ambient occlusion with the viewport. On most machines we have used the Advanced viewport on, there is a noticeable slow down when items such as AO or adding anti-aliasing above a couple of levels slows things down.
The Foundry still say that the Advanced Viewport is in its early days, but on the HPZ840 it flies, with everything turned to maximum, it was more than usable, and is a testament to how well the Nvidia Quadro drivers of the M6000 run.
Now we are not going to bore you with a very long winded lecture about the differences between gaming cards and workstation cards, it will just be a short one.
If you can, get a workstation card, the drivers are optimised for the creative software ie. work. Not for games and therefore what on the spec sheet may seem a weaker card will drive a 3D scene or a creative application faster than a gaming card which are optimised for.. well games. Also parts are stress tested for longer and designed to run under load for a long time rather than the burst and quiet that tends to be the pattern with gaming use…..ok that was a medium sized lecture.
The M6000 does give the best of both worlds when it comes to a workstation card, in that it has the latest technology with a spec sheet that matches the latest a greatest Geforce cards, but with the opportunity to run so much longer doing the work to earn you the money to play games.
The catch is the price, with a retail of £3,329.47 ex Vat, it’s an awful lot of money, and makes up nearly half the cost of the system (which makes the HPZ840 itself pretty good value for what you get).
But if your intending to run a system like this hard for years without anything breaking we would say that this kind of investment is worth the money, which is born out in the performance of the machine which means it’s time for the Benchmarks.
|Luxmark Complex CPU+GPU||1916|
|LuxMark Complex GPU||1889|
|OpenGL (Ref. Match 99.6%)||164.71 fps|
|CPU (Single Core)||123cb|
As you can see the HPZ840 when combined with the M6000 is no slouch, the Cinebench scores especially had us hugging our sides weeping when we realised we would have to give the HP back at the end of our review session.
Interestingly the OctaneBench scores is only just just shy by a couple of points of the Geforce Titan X and 980 GTI, so the M6000 is delivery top gaming card performance with workstation card reliability.
To sum up the HP Z840 is a tantalising machine as configured with the M6000 will handle quite literally any creative task you could through at it, with no fuss, hardly any noise and in a compact, tough and easy to maintain package which will last you for years with excellent support.
Is it worth the £7,300 investment though, well if you are a mac user wanting to make the switch to windows who misses the old Mac Pro, this is the machine for you (at a price in the ballpark of a similarly spec’d new Mac Pro), if you are a windows owner looking to take a serious step up in productivity, if you intend a workstation to last for 5 years, the HP z840 is excellent value for money and gets our recommendation.
RGBHQ would like to thank Escape Technology for the opportunity to review the HP Z840 with NVIDIA QUADRO M6000. Escape Technology are the one of the leading providers of Hardware solutions to creative specialists and studios in the UK.